Friday, 8 October 2010

Reflections on inequality

Anyone who travels will know that major city centre railway stations are often not the best places to spend time in. Travellers arriving, perhaps disoriented by a foreign language, make easy targets for petty crooks, so these places tend to attract the more dubious parts of a city’s population.

I was reflecting on this early the other morning  as I waited in a queue at the BKV (the city’s public transport system) ticket office in the subway at Nyugati station. Standing near the head of the queue was an old woman, clearly with some mental health issues, who was trying halfheartedly to ask people in the queue for money. One homeless person lay on the floor sprawled at full length on his front, perhaps dead drunk. Small groups of homeless drinkers slunk around while well-dressed people poured out of the metro exits. An old man played the violin exquisitely. Above in the streets the usual mix of taxis, Trabants and Porsche Cayennes would have been grinding through the rush hour traffic.

I reflected on the book I was reading, “The Spirit Level" by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Their argument is that many of modern society’s socio-economic indicators, such as teenage pregnancies, levels of imprisonment, perceptions of trust, etc., are strongly related to income inequalities, and they present a lot of graphs showing how equal societies (such as the Scandianavian countries) almost always perform much better in terms of social indicators than the unequal ones (the USA and the good old UK). 

Wilkinson and Pickett’s data did not include any of the former Eastern Bloc countries, but I’m sure that they all represent societies where inequalities are widening hugely. When these countries embraced capitalism and embarked on the orgies of privatization, well-placed individuals (often former ‘Communist’ apparatchiks, natch) took full advantage and made themselves very rich indeed, ratcheting up the inequality spiral. As indeed the leaders of the UK’s nationlised businesses did, thank you very much, in the 1980s and 1990s.  

Wherever you find troughs of money, you find pigs with their noses in them, while the great majority suffer.

No comments:

Post a Comment