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Inequality Hurts: The Unhealthy Side Effects of Economic Disparity

Sep 30, 2011 | By Shannon Hughes

In this ten minute segment from Wednesday's NewsHour on PBS, Paul Solman investigates the repercussions wealth disparity has on our health. His search leads him to conversations with "epidemiologists, former six-figure income earners who are chronically unemployed and poor teenagers who struggle with inequality each day" as well as Dr. Richard Wilkinson, co-author of The Spirit Level.

Understanding the physical consequences of this created system amplifies our moral responsibility to address this injustice, but as Solmon wraps up his piece, we hear two differing opinions on inequality. Harald Uhlig, a professor at the University of Chicago reflects, "Imagine two people, you know, one is working hard and one is just lazy and goofing off. And suppose both get the same thing down the road. I mean, wouldn't the hardworking person say, why am I doing that? So inequality motivates people to be inventive, to work hard, to pursue a career, to pursue an education." Wilkinson shares, "This is the argument that to make the rich work harder, you need to pay them more. To make the poor work harder, you need to pay them less."

This isn't the kind of logic I want to rely on in when facing the reality of higher rates of mental illness and infant mortality in the US than in more economically equal societies.


Download a full transcript of the video here.


A false dichotomy

Harald Uhlig give us false premises in his comments. We are not talking about "one who works hard... and one who goofs off...) Nor are we suggesting equal benefits to each. This is the argument so often made and rarely if ever refuted. What we are talking about are people who work equally hard. although at different jobs, but are paid disproportionately. During the last few decades CEOs like "Chainsaw Al" were lionized when they slashed wages and benefits for workers and then reaped huge stock gains! Now conservatives have targeted public jobs, mostly held by educated members of the middle class. Does the #Occupy movement mean that the final straw has broken the camel's back? Has the frog being boiled alive summoned the strength to jump from the pot? (The "think tanks" love that analogy!)We will see.

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