Occupy Wall Street, Social Unrest and Income Inequality

Occupy Wall Street, Social Unrest and Income Inequality:

By Rick Bookstaber

We are seeing the specter of instability in the growing protests of income inequality, economic distress of the middle class, and economic and political power of the very wealthy. There is Occupy Wall Street in the U.S., and similar protests ranging across the globe. In parts of Europe there is rioting in the streets, in parts of China protests have turned deadly.

A microcosm for these protests can be seen in Israel, which is among the first of the countries to stage such protests. In a one of my recent posts, “Workers of the World, Goodnight!“, I recount my experience in the egalitarian Israel in the early 1980s, and contrast that with the Israel of today, where a handful of families basically have a controlling interest in the economy proper, and where the concentration of wealth at the top that makes the U.S. look like a commune. This transformation over the past few decades tells us something about the roots of social unrest that have spread recently from Occupy Wall Street to other countries. The Israeli society that I saw three decades ago was one that faced the unrelenting specter of war. During times of crisis, of war or natural disaster where there is a randomness to existence that extends beyond wealth to issues of life and death, people choose to be more egalitarian. People know they might end up with the short end of the stick with the next roll of the dice, and that whatever they acquire will likely be transitory. So they first and foremost focus on keeping a social system and its support structure in place.

Unerring stability leads to the opposite course. For example, in the medieval societies where position remained unchanged for decades, even centuries, where land, the key source of wealth, passed inexorably from one generation to the next, where class distinctions dictated the path of your life and that of your children, an egalitarian notion was not even in the realm of consideration. There were the rich and there were the poor. It was as simple as that…

(Via Credit Writedowns)