The psychology of inequality

I read an amazing thread on Twitter today. It was written by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  [@AOC on Twitter], the young woman who is making huge waves in US politics. As an Australian, I knew very little about her and just assumed that she was someone from the usual privileged classes. Wrong. Apparently, AOC used to be a waitress, living on a tiny wage and making ends meet via unpredictable ‘tips’.

That was surprise enough, but then she went on to say:

…1 of the greatest scams in US is the idea that financial struggle is due to “poor character.”

AOC was talking about the poor in America, but I suddenly understood why the Liberal National Party coalition here in Australia has no problem with the growing inequality in our country. It’s because they see the poor as ‘dolebludgers’, ‘leaners’, parasites on the body economic. Furthermore, they believe the undeserving poor are poor because they are too stupid, uneducated, or lazy to contribute to society. Helping these undeserving poor is seen as a terrible waste of valuable resources.

Those who stand for the LNP can heap disdain on the undeserving poor because they see themselves as the source of all prosperity. They see themselves as the ones who create the wealth that’s wasted on the undeserving poor. They see themselves as the good guys because…well, because they’re rich. Obvious, right?

This unquestioned equating of wealth with goodness and value is at the heart of the inequality in both the US and Australia. The rich deserve to be rich; the poor deserve to be poor. End of story.

But as AOC goes on to say in her thread, many of those living below the poverty line in the US actually work two or more jobs. They work just as hard, if not harder, than wealthy people, but the value of their work is so much less. And who determines the value of that work? The top 1% who own all the industries that generate the wealth.

To be honest, until today, I thought that most of the people who voted LNP did so because they lacked compassion, or were fundamentally selfish and greedy. Now I understand that it’s not so much a lack of compassion that’s at the heart of our inequality, it’s a lack of experience. It’s ignorance.

I can’t speak for the super rich, but I can speak for what used to be called the ‘middle class’. My parents sent me to a Catholic primary school and then on to a Catholic high school. They gave me piano lessons, and ballet lessons and even singing lessons. Books, ideas and music were an integral part of my life growing up. University was the natural next step.

But while my parents voted Liberal, I never did. There were two reasons for that. The first was the Catholic insistence on charity and compassion for those less well off than myself. The second was that despite their insistence on a good education for me, my parents were not rich. Dad was an engineer, but he was the sole bread winner. My parents bought a house but never bought a car because it was an unnecessary expense. They gave me the best education they could afford, but I grew up wearing op. shop clothes.

Seeing both sides of the poverty divide turned me into a Labor voter. Living on Newstart for 5 years because I was too old to be offered a job made me realise that anyone can drop below the poverty line. More importantly, it made me see that people without the benefits I had growing up can never rise above the poverty line.

That’s why AOC’s words had such a profound effect on me. Yes, there are a few, rare individuals who manage to make an absolute fortune through their own efforts, but very few [if any] do so without some of the benefits we all take for granted. Most wealthy people inherit a good start in life. Some wealthy people inherit so much wealth that they can play the ‘who’s the richest woman in the world?’ game. But none of these people are inherently ‘good’.

Wealth does not make anyone a good person, and poverty does not make anyone a ‘bludger’.

Until we can provide the kind of stable society that allows all children to grow up with equal opportunities, the economic divide will continue to grow. As it does, our democracies will turn into oligarchies and our countries will begin the slide into global ‘has beens’.

For those who are interested, I’ve taken screenshots of a couple of the tweets AOC posted:

If you’re already a Labor voter, then good for you. See you on the 18th of May!

If you’re a centrist of the Liberal persuasion, then please think about some of the assumptions you make about your world. Society works best when most of the members of that society belong to the ‘middle class’, just like you. If the middle class continues to be eroded then one day, your children or your children’s children may find themselves below the poverty, unable to better themselves because they can no longer afford the opportunities that make prosperity possible.

We all need to ‘walk a mile’ in the shoes of someone less prosperous than ourselves. Only then can we pat ourselves on the back for having ‘made it’, or not, as the case may be.

