Haves and have-nots. The 99%. The income gap. The chasm between rich and poor has never mattered more. It’s estimated that the top 1% of the world’s richest people owns 50% of the planet’s wealth.
Solving this level of inequality is often held up as a ‘grand challenge’ for the world. But is that the right way to look at it?
Some researchers argue that income disparity itself may not be the main problem. The issue, they say, is not the existence of a gap between rich and poor, but the existence of unfairness. Some people are treated preferentially and others unjustly – and acknowledging that both poverty and unfairness are related may be the challenge that matters more in the 21st Century.
While many people may already view inequality as unfairness, making the distinction much clearer is important: to improve the society we live in, these researchers are arguing that we need to all be on the same page as to what inequality actually is. Only then can we direct resources to the places that matter.
MORE GRAND CHALLENGES:
What is it about inequality that bothers us: the fact that some people are rich and others are poor? Or that not everyone has an equal shot? Or something else?
In a paper published in April in the journal Nature Human Behaviour called ‘Why people prefer unequal societies’, a team of researchers from Yale University argue that humans – even as young children and babies – actually prefer living in a world in which inequality exists. It sounds counter-intuitive, so why would that be? Because if people find themselves in a situation where everyone is equal, studies suggest that many become angry or bitter if people who work hard aren’t rewarded, or if slackers are over-rewarded.