Does History Have a Message About Extreme Wealth Inequality

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  1. GA Anderson profile image90
    GA Andersonposted 5 years ago

    Thanks to TessSchlesinger for a couple of links that provoked the thought of this topic.

    The first was a 2014 article about one billionaire's view of the danger of extreme wealth inequality.

    "I see pitchforks.

    At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent."

    The article: The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats

    The second was from a podcaster/historian that has written a book about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

    "Are there any lessons the United States can take from Rome?

    Rome winds up existing for 1000 years as a civilization. When the republic falls you’re at about the halfway point. One of the reasons the Romans were so successful and why their empire did continue to grow was because of how well they managed to integrate new groups.

    The Romans were always successful when they integrated a new group, and always facing destruction and ruin when they tried to resist bringing new people in. The Social War [against the Italians] is a great early example. If you have a group of people that are going to be part of your civilization and act as soldiers in your army, you need to invite them into full participation in the system. If you try to resist, all that you’re going to do is make them mad at you.

    The other biggie is if people’s way of life is being disrupted, and things are becoming worse for them at the same time that this tiny clique of elites are making out like bandits, that creates a lot of resentful energy.

    If you ignore genuine reformers, you leave the field open for cynical demagogues. They’re going to use that resentful energy not to answer people’s problems, but for their own personal advantage. They make themselves powerful by exploiting people’s fears, their grief, their anger. They say, “I know who to blame for all your problems, it’s my personal enemies!”

    The article: Before the Fall of the Roman Republic, Income Inequality and Xenophobia

    Don't just jump in on this. I think you will benefit by reading the billionaire's article first, then the historian's article about Rome.

    If, for the sake of discussion the accuracy of both articles is accepted, Do you think history is talking to us?


  2. profile image0
    PrettyPantherposted 5 years ago

    I think my problem is I assume educated people already know this stuff. When I say things like the exponential accumulation of wealth and power that results from unchecked capitalism will inevitably result in the collapse of a society, like I'm sure I've said many times on these forums including just a few days ago, I assume people already have a knowledge of how that has occurred in history.

    Yes, I think history is talking to us.

    1. lobobrandon profile image88
      lobobrandonposted 5 years agoin reply to this

      You assume too much. Most people don't know and the others don't care about learning from history.

      1. GA Anderson profile image90
        GA Andersonposted 5 years agoin reply to this

        Hi Brandon. Here is a thought. What if the real lesson history is trying to teach us is not of those evil things associated with wealth inequity, but that inequities and resentment of inequities is undeniably our human nature.

        More than one great, (or at least considered great), philosophers have proclaimed that a successful human society must contain hierarchies.

        Yet it is also human nature that achievers desire to continue achieving.

        So is the problem just one of scale, or a more primal, (thus unavoidable),  resentment of non-achievers for achievers regardless of scale?


        1. wilderness profile image94
          wildernessposted 5 years agoin reply to this

          While I am envious of another retired person with 2 or 3 million in an IRA, I can't even relate to the Bill Gates of the world with Billions.  I have zero desire to live in a mansion, or be surrounded by servants.  I do not want a private jet or yacht with crew.  I don't even want a Rolls Royce (although a Lamborghini might be nice).  I don't want what Billions could buy.

          Point being I would like to have more than I do, but that some have thousands of times what I do means nothing.  It isn't about scale; it's about having more.

          1. GA Anderson profile image90
            GA Andersonposted 5 years agoin reply to this

            Pooh on your Lamborghini. As long as it's just wishful, I want the '67 Shelby GT500 Super Snake Mustang - in Shelby Midnight Blue with white racing stripes.

            I also agree it is not a matter of scale. I lean to the achievers vs. non-achievers perspective.


        2. gmwilliams profile image84
          gmwilliamsposted 5 years agoin reply to this

          Gus, you are correct in your premise.  Those who achieve were always objects of scorn from the non-achievers.  Take for instance, schools.  A students were always the scorn of C & D students who derided  A students.  There are even instances where less successful students ostracized more successful students. 

          In the work world, those who success are oftentimes viewed w/envy by the less successful.  The less successful uses pretexts indicating that successful people are plastic, materialistic, & even greedy when such aren't the case.  Forget about socioeconomic classes, the poor will always hate the rich yet want that lifestyle. Yes, there are haters among the less successful & non-achievers.  It is those people who want the good life without earning it.  They feel or know that they are incapable of earning their way & want to be subsidized.  Yes, I went there...…..

    2. GA Anderson profile image90
      GA Andersonposted 5 years agoin reply to this

      Almost on point PrettyPanther.

      The point wasn't about how the wealth was accumulated, (in the Roman example it wasn't "unchecked capitalism"), or even whether it was deserved, but rather does just the fact that the inequity exists put us on the Roman road?

