TEDxLondon Why you don’t care about inequality Jonathan Mijs We are witnessing a surge in news reporting and scholarly interest in inequality. Most people now know some stylized facts about the unequal distribution of income and wealth. Throughout the West, the top 10 percent takes home a third of all income and owns two-thirds of all wealth. The United Kingdom is no exception.
So, how has the other 90 percent responded? We’ve seen protests here and there. The Occupy movement caused quite a stir, but already feels like a distant memory. What’s striking is the absence of large-scale public unrest, mass demonstrations, revolt. For most people, inequality is business as usual.
I think there are three parts to explaining the lack of popular unrest about inequality.
For one, despite all the media attention, most people still underestimate just how unequal a society they live in. Ordinary workers haven’t a clue how much money their CEO takes home. And CEOs have no idea how little their ground-level employees have to live on. In a recent survey, British people put the income ratio at 15:1. In reality it is closer to 90:1. What would be people’s ideal? An income ratio of 5:1.
The second part of the explanation is that many think inequality reflects the accomplishments of hard work and talent, or a lack thereof. We celebrate the success of our leaders in business, sports and science. Conversely, the poor must have made poor decisions somewhere down the road; relieving us of the obligation to care.
My research demonstrates that beliefs in meritocracy remain as strong today as they ever were. Why would inequality bother us if wealth and poverty are the outcome of a fair meritocratic process?
The third part of the explanation why people haven’t taken to the streets is their inability to imagine an alternative of [More]