How economic inequality harms societies

There's a lot of information to process in this video, so I'd like to try the 'on-the-spot critical thinking' experiment again. We'll watch the video together, and the minute anyone has a question, a comment or wants to know more, we stop the video and discuss.

And then, if there's time left over, I'd like to get into a quote from the end of an interview TED did with him:

We’re becoming increasingly aware from occasional wealthy people who get in touch with us that even a proportion of the rich feel some sense of disquiet with levels of inequality — and I don’t just mean Warren Buffet. For instance, an ex-banker e-mailed me saying he’d bought a hundred copies of our book for his friends and colleagues. He recently hosted a dinner for us and some of them. He regards it as immoral not to pay tax. We’ve come across a number of business people who feel that way strongly. One of them suggested that there should be a tick box on tax forms, which you tick if you’re willing for the amount of tax you pay to be made public. Some people would be able to take pride that they’ve contributed, say, fifty thousand dollars to the well-being of society. But the implication for those who did not tick it might be that they felt ashamed and had something to hide.

There’s a book by an American scholar, Kwame Anthony Appia; it’s called The Honor Code and he looks historically at a number of really important changes in social behavior. He takes the end of footbinding among Chinese women, the ending of fighting duels among the English aristocracy, the ending of slavery and the decline, and the decline of honor killings of women in some countries. And he says in each case something happened that meant that these practices were no longer sources of respect, esteem, honor. For example, as China had more contact with other countries in the 19th century, a few charities set up offices in China campaigning against footbinding, and the Chinese that Western visitors looked down on them for the practice. As a result, a practice which had apparently existed for a thousand years disappeared in ten years. It shows the scope for an ethical element in this.

Our societies have changed radically in the way we view racism; homophobia has lost its respectability; and those are all changes we’ve made quite rapidly in a few decades. And we’ve got to do the same with the inequalities that exist. Make people at the top feel that this is an antisocial way of behaving, and they will be regarded as greedy, selfserving and selfish.

But I think we also need structural changes to solve the problem. CEOs in many large corporations quoted on the stock exchange pay themselves three hundred or more times as much as the lowest-paid full-time worker in the same company. To deal with this, we need to make people at the top more accountable to others, to employees in their organizations and to the community. You can do that by having employee representatives on company boards, or by having more thorough-going forms of economic democracy — more employee-owned companies, cooperatives, mutual societies and friendly societies. These kinds of companies have much smaller income differences within them.

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