Wealth Inequality in America

“It is neither wealth nor splendour; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness.”
—Thomas Jefferson

I love this video. And given that it’s been one of my post popular posts, it’s worth posting again. It explains the major discrepancy of wealth that exists in the U.S., and makes good points arguing that things need to change, arguments that are hard to contradict in my mind. Spend a few minutes watching this, and then I’ll point out what its significance is to fighting climate change.

Some of you may be surprised to learn that despite the fact that I support this video’s message, I have traditionally voted conservative. I believe that hard work deserves its rewards. But I also believe that being conservative means I want to conserve things. Things like the environment. And I definitely don’t think that being conservative is the same thing as being selfish. Something that too many conservatives in North America seem to have forgotten lately.

So what does this have to do with combatting global warming and climate change? Everything, really. One of the solutions we need to fix a broken planet is to rethink the way our economy works, because it will be much harder to care for the environment if the economy continues unchecked. The system of communism didn’t work in the Soviet Union and ended up being revamped. So why should unbridled capitalism continue here in the western world if it’s not working perfectly either?

Think of all of the protests that have taken place because people are unhappy with the unequal distribution of wealth with the 40 percent of U.S. dollars held by the top one percent of people. Occupy Wall Street is a prime example. And it’s not about handouts for lazy people. As the video aptly questions, does the CEO of a company really work 380 times harder than the average employee in that company? Does one hour really earn that CEO what it takes more than one month for his or her average employee to earn?

The bottom line is this: the current economy encourages the top earners to value selfish motives over what is best for society as a whole. Thus, Exxon-Mobil and the Koch brothers do their best to keep making money, fighting anything that might alter that arrangement every step of the way, regardless of the associated harm to any externalities such as the environment. Not every top earner falls into this category, but the evidence supports that most do. So these people won’t make major efforts to preserve the environment and tackle global warming.

And the bottom earners are just barely eking out a living. They don’t have the funds to invest in the environment or climate change. Every penny they have goes to basic survival.

And that leaves the middle class, the group best equipped to fight the fight. And they’re disappearing as the video makes clear. Unless this group can be resurrected, we may well be doomed to fail in our efforts to make the changes necessary to stave off a real climate crisis.

I think I’m right of centre on the political spectrum. But if this sounds like left-wing thinking, it’s only because I’m certainly left of the top one percent.

But that’s only because they are so far right that they’re off the scale.

In more ways than one.