Meeks

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

41 responses to “The psychology of inequality

  • petersironwood

    The illusion of progress for many is like an Escher staircase that seems as you look at each small increment to be going up the staircase….but after a time, you are right back where you started. Partly, this is because when you get a raise, or buy a new item, you feel slightly happier for a time. But soon, it makes no difference to true happiness, so you try hard to get yet another thing. Meanwhile, some of those with huge amounts of wealth & power grow bored of getting more “things” and instead play “The Game” to everyone else’s detriment. https://petersironwood.com/2019/09/10/essays-on-america-the-game/

    Like

    • acflory

      I’ve just reblogged your post, Peter. Not a comfortable read, but one that every thinking person should come to terms with, no matter where in the world we may live.
      Welcome to Meeka’s Mind. 🙂

      Like

  • Zeina Khawam, RD

    I love AOC even more now. It’s such a vicious cycle. These parents are working 2 jobs, not being home for their kids, causing more issues down the line. But what choice do they have? This needs to change

    Like

    • acflory

      I agree. We’re like rats on a treadmill, giving up all the truly valuable things in life – family, friends, food, connection to nature – in exchange for the latest digital toy or ‘thing’ that we’re told we must have.
      Don’t get me wrong. I love computers and the freedom the internet provides, but do we really need to upgrade our devices so often?
      Ahem, sorry. 🙂

      Like

  • Former military, blogger, and musician

    I love this. I don’t pat myself on the back though. I believe that luck is a factor in my being where I’m at. Due to circumstances beyond my control, my life is better than what it could be. But, no patting myself on the back… unless they’re self-care things. 🙂

    Like

    • acflory

      -grin- I agree, yet isn’t it strange that even with something as fundamental as self-care, our start in society has such a huge impact on what we do? I learned to value myself as a child and so I try to keep my life balanced between competing needs, emotionally ‘healthy’. Someone without that early leg-up might turn to alcohol or drugs as ‘self care’. 😦 We are lucky, very lucky.

      Liked by 1 person

  • cshelz

    I’m on the other side of the world, here in the UK and we have the same concepts playing out and holding back the poor from having a decent standard of living…and you’re right: it’s ignorance. People are not listening to each other and have no idea what one another’s lives involve. I used to assume that UK Conservatives just had no passion but the more I listen to them and learn about their backgrounds, I realise that thanks to our segregated society, they actually don’t really know (well at least some of them)!

    Like

    • acflory

      Hi! Nice to meet you. I know your political parties don’t correspond precisely to ours, but I think you’re right about the similarities. I think human societies go through cycles in which empathy waxes and wanes. At the moment it seems to be at a terrifyingly low ebb. Let’s hope the pendulum starts swinging upwards again soon. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  • Audrey Driscoll

    I think you’re right about corporatism. Something happened in the 1980s and ’90s. The corporations decided they didn’t want to pay taxes for stuff like education and public health (so much for the “peace dividend” after the cold war ended). And they didn’t want to keep paying workers more, especially unionized workers. Hence, globalization and the race to the bottom. Unions are weaker in North America and work is done in countries with weak labour laws. Next up, automation, so they can do away with workers as much as possible. The only value people will have is as consumers. Keep ’em doped up with social media and drip out just enough that they’ll keep coming back. I almost want to say it’s time for a revolution, but I can’t see it happening yet. Maybe someone like AOC can begin the change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Not time for a revolution yet…but it is close. The rise of right wing facism all over the Western world is a sign of widespread discontent with how things /are/.
      I wonder if the 1% have any idea how thin the ice is? The lessons are all there in history, but no one seems to make the connection between the past and the present any more.
      I find that crazy given that humans cause all this mess and humans don’t change from one century to the next.
      There are good people out there, like AOC, but they’re ranged against a massive system that will do just about anything to avoid change. Fingers crossed.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Matthew Wright

