Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Income Inequality, Violence, and A City's Health

Some haters seem to think anarchists are just some sort of spoiled whiners who just want free stuff without having to work for it. That we are just as utterly selfish and lazy as TV and right-wing economists would have us believe all of America is. That we are self-interested "rational" actors who are trying to "game the system" by complaining or protesting, for our own personal benefit alone.

What those critics don't get is that there can be rational self-interest that is not in conflict and opposition to the well-being of others. There is collective self-interest, something that is beneficial to oneself and also beneficial to society as a whole. That what is good for ourselves is good for everyone as a whole.

Wealth inequality is an arena where collective self-interest is more beneficial to everyone, including ourselves as anarchists, than individual self-interest. Where making society more financially equal leads to a better society with less power differentials between it's members, than one in which a few are encouraged to engage in never-ending self-interested greed, which tips the scales of social power and equity by increasing wealth inequality. This TED video explains it well:
New Orleans is no exception to these facts about the harmful effects of wealth inequality. In fact, if you'll notice on the video's graphs comparing US states, Louisiana is mainly near the more unequal, more socially dysfunctional end of the spectrum. So we live in one of the more unequal and dysfunctional states in one of the most unequal and dysfunctional nations. And, I'd venture to guess, one of the more unequal, and certainly one of the more dysfunctional, cities within that state, within that nation. We are likely very near our usual spot at #1 in all the categories no one wants to win, like prison populations, murders, corruption, racism, etc...

Does anyone think those in positions of power in our city are concerned about tackling wealth disparities as a means to solving social dysfunctions like high murder rates, hungry children, mental illness, and addictions? Furthermore, does anyone think they are interested in tackling the racial and gender hierarchies that create even wider gaps in wealth inequality (and therefore power in society) for entire populations of our city? Nope. Not at all. Of course not.

This is why I am an anarchist. Because recognizing that social benefits sometimes come at the expense of letting the rich explore their greediest desires puts one directly at odds with the rich and the nation-states that have been constructed to protect their wealth. Because I know that greed kills, that inequality leads to a violent society. But the rich are insulated from that fact by large gates and security officers and NOPD and surveillance cameras and the court system and white supremacy and patriarchy.

It is those like us, who cannot afford to live in such gilded self-imprisonment, who bear the brunt of the violent society greed has created. This is why all those concerned about crime should also be anarchists. This is why to end crime we must end poverty (poverty meaning relative wealth inequality). Answers to problems often require more than a one-step solution. Many see more crime, and call for more police officers, never asking the question of what social conditions are producing so many more criminals than other places. And when so many problems can be correlated to a root cause such as wealth inequality, we must stop trying to treat the symptoms and take on the disease itself.

P.S.- If anyone has links to good studies of New Orleans area wealth inequality, please post links in the comments, and thanks!


  1. New Orleans gets a mention here:

  2. Well said.

    I think this fits the request in your PS:

  3. Wealth disparity and social dysfunction change by education, but it's a slow process. What tutoring programs are you involved with to assist the children growing up in a rough city?

  4. Income inequality by city and state (different than wealth inequality, but usually similar)...

    And no, education is not the only way to close the wealth gap. There are only 2 ways actually: swedens model and Japan's model. Sweden using redistributive taxes, Japan relying on regulations to stop the excessive wealth in the first place. Education can help enlarge the pie, but doesn't change the wealth gap, which is what power is based on in our society, where money = power.

  5. Paul krugman agrees that it's not about education: