Sunday, June 4, 2017

What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Fairness - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Nicholas Kristof, JUNE 3, 2017, New York Times [original article contains links]

image (not from article) from

Keith Payne, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells  ... in a brilliant new book, “The Broken Ladder,” about how inequality destabilizes societies.  It’s an important, fascinating read arguing that inequality creates a public health crisis in America. 
The data on inequality is, of course, staggering. The top 1 percent in America owns more than the bottom 90 percent. The annual Wall Street bonus pool alone is more than the annual year­-round earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. And what’s becoming clearer is the fraying of the social fabric that results. [JB emphasis]
Payne challenges a common perception that the real problem isn’t inequality but poverty, and he’s persuasive that societies are shaped not just by disadvantage at the bottom but also by inequality across the spectrum. ...
Countries with the widest gaps in income, including the United States, generally have worse health, more homicides and a greater array of social problems. 
People seem to understand this truth intuitively, for they want much less inequality than we have. In a study of people in 40 countries, liberals said C.E.O.s should be paid four times as much as the average worker, while conservatives said five times. In fact, the average C.E.O. at the largest American public companies earns about 350 times as much as the average worker. 
Presented with unlabeled pie charts depicting income distributions of two countries, 92 percent of Americans said they would prefer to live with the modest inequality that exists in Sweden. Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor alike — all chose Sweden by similar margins.
“When the level of inequality becomes too large to ignore, everyone starts acting strange,” Payne notes. “Inequality affects our actions and our feelings in the same systematic, predictable fashion again and again.” 
“It makes us believe weird things, superstitiously clinging to the world as we want it to be rather than as it is,” he says. “Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another. It generates stress and makes us all less healthy and less happy.” 
Think of those words in the context of politics today: Doesn’t that diagnosis of stress, division and unhappiness strike a familiar chord? ... 

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