    I find it intriguing that Australia’s preferred PM, according to a poll I saw last week, is New Zealand’s! That aside, AOC’s stance is certainly a breath of fresh air. I think the origins of the more conservative attitudes we’re seeing now, and not just in the US, can be traced back, very clearly, into the early nineteenth century – revived by the neo-liberal revolutions of the 1980s and a lurch-to-the-right shared across the western world. The old idea that the poor were authors of their own misfortune has been revived in spaces, along with the idea that those who managed to get all the production funnelled into their own pockets deserve it and it’s everybody else’s fault that they can’t do the same thing.The result after two generations of these policies, across the west, is that attitudes and policies which would have seemed centre-line and ordinary in the 1960s or 1970s – such as the notion of public health-care, or the idea that perhaps people sometimes suffer misfortunes not of their own making – are suddenly seen as new and, usually ‘left wing’ (when, really, they aren’t). All of these things are, of course, further filtered by the sub-culture of whichever western nation they’re held by. The irony of it all is that this whole left-right divide emerged by chance from the French revolution – it happened that people sitting on the right hand side of the house of representatives had one view, and those sitting on the left had another, and that’s where the terms came from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      I totally agree with you, Matthew. Quite frankly there are only two people I’d really like to see as our PM. One is /yours/. We LOVE Jacinda because she’s not afraid to feel and show genuine emotion. The other is Penny Wong. She, too, has an air of integrity about her.
      I’m not a student of history like you, but I’ve been around long enough to notice that the old time Liberals [in Australia] were very different to the bunch we have now.
      Even Malcolm Fraser of the Dismissal fame, turned out to be a small ‘l’ liberal. Well, so long as you ignore his ambition and the ousting of Whitlam.
      It’s hard to believe now that I was one of the lucky ones who went to university for free in the early 70’s. I wish someone would quantify what kind of an effect that had on our economy…
      But I digress. Thanks for the info about the Left/Right divide. I had absolutely no idea it dates back to the French revolution. You really should put together a book of little known facts like that. I’d buy it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Matthew Wright

        I’ve never met NZ’s current PM (missed the moment when she served strawberries and ice-cream to the public in central Wellington, as a charity fund-raiser, by 15 minutes…). By all accounts she’s a genuinely nice person and it’s her genuineness that’s been so instrumental in her profile. She’s offering a great direction – and one much needed these days. Thanks to the neo-liberal/corporate revolution there’s a sense that kindness means weakness. Wrong. Kindness is a virtue: and I think a world that ran on kindness would have only a fraction of the problems that we do today. Ardern has totally the right idea. I hope she can achieve it. Apropos the left-right divide – curiously, I have long term plans for a book on where the current ideologies came from – the challenge is getting an international publisher, a book of this nature and gravitas is not something I could simply throw out myself on Amazon or propose to any of the local NZ publishers who I work with. I have professional representation in Europe but that’s only the first hurdle… But it’s one of several projects I’d like to bring to fruition. Watch this space (it’ll take a while…)

        Like

        • acflory

          We all watched as Ardern brought all sides of New Zealand together after the mosque attacks. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say a whole lot of us would have her as /our/ PM in a heart beat. And you’re right, she showed that compassion and caring are not weak emotions.
          Good luck with your international publisher. I think a book like this is long over due.

          Like

  • Candy Korman

    Yes… AOC is making waves in the Democratic Party and in the U.S. in general. She’s part of the long overdue re-thinking of economic inequality and its impact on people. I’m about half way through Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman. One of the most striking points he makes is that the way communities subsidize the poor starts with the assumption that they are unable to make rational decisions and therefore require monitoring (you can buy this but not that etc.). It’s time to take serious look at how/why inequality persists and how civilized societies should be judged by how they treat ALL their citizens. Time for changes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Bravo! Here in Australia there’s talk of bringing in a benefits card arrangement for those on welfare, esp. our Indigenous peoples. The idea is to stop them ‘wasting’ that money on alcohol or drugs.
      The push hasn’t had much traction, thank god, because it totally misses the reason why people living below the poverty line spend what little they have on ‘bad things’.
      We’re way beyond short-sighted, bandaid measures. We have to correct the causes of the problems in our societies.

      Like

  • Mick Canning

    I think it’s safe to say that capitalism has failed the majority. And it’s going a little off-message, I know, but if we are to have a hope of saving this planet, we need to come up with a new system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      I know this is going to be a very /fine/ distinction, but I think that corporatism has failed. I think small ‘c’ capitalism still has a place, but in much smaller businesses where the people who own the business actually work in the business. When the business is small enough for the product or service to be key.