      For instance; Vanderbilt and Carnegie, (and Bill Gates?), probably fit your perception of "unchecked capitalism" yet the first two dedicated their final years to giving it all back. Do you think that made in difference in the poor side of the inequity's perception? Do you think the Gates' Foundations' efforts change anything of the modern poor side's view of the inequity?

      The point being I don't think the "how" nor any mitigating actions of the 1% affect the inequity matters to the wrong side of the inequity.

      Even if those of great wealth earned it honestly and fairly, and used it in socially responsible ways, I still think our human nature makes the very existence of it unacceptable.


  3. IslandBites profile image88
    IslandBitesposted 5 years ago

    The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent."

    And that's how I understand "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer".

    And yes; "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

  4. gmwilliams profile image84
    gmwilliamsposted 5 years ago

    Gus, I am going to take the contrarian view of this.  The upper classes have the education & skill sets to either attain & retain their socioeconomic status.  They have the skills to be in demand & sought after.   Wealth requires a set of acumen.  Wealthy people with the except of those who were born into it, possess a large amount of acumen.  They study their environment, they know what people want, & implement the means & methods to reach as large amount of people as possible.  In essence, they have a gimmick.  They also are quite adept at branding themselves.  They view themselves as a business & organization.

    Wealthy people also have a mindset of ownership.  They contend that the world is their oyster.  They aren't afraid of the world.  They see the world as their playground.   Poor & middle class people who become wealthy(yes, there are SOME) have that mindset.  They, too believe in ownership & that the world isn't a forbidden place.  Wealthy people, other generational or more likely self-made strongly assert that they MAKE their destiny & aren't a subject to destiny. They see what needs to be done, what needs are to be fulfilled, & proceed to satisfy the needs at hand. 

    Poor people in particular feel that they are powerless & that there is nothing they can do about it.  They feel that they are anus mundi.  They have negative thoughts & inculcate such thoughts generationally.  They have a fear of society.  They feel that everything & everyone is against them.  They have an ADVERSITY to improving themselves. They tell their children to be happy, even content w/what they have & not to get too big for their britches.  They also use religion to psychologically, even psychically assuage them that their rewards are in another world.  They even maintain that being impoverished & struggling builds characters that those who aren't poor are vain, extravagant materialists.  They see money as inherently evil. These attitudes & mindsets explain why the poor are poor.

    The middle class, for the most part, don't want to rock THAT boat.  In their purview, they worked so hard for what they have obtained.  They want to maintain it so they are the ultimate conformists. The middle class wants more but not so much they will lose what they already have.  They are also the most security conscious.  They want that job security.  They will take risks but not too many risks.  They want moderate success.

    Yes, societies toppled because of extreme wealthy equality.  However, many of the societies that were created because this toppling of extreme wealth inequality were worse societies than the previous ones.  For example, Tsarist Russia had extreme wealth inequality.  The result was the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The Communist society created from the Russian Revolution was far worse.  The Communist society didn't create a socioeconomic equalitarian society, it exacerbated it.   Cuba became worse after the institutionalization of Communism. 

    In the future, there will even be a greater divide based upon skillsets & educational levels.  Those with highly specialized skillsets & education are the ones who will thrive socioeconomically in America while those with less specialized skillsets & education as those with low or no skillsets & low levels of education will become the new poor.  The future will be harsher regarding the socioeconomic class divide than ever before.

  5. gmwilliams profile image84
    gmwilliamsposted 5 years ago

    Gus,  I would like to add that it has always been the fantasy of the poor to topple the wealthy.  However, the poor will never topple the wealthy.  They don't have the resources to do so.  The wealthy has smarts, resources, & power.  The poor believe that they have power but they really don't.  Remember, it was the wealthier, not the poorer classes who institute change.  Lenin who instituted Communism came from an educated, affluent family & so did other Russian revolutionaries such as Trotsky.  Fidel Castro came from a wealthy family also.  The wealthy has means to institute change-the poor DON'T!

    Does anyone believe that in the complex 21st century that the poor have the tools to topple government regarding socioeconomic inequality?   The reality of the situation is that income inequality is going to become more marked.  Those w/skills & education will thrive socioeconomically.  Let me add those who are know branding & the art of influence will also have wealth in addition to their skillset & educational skills.  People who are extremely talented will also have wealth.  Those who aren't in the aforementioned categories aren't going to thrive socioeconomically in the 21st century.  The 21 century will be the proverbial hunger games in terms of socioeconomic inequality!

    1. GA Anderson profile image90
      GA Andersonposted 5 years agoin reply to this

      Hi Grace, while I appreciate the effort and sincerity of your comments, they are of a different direction than I intended. I anticipated such responses and debated adding a caveat in the OP but decided to see how things flowed first.

      My question wasn't about how the great wealth was accumulated, (deserved, earned - or not), but what history has shown us to be the consequences of such a wealth inequity.

      Hopefully, a secondary question would be whether, (as the "billionaire's article implies),  the manner that those of great wealth react to society's unrest could mitigate the angst of the situation or does just the existence of the situation mean we are too far down the road of history's examples.

