Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Tuesday, 26 October 2010


By Jim Jordal

Many liberals see poverty and its surrounding culture of deprivation as the major cause of social problems like crime, violence, broken families, abuse, addictions, rampant obesity, poor health and lowered educational aspiration and achievement.

Conservatives lean more toward personal failings as a cause of these problems. They blame poverty on the various social pathologies and generally claim that poverty could be cured if individuals and families would mend their wayward behavior. But recent research reveals a new, sobering relationship between social problems and economic inequality.

A new book, The Spirit Level, Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by British authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, threatens conventional wisdom regarding the causes of most social problems. The authors explore the many connections between economic equality and societies that are good for their people. They offer irrefutable, carefully documented proof that, at least in the developed world egalitarian (economically more equal) societies are good for their people and vastly unequal societies bad for their people, with very few exceptions.

In more egalitarian developed societies people tend to live longer, have higher educational aspirations and achievement, commit less crime, have smaller families, be healthier mentally and physically, participate more in politics and in general live according to the accepted rules of good citizenship.

So what is the connection between economic inequality and social problems? The social order is formed of a web of connections, shared values, responsibilities and a certain "we" feeling. When people feel that the society is treating them unfairly they respond by feeling isolated, alienated, angry and powerless—feelings sometimes resulting in anti-social behaviors that we label as social pathologies.

Conversely, when people feel justly treated by society, especially regarding their financial well-being and equality of opportunity they become more willing to behave in socially helpful ways like voting, participation in the political process, law abiding behavior, and effective community membership. These behaviors associated with relative income equality make what we call a good community.

The implications of these findings are powerfully instructive to those of us involved in the struggle against poverty and its attendant issues. The public tends to view poverty as simply what happens at the lower end of the income and wealth continuum. They also accept poverty as being ever present and virtually impossible of long-term solution.

But these new findings indicate that poverty and allied problems could be radically reduced were our society to find the political and moral will—not just to guide the poor away from their self-destructive behavior---but to confront the politically powerful forces of economic and social privilege.

If we don’t deal with economic inequality directly we must deal with its fallout in the form of poverty and wider-ranging social pathologies that siphon funds from other more productive uses. Not a very good choice in this day of financial shortfalls for almost every needed undertaking.

So what would we need to do to greatly reduce economic inequality and move toward a more equal society?

First, let’s stop labeling everything socialistic if reduces income inequality and provides justice for the poor. That’s not socialism; it’s common sense, especially if it can be proven to reduce major social problems.

Second, it’s time to ask the top income levels of our society to do their fair share in supporting the cost of public services. They profit from the educational and health systems, as they do in their use of public infrastructure. So why should they use every stratagem and subterfuge to avoid paying taxes? Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men, honestly admitted that he pays a lesser tax rate on his billions of income than his secretary does on her far smaller income.

Economic conservatives defend tax cuts for the rich on the grounds that the extra income saved is spent to create jobs. That’s no longer the case. If it were, we would be awash in new jobs because of the vast transfer of wealth accruing to the rich in recent years. No, most of the extra income now is sent abroad or goes into speculative private equity funds and wild economic vehicles like derivatives, not into job creation.

Third, we need to develop a transparent system of legislative bodies and regulatory agencies that will be accountable to the people and not to the ultra-rich. The present system of lobbyists paid by Big Business and the cabal of legislators owned by the wealthy needs to end.

This won’t happen easily or quickly. But it can happen if concerned citizens of every political persuasion stop their infighting and begin demanding justice.