Will Our Great Inequality Experiment Yield Results?


Posted by Bob Lord

We sitll haven't seen the outcome here of our great experiment: How much income and how much wealth can we cram into the top 1% before the bottom 90% explodes? 

But they're seeing some results in Brazil. Brazil actually has worse inequality than the US. And you've read about the outbreak of mass civil disobedience there. At first it was supposedly attributable to transit fares and the use of tax money to prepare stadiums for the World Cup and the Olympics rather than to provide social services. But make no mistake. The protests in Brazil are inequality driven. 

Ironically, although Brazil's inequality is worse than ours, the trend there, albeit slow-moving, actually is towards equality, whereas the trend here is in the other direction. We're still in the process of fleecing poor people and stuffing the loot into the pockets of the Walton familiy. But inequality in Brazil is more visible. The wealthy there travel in armored vehicles. The tax system there is rigged in favor of the wealthy even worse than ours. And living conditions for the many are worse there than here. Considering those factors together, it makes sense that Brazil reached its tipping point before we reached ours.

But we may not be far behind.

Geographically, the largest land mass between us and Brazil is Mexico, another bastion of inequality. It's not hard to imagine the protests in Brazil spreading to Mexico. Protests against injustice are contagious. They can and do cross borders. And that 700 mile fence and 20,000 new border guards our geniuses in Washington are contemplating won't do a thing to stop the protest wave from landing here. 

One remarkable thing about Brazil was reported in today's Times: How Angry is Brazil: Pele Has Feet of Clay. Apparently, the "bread and circus games" strategy of the elite is not working there. The powers that be asked Pele and other soccer stars to appeal to the masses, but the masses aren't buying it. 

Could the day be coming here when an athlete is used as a prop by the elite to appeal to the masses, and the masses tell the athlete to F off? Maybe. Remember my buddy Phil Mickelson's stunt a few months ago? Undoubtedly at the request of his patron, the KPMG accounting firm, he tried to drive public opinion against California's tax rates on the wealthy. It backfired, and he wound up apologizing. Mickelson is not Lebron James or Derek Jeter, so his episode does not mean we've reached the point that inequality has overcome our blind adulation of athletes. But it does suggest that even our dumbed down population has its limits, and that the day may come when bread and circus games don't play here either. 

So, will our great inequality experiment yield results? Absolutely. The only question is when.