Free Card Friday: Let’s Talk Inequality


Today’s Free Card Friday takes a look at the issue of global inequality from a few different perspectives. You’ll find three useful pieces of evidence inside.


These first two cards argue that violent conflict, war, and revolution are the result of widespread inequality. The first speaks generally, arguing that oppressed classes eventually find themselves with nothing to lose, resulting in a turn to violent outbursts. The second is speaking specifically to the question of Latin America (S/O CXers) and cites history and academic studies to advance the argument that inequality tends to to create instability and revolutions in that region.


Glass Globe on Euro Notes


Depending on how your leverage these cards, you could either use them to say that inequality might be good (it ushers in new political regimes), that inequality is bad (it creates violence and war), or that the current system is unstable and revolution is inevitable.


First card:


Extreme income inequality sparks violent conflict

(Kent Welton, writer/MBA in finance and economics from USC, “Limits to Wealth,” OpEdNews,, 1/21/14)

Debates over limiting wealth and power arise wherever enclosure, oligarchy and factor imbalance create great disparities in wages, venture shares, land ownerships, and societal power. Wage-laboring majorities exploited by capital are left without natural freedom or the effective democracy necessary to secure greater equity, and a political means to peacefully “reshuffle” the deck. As a result, we are doomed to redistributive fever and revolution.

Given such conditions it is only a matter of time before disparities reach the point where the poor and over-taxed middle classes have nothing lose, and everything to gain, from general strikes, riots, revolutions, and simply killing the rich. At this stage it matters not how sophisticated are the techniques of social control as nothing will save a corrupt system from implosions ignited by falling living standards, fiat money, competitive devaluations, overpopulation, eco-ruin, and unemployment.

If we recognize no limits to wealth and its attendant political powers, then a growthism driven by enclosure and oligarchy will create deadly disparities of riches and political influence. Such social deformities lead to the collapse of natural economy, effective democracy, progressive reform, and livable environments. A just and stable society then slowly evaporates as growing wealth disparities produce class conflict.


Second card:


Rampant inequality creates political revolution in Latin America

(D.P. Bwy, Case Western Univ.,  “Political Instability in Latin America: The Cross-Cultural Test of a Causal Model,” Latin American Studies Association, vol. 3 no. 2,, Spring 1968 )

Among the preconditions to revolutions in Latin America which are most widely discussed in the literature, Blasier notes: “inequitable and inefficient systems of land tenure, stagnating and unproductive economies, fiscal crises, social discontent arising from low living standards, political repression and brutality, and foreign ‘domination’ “-again, in some way or another, all measuring dissatisfaction. Blasier, furthermore, notes that an underlying and fundamental cause of basic social revolution in Mexico, Bolivia, and Cuba, was what he refers to as a “bedrock of discontent.”5 Speaking also of the Latin American phenomenon, Merle Kling points to similar causal agents of dissatisfaction inherent in: the foreign exploitation of mineral resources, the rudimentary development of industry, and the generally closed nature of the socio-economic system-in short, the extreme concentration of economic bases of power. According to Kling, however, it is political office which provides a uniquely dynamic opportunity for the upwardly-mobile minded to acquire an economic base of power on their way to psycho-social gratifications. As this becomes more so, he predicts that “. . . sufficiently large segments of the population are prepared to take the ultimate risk, the risk of life, in a revolt, in a coufp d’etat, to prepetuate a characteristic feature of Latin American politics- chronic political instability.”6 Blasier elaborates on Kling’s thesis, when he notes that “agrarian issues are central to understanding the social revolutions occuring in Mexico, Bolivia, and Cuba.” He cites Tannenbaum, for example, as maintaining that “the chief cause of the Revolution of 1910 was the uneven distribution of land,” and Simpson as holding that the social disequilibrium preceding the revolution was “at bottom, due to inequalities in the distribution of land and to the evil effects of the hacienda system.”8 Blasier also notes that “concentration of land in large haciendas, frequently at the expense of Indian communities, took place in the years preceding the 1952 Revolution in Bolivia as it had in Mexico. Here he cites Alexander,9 for example, as pointing out that nearly 3 million of the 3.5 million Bolivians could not properly have been considered part of the national market economy. Two tests of the relationship between structural inequality and “instability” (what we have been rather loosely referring to as revolution) have ap- peared in the recent literature. Bruce Russett, in “Inequality and Instability: The Relation of Land Tenure to Politics,”‘0 operationalized instability by aggregating across nation units the number of violent political deaths occurring between 1950-1962. The degree of the inequitable distribution of land for each of these nation-units was assessed by a summary measure of the total inequality of a distribution known as the Gini Index. The Gini Index calculates over the whole population, the difference between an “ideal” cumulative distribution of land (where all farms are the same size) and the actual distribution. The higher the Gini Index, the greater the inequality. Through correlational analysis, Russett demonstrated the strength of the association between inequality and instability (among the 47 nation-units for which data was available) to be +.46 As inequality increased, instability (or the number of people killed in domestic group violence) also increased.” In “A Theory of Revolution,” Raymond Tanter and Manus Midlarsky also test the relationship between land inequality and the occurrence of successful or unsuccessful revolution. According to the authors, “a revolution may be said to exist when a group of insurgents illegally and/or forcefully challenges the governmental elite for the occupance of roles in the structure of political authority. A successful revolution occurs when as a result of that challenge to the governmental elite, the roles in the structure of the political authority are eventually occupied by the insurgents.”12 A t-test assessing the significance of the difference of inequitable land distribution between the two groups-one of successful revolutions, the other of aborted attempts-revealed (a value of 2.585) that the two groups did differ beyond chance expectations. Successful revolutions occurred in those societies with a higher degree of land inequality.


