Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the threats of inequality in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
A widely held belief is that the defining factor between the wealthy and poor members of society is their level of hard work. This is underpinned by the view that the poor can pull themselves out of their situation by their bootstraps. The proponents of this theory find it easy to justify growing global inequality. They probably feel secure in their status and are little bothered by the growing level of inequality. Are they truly secure or is this just an illusion? Let us examine the threats that growing inequality poses to society.
The global economy has witnessed growth for decades. This growth has been accompanied by increase in inequality in most regions and individual countries within these regions. If Piketty can be believed, the underlying factor to this is that the return on capital is greater than overall economic growth. While per capita growth has been sustained, there has been a more proportionate distribution of this growth among the various wealth segments. The profit share often surpasses the wage share of GDP growth.
It would appear that economic growth will be sustained despite the inequality. So why bother? This is not the case. Growing inequality is potentially harmful to social cohesion. People find it hard to connect with those noticeably different from themselves. Inequality could result in natural tensions between the various economic groups. It could lead to tensions between the rich and the poor who feel disenfranchised. It could also lead to loss of trust in the government and public institutions. The poor could begin to feel that the government has failed them or does not care about their plight. Inequality could be a threat to democracy and the rule of law as witnessed in the Arab uprising. Wealthy elites who assume power could implement policies to entrench their own interests at the expense of the poor.
Inequality also has economic consequences. Employment income is a key factor of inequality. Growing inequality means that those at the bottom of the economic pyramid in society would effectively experience a sustained erosion of their disposable income. They would not be able to invest in their personal development and that of their children through quality health and education. This would in turn decrease the quality of labour available in the economy. Their ability to contribute to the economic growth of their nations would also be impaired, further widening the inequality gap. The end result would be a degradation of the supply side that perpetuates itself in a negative feedback loop.
What does this mean? Effective engagement of all sections of society is necessary for sustained and strong economic growth. There is a need to enable each citizen to contribute to and benefit from the economic growth of their country. This can be attained through investment in public goods and services such as health, education, and infrastructure. If the national cake is not shared, it is unlikely to grow as fast as it potentially could. It could even stagnate.
© Felistus Mbole 2019