Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Does inequality cause gun violence? More than you might think

We interrupt our regular scheduled programming to bring you a take, relevant to yesterday's horror in Texas:

It is clear, or ought to be clear, that we have too many guns in this country, far too many, just crazy amounts of them serving no valid purpose (as Joe Biden pointed out there aren't any deer out there in Kevlar vests), but it should also be clear that we have too much untreated mental illness, partly because we won't spend any money on it 


but even more because, as Nathan Newman tells us this morning (linked in the Tweet), our living conditions in the US actually foster high levels of mental illness, through the stress and social distrust provoked by wealth and income inequality.

Inequality is bad for health, and bad for mental health, at all levels, affecting the wealthy (fearful and crowded into gated communities) as well as the poor (stressed and frustrated) and bad for everybody's safety, including that of children:

 if we want to understand rampant gun violence, don’t look to the individual shooters who may at times - but not always - suffer from mental illness. Instead, look at them sociologically as the (literally) bleeding edge of a broader society racked by distrust and paranoia. Inequality drives greater levels of social distrust and mental illness, and that paranoia seems to drive the desire for more guns that sets the stage for the massive levels of gun deaths we see on a constant basis.

We must have better access to mental health treatment, we must have more effective gun control at a federal level, and we really ought to be doing something about inequality, maybe in two directions: by shifting wealth from the very wealthy to the rest of us through the tax system, and by shifting ownership from rentiers to workers through cooperatives, profit sharing, and the like.

By the way, a couple of tabs I've had open for a little over a month refer to a new book by Thomas Piketty, more on political than economic matters, A Brief History of Equality, which puts the dilemma of the educated left in pretty stark terms

in the post-War period, in the ’50s and ’60s, the Democratic Party in the U.S. and social democratic parties in Europe were able to convince voters with lower education, lower income, lower wage[s] that they are the platform for them. That, in effect, what ties them together, despite their differences … is a platform of educational expansion, workers’ rights, Social Security, progressive taxation. [This] is what has made this coalition stick together. Then, what we see is that gradually over the past four decades, these parties have become the party of the educational elite. So while the right-wing parties and the center-right party are still the parties of the business elite or the high wealth elite … [W]e have moved from this class-based system to what I describe as a multi-elite system, where basically the educational elite votes for the Brahmin left and the wealthy elite votes for the merchant right or the business right. This rise of elitism, in effect, has left a lot of voters feeling abandoned [by] the main two parties, and I feel this has largely contributed to the rise of what is sometimes known as populism.

but some real ideas for action of a kind that I've long favored:

There are two main ideas, one is social federalism and the other is participatory socialism. Social federalism is a view that if you want to keep globalization going and you want to avoid this retreat to nationalism and the frontier of the nation-state that we see in a number of countries, you need to organize globalization in a more social way. If you want to have international treaties between European countries and Canada and the U.S. and Latin America and Africa, these treaties cannot simply be about free trade and free capital flow. They need to set some target in terms of equitable growth and equitable development. So, how much you want to tax large international corporations [and] high wealth/high income individuals? What kind of target do you want for carbon emissions?... 

Participatory socialism is the general objective of more “access” to education. Educational justice is very important in terms of access to higher education. Today there’s a lot of hyper criticism, not only in the U.S., but also in France and in Europe, that we don’t set quantifiable and verifiable targets in terms of how children [from] lower [income] groups [gain] access to higher education, what kind of funding [they] have for higher education. The other big dimension is circulation of property, so I talk about “inheritance for all.” The idea is to use a progressive tax on wealth in order to finance [a] capital transfer to every young adult at the age of 25. This transfer is in effect, 120,000 euros [about $134,000] per person, [which is] about the level of medium wealth today in France or in the U.S. That will very much transform the ability of children from poor families or middle-class families to create their own firms.

It won't eliminate inequality by any means, but it could make a major difference.

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