      I mean look at the biggest companies in the world. The purpose of the business is no longer a product, or even a 100 products. The purpose of the business is ‘shares’ and growth without limits.
      Imho, it’s that ‘without limits’ bit that’s the problem, and the only way I can see it being solved is if a) a cap is placed on the size of the business and b) the consequences of malfeasance are visited upon management. For example, a small business owner who cheats his customers can be charged with fraud or forced to close up shop. Yet when a corporation does the same thing, but on a much large scale, the worst that happens is a fine.
      I have no idea if it’s even possible to turn back the clock on corporatism, but I agree that we have to come up with something better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yvonne Hertzberger

        Exactly what I think. Small business has a place and always will. Those who fear socialism don’t understand that they are not mutually exclusive.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Well said, Yvonne! I suspect that unquestioning fear of socialism is a hangover from the Cold War, but the world has gone far past the hammer & sickle. Caring for the most vulnerable in society isn’t communism, it’s common sense. Sadly we’ve all been polarized lately. We need to return to that common sense middle ground.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Mick Canning

        I take your point about corporatism, and agree totally about the distinctions in the penalties imposed on big / small business for wrong-doing. Bound up with corporatism / capitalism is the emphasis placed on growth both by big business and by governments. For some reason, it is regarded as bad if a company does not increase its profits year on year, rather than making enough to pay all its employees, stay afloat and have a bit by in case. This seems to be what drives this relentless push for more and more.

        Likewise, governments also regard growth in exactly the same way, suggesting that we’re all going to hell in a handcart if growth dips below a certain level. This is the system I hate.

        Like

        • acflory

          Yes, you’re absolutely right, Mick. That constant push for bigger and /more/ is insane. Growth doesn’t mean better. Better implies that some ‘thing’ is improving. If the thing is a product or service then everyone can be proud of their achievements. A better bottom line means nothing.
          I guess both business and government have confused quantity with quality and ordinary people are hurting as a result.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Frank Prem

    Fantastic insights Andrea. Bravo.

    I already voted. Job done.

    Liked by 1 person

  • daleleelife101.blog

    I think the ABC’s Vote Compass is a valuable tool for making an active and informed voting choice rather than voting habitually or being swayed by election lalalalala promises.. But, no matter the government, I vote for each and every person of each and every country changing the status quo from the bottom up. To use a cliche, be the change you want to see in the world. Do paid work, if you can find it, just as much as you have to in order to live well… not wealthy. But don’t let it or aspiration to superficial trappings of modern consumer culture define you. Spend time working on sufficiency in other parts of your life whether or not you’re in paid work. Always remember what $ you spend cost you time to earn that money. Find value in non-monetary things. Make choices, spend your time and money wisely. Focus your aspirations on living life on your own terms as much as you possibly can. Imho living with less money hones our ability to think and do for ourselves.

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      I haven’t tried out Vote Compass but perhaps I will, just to get an insight into what it’s all about.
      After living on Newstart for five years, we’ve pared our spending down to the bone. The paid work I’ve just started gives us a small margin for error, and /that/ gives me peace of mind. Like you, I’ve discovered just how little we actually need to live comfortably. I cook a lot more now, but I think we actually eat better, if that makes any sense. I only shop for 2 days worth of meals so nothing goes to waste and it’s always fresh.
      It’s just the bills that hurt. I guess we’re not alone in that.

      Like

  • cagedunn

    how can the super-wealthy maintain that status if they don’t have those willing to spend all they have to ‘aim upward’? it is in the yearning to become one of the 1% (or 10 or 20) that costs most people a reasonable life.
    We have to spend, to consume all the time, in order to represent ourselves as more than we are, as people on the rise, non-bottom-dwellers, better than those below us, and maybe we don’t see how it locks us into the cycle of maintaining positions of wealth – always above us, always to be strived for as if a benediction of value (value and wealth dichotomy).

    Slavery with a dream is what they dole out, and we take it.

    People like AOC will help open eyes, to see the blunt truth of that purpose. Classless society? Not from this perspective. Never in history, and certainly not now.

    Just the opinion of someone who lives well below the poverty line.

    Liked by 4 people

    • acflory

      Yes, you’re right about the power of aspirations, especially when they’re fueled by the very people who have the most to gain from /our/ labour.
      That said though, not everyone is on the hamster wheel. If success were redefined in terms of positive human qualities, such as compassion, maybe we wouldn’t feel the need to keep accumulating ‘stuff’.
      Would be nice to be emancipated. 🙂
      Yes, I know a completely classless society is impossible. Homo sapiens is nothing if not competitive. Still, we could do a whole lot better than we are now.
      Who knows, maybe we’ll be the first era in history where true change happens…okay, I’m dreaming, but that’s something I could believe in.
      High Five fellow pauper! -hugs-

      Liked by 1 person

  • Anonymous

    AOC is a huge rockstar! Watch, “knock down the house” on netflix. It tells her story…

    Liked by 3 people

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