      I think the Roman example was possibly a good one to search for comparisons to modern times.


      1. gmwilliams profile image84
        gmwilliamsposted 5 years agoin reply to this

        Okay, a succinct answer would be initially revolution after the poor feel that they are sick of the oppression.  However, after a supposedly different society is formed, the old socioeconomic class inequities reappear-oftentimes the socioeconomic class inequalities are more pronounced than before.  There will never be a society where there is no socioeconomic demarcation of classes.  Socioeconomic demarcation of classes was, is, & always will be.

        To propose socioeconomic equality is similar to the premise that everyone gets rewarded or gets an award just for showing up.  There has to be division based upon talents & intelligence. To believe otherwise is totally fantastical at best.   True equality is only a theoretical premise- it isn't reality.

        1. gmwilliams profile image84
          gmwilliamsposted 5 years agoin reply to this

          An answer to the second question is that there are some wealthy people who have the guilt complex.  They have absorbed the ideology that wealth is unfair while there are poor people about.  They somehow contend that the wealth they have was somehow unfair & that there will be somehow retribution one day.  They contend that there should be socioeconomic equality.  They feel that there should be a fair income base.

          There are other wealthy people who contend that they EARNED their wealth.  They further assert that people are poor because of a defect in character.  They maintain that poor people want to be poor.  They argue that it isn't their fault that poverty exist & that each person ought to have the wherewithal to look out for themselves.  The wealthy who are self-made proclaim that if they can make it, so can others.  They state that others would rather use excuses than to exert the effort necessary to succeed.  Their attitude is to let the poor destroy themselves which they will eventually do anyhow.

          There are a few wealthy people who can & will enact laws to further oppress the poor. They will create situations that are hungry games-like & will create more draconian penalties for poor people who elect to be rebellious.  They will vote for a more ultraconservative & totalitarian form of government, ensuring that they will hold the socioeconomic reigns.

        2. GA Anderson profile image90
          GA Andersonposted 5 years agoin reply to this

          I agree with the points in all your comments Grace. I think my response to PrettyPanther will show you what my thoughts are,

          Human nature will ensure we have what your final comment says - there will always be hierarchies, and a human society will always demand them to function, and, that same human nature will also demand the equality we both know is impossible.


          1. gmwilliams profile image84
            gmwilliamsposted 5 years agoin reply to this

            I know this.   Hierarchies are part of human nature.  No let me correct, hierarchies are animal nature.  Animals have hierarchies.  It is just plain natural.   Hierarchies start in families with father, mother, & children.  Even among siblings, there are hierarchical positions.   However, there are people who view hierarchies as inherently evil.   They want an equality.  Uh uh, hierarchies was, is, & always shall be.  What some people fail to realize that one can progress socioeconomically & educationally if h/she has THE WILL to do so.   Remember the current ideology is that each child receives a trophy.  Well, the idea of a nonhierarchical society is akin to the premise that each child should receive a trophy.

          2. profile image0
            Hxprofposted 5 years agoin reply to this

            "Human nature will ensure we have what your final comment says - there will always be hierarchies, and a human society will always demand them to function, and, that same human nature will also demand the equality we both know is impossible."

            This sums it up very well GA.  Hierarchies are an inherent part of human society.  For America, and the West in general, the extreme ends of the hierarchies have become more extreme.  There are reasons, but it's not simply human greed that's made them worse - the greed has always been there.

            And further, in all of this talk about the excessive wealth, we typically asign greed to the wealthy, and ignore or downplay the greed of the poor or not so wealthy, but greed is a human vice, regardless of economic class.

            1. wilderness profile image94
              wildernessposted 5 years agoin reply to this

              Greed is a big part of the hierarchies, but so is competition.  There can be no reasonable excuse to accumulate the massive we're seeing in some people, but competition is a different matter.  Seems to me that they enjoy that competition, enjoy winning the game, and the game is about massive wealth. 

              Absolutely agree that greed is common to nearly all peoples, rich or poor or in between, though not that it is all bad.  Without the desire for what we do not have we wouldn't see the improvements we do, from cars to homes to cell phones to nearly everything we use.

            2. gmwilliams profile image84
              gmwilliamsposted 5 years agoin reply to this

              +1000000000000000000000000000000000, the wealthy are not much greedy they work for & invest in their wealth.  They also create businesses & other avenues of wealth.  The poor, in my estimation, are the greediest social class.  Many poor want to be poor.  They aren't about to make the necessary sacrifices to better themselves socioeconomically nor educationally.  They act instinctively, not caring about their future or the future of their children.  They want that good life & that is where government services come in terms of housing, food, health care & other social services.  The poor can act the way they want because they know that the government or more affluent relatives will take care of them! To say that the wealthy are greedy is a symptom of class envy.  The wealthy aren't greedy but SMART!


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