The third and final card for today takes a different approach. It points out that people worldwide are statistically much better off today than they were in the recent past, even if inequality persists. You can use this to argue that development and globalization are good, because crippling poverty is declining globally. You might also want to use it for inequality or poverty uniqueness questions.


Here is is:


Extreme poverty has been halved in the last 30 years

(Bjorn Lomborg, professor at Copenhagen Business School, “The Realism of Global Optimism,” Project Syndicate,–bias-in-favor-of-bad-news-for-our-failure-to-appreciate-how-much-the-world-has-improved, 1/16/14)

Read a newspaper or watch the evening news, and the world always seems to be getting worse. One problem after another is put under a spotlight. The more death, destruction, and despair, the better. As one Danish journalism textbook puts it: “A good story is usually bad news.”

Only occasionally do we get uplifting, things-are-getting-better stories. When we do, they feel like a guilty pleasure. As a result, we often think that the world is in worse shape than it is – even if we think our own lives are improving.

Consider this: Since 1978, American consumers have been asked whether their current financial situation is better or worse than it was a year earlier. Over the past 25 years, an average of 38% have said they are doing better, while 32% have said they are doing worse. But, when asked the same question about the overall US economy, an average of 47% have said it is doing worse, compared to 38% who think it is doing better. More people think their lives are improving, while others are doing worse, probably because of journalists’ persistent bias in favor of bad news.

The phenomenon is not limited to the United States. Since 1977, Gallup International has asked people around the world whether they believe their lives will be better next year than they were the year before. For 2014, almost 50% of those surveyed said that their lives will be better, with just 20% saying they will be worse off. Yet, asked for their opinion of how the world economy will fare, the score is almost even, with 32% believing that it will be better, and 30% that it will be worse.

So it is worth stepping back and recognizing that many indicators point to a world that is improving. New data from the World Bank show that the proportion of extremely poor people has more than halved over the last 30 years, from 42% of the global population in 1981 to 17% in 2010. While 1.2 billion people in the developing world still live on less than $1.25 per day – a problem that we certainly must address – the rate of extreme poverty has never been lower. Economists estimate that in 1820, more than 80% of all people were extremely poor.

Similarly, consider the amazing improvements in education. Illiteracy today still afflicts 20% of the world’s population, but that is down sharply from an estimated 70% in 1900. In the prosperous West, rapid increases in literacy were achieved early in the twentieth century. In developing countries, similarly large (and continuing) gains were made from 1970 to 2000, with China recording the biggest improvement.


How do you plan to use these cards? What kinds of evidence would you like to see next Friday? Tell us in the comments!


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One Response to Free Card Friday: Let’s Talk Inequality

  1. Lydia says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about debate. Regards

Comments are closed.