I have been doing some thinking recently as to whether the bifurcation of society in terms of income/wealth disparity is a natural consequence of market forces. Is it an inherent aspect of capitalism that wealth will eventually concentrate among a small subset of the population? Or, alternatively, can capitalism be tweaked to ensure a more consistent, level (read sustainable) playing field that allows wealth to follow ability from generation to generation?
I was introduced to this challenge via the fantastic (and extremely prescient) work of the Human Services Coalition (now Catalyst Miami, http://catalystmiami.org/) in Miami in the early 2000s. Daniella Levine (now an elected official on the Board of County Commissioners in Miami), who founded HSC, saw earlier than most that the middle class in Miami was being hollowed-out and that this would be the future for other major US cities.
Given the political upheavals we have seen in the past couple of years in the developed economies, and that these have largely been attributed to social inequality (as a result of globalization), my question then is: Is this an inevitable outcome of capitalism? In other words, given human nature (and our tendency towards inertia, biases, and shortcuts), is it possible to design a market (driven largely by self-interest, which rewards specific skills/merit) that, over time, results in more equitable opportunity? My sense is that it might not be possible. If so, and if we accept that altruism is an unrealistic model on which to structure society (and every previous attempt suggests this is true), what alternative structure would produce something more equitable? And, more importantly, how do we get there? To some extent, this is accounted for in Strategic CSR via an empowered stakeholder model. But, in order for it to work at the extreme, requires a significant correction – an outcome that history teaches us is usually violent and, as a result, worth avoiding (if possible).
Over the summer, I plan to think more about this. If anyone has any ideas/thoughts, I would love to hear them.
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