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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > August 2017 > Is inequality the root of all social ills?

Is inequality the root of all social ills?

YES Everybody is against inequality, yet nobody thinks they can be the agent of its reversal. It feels either too vast or too abstract, like fighting a tide. It is only when you start talking about its effects—the mechanisms by which inequality makes our lives worse—that you get any sense of agency. Its effects are everywhere: there is no social ill that cannot be traced back to the concentration of wealth into ever fewer hands.

The problem is not that somebody else has a Porsche and you want one: it is not even the proven disparities in health, life expectancy, educational attainment, and all other measures of wellbeing, between one income group and another. Rather, it is that wealth inequality brings an imbalance of power, which is not a steady state, it is a feedback loop. The status quo is not static.

A key driver of inequality has been the redistribution of profit, away from labour, towards the holders of capital. There’s no natural arrest to this: the lower your wages, the more dependent you are on your job—being unable to build a savings cushion— and the less you can negotiate; your security and conditions decline; now your bargaining power is lower still, and your wages ratchet down further. Your position in the housing market is eroded as your options are limited; the landlord’s position improves, as your poor working conditions render you unable to save for a house of your own. Revenge evictions, zero-hours contracts, poorly constructed, dangerous housing stock, slave-like workplace surveillance; these apparently disparate phenomena all spring from a surfeit of power, of the asset-holding class over the rest.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s August issue: Adam Tooze, Helen Thompson, Ben Chu, Julian Baggini, Tom Clark and Hepzibah Anderson reveal the secret history of the banking crisis and its impact over the last decade. Tooze examines the secret history itself, suggesting the work done to repair the world’s finances could mean another crisis is just around the corner. Chu asks why more people at the top of the banks that failed haven’t faced more serious repercussions, and Anderson shows how post-crash Britain has retreated into cosiness. Elsewhere in the issue Alison Wolf asks whether universities are doing any good, and David Goldblatt explores how the decision to take football off free-to-view television in Argentina could backfire for the government. Also in this issue: Kasia Boddy asks why writers are still addicted to watching boxing despite falling viewing figures, Andrew Dickson profiles Tom Stoppard, Stephen Bush explains how Jeremy Corbyn learned to compromise and David Omand outlines the cyber-security challenges facing the UK and the wider world.
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