Tag Archives: inequality

Chile protests

Mass Protests are Back – What Are We Waiting For?

New Orleans       Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed?  If you can make it past the daily Trump wailing wall, there’s one report after another of protests.  Not some piddling ten- or twenty-person thing, though there’s plenty of that as well, but I’m talking about mass protests, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions are hitting the streets in country after country.  This list is global and long:  Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Britain, Catalonia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, France, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and more.

It hasn’t escaped the notice of the powers that be and everywhere they are.  Theories abound.  Authoritarians look for conspiracies behind every kitchen door as more voices are raised.  They need to look under fewer rocks and spend more time looking over their shoulder.  They must know we’re coming for them, slowly, but surely.

Anyway, I wish that were true, but, regardless, what’s happening?

Is it simply too many young people and too few jobs?  A return of the sixties, but this time with cell phones and social media?  If all of this were about climate, then I might think so.  In America in the sixties, young people were in motion over an existential threat with Vietnam, civil rights, women rising, and more.  Certainly, climate change is a similar threat, but like modern war, it’s not personal enough today to trigger a mass movement in the United States yet.  The six-month long protests in Hong Kong are certainly existential.  Even as the protests have been reduced to a harder core, the outpouring of votes in the municipal election are yet more evidence of the fact that the protestors are the sharp end of a very long stick and the thickness of their mass base.

Inequality and the outrage that it triggers seems a more likely explanation.  People fed up who can’t take it anymore.  Observers and elites at 30,000 feet scratch their heads at how a tiny fare increase could enflame all of Chile, a marginal increase in fuel prices in Iran where gas is still only fifty-cents per gallon, or students in France over fees when the annual cost of universities is less than $200 per year could all tear the sheets and send people into the streets.  They fail to understand the depth of the outrage over unequal distributions within the economy that have built up until the volcanoes of rage erupt everywhere.

In country after country there seems to be a straight line pointing to the economy and the growing recognition that change has to come. There needs to be a fair share.  There’s only one real question?  What are we waiting for?  Hey, President Trump, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and billionaires by the bunch, are your worried yet?  The time is coming.


The Weird Psychology of Feeling Poor Affects Attitudes on Inequality

New Orleans  In recent years close readers of Elizabeth Kolbert could count on her to keep us up to date on the rising temperature outside that has made climate change and the destruction of global species a global issue. In the New Yorker recently she started looking “inside” about how people feel about relative wealth and inequality by recording the temperature inside peoples’ minds. Reading her, it is now going to be hard for me to gauge which one is scarier for all of us.

First, she reprised two competing theories about how people feel about inequality. One, the rational-updating model, holds “that people assess their salaries in terms of opportunities.” In short, if they find co-workers are making more, they decide their chances of a raise are good. If they find that their co-workers are making less, they decide their chances of a raise are bad. The other theory involves emotional response rather than a rational one and is known as the “relative income” model, where anger is triggered if people find they are making less, and those making more are happy as clams.

A recent study though came up with a third finding. For sure those who found out they were making less were ticked, but the workers who discovered they were making more weren’t elated. In fact as Kolbert reported, “Workers who discovered they were doing better than their colleagues evinced no pleasure. They were merely indifferent.” The takeaway that speaks to the crisis of inequality in our current society is that “there are no real winners and a multitude of losers,” in her words. In mine it’s worse, because the winners feel neither shame nor obligation therefore buttressing inequality even as it grows increasingly extreme, as we recently witnessed in the impunity of the Republican’s recent tax “reform” transferring immense wealth to corporations, shareholders, and the rich.

In the psychology of the poor, they feel badly about their condition and other studies indicate that feeling also triggers riskier behavior as people try to break out of a zero-sum situation at the bottom of the ladder. This problem of feeling poor is not something that only lower income families experience in the reality of their situation, but is something that other social scientists find has gone viral even to the rich and upper classes. Their ability to “feel poorer” as multi-millionaires compared to centi-millionaires or billionaires, leads them to rationalize their situations into a distorted version of the “relative income” model. Worse, this false consciousness breeds total indifference to those who are actually poor, because even the super rich can claim that they are poorer than others, excusing and confusing the reality.

One observer studying this phenomena felt that this contradictory feeling among the rich spoke to “moral conflicts about having privilege in general.” I would discount that sense of shame and argue instead that this psychology of the rich enhances their sense of entitlement and explains part of the reason why, despite all of the drum beating about rising inequality, both political parties have come to the conclusion that their base – and donors – don’t see the reality of inequality and its virulent social impact as an issue worth action or solution, therefor impoverishing us all, perhaps permanently.


Please enjoy this version of Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy, an unreleased track from Jimi Hendrix.

Thanks to KABF.