The Ministry of Truth: Mainstream media, a well oiled propaganda machine.

I was inspired to write about the influence of the mainstream media (MSM) earlier than anticipated; recently I have been shocked regarding the biased reporting from the MSM relating to the democratic primaries. They have plummeted to new depths, delivering an echo chamber of lies and misrepresentation to keep the masses ignorant of the world we live in. During the cold war the west was rightfully scathing in their assessment of news agencies such as TASS (soviet state news agency) and newspapers such as Pravda, regarding the use of their services to convey propaganda throughout the state. Having watched, read and listened to coverage of the ‘primaries’, there really isn’t much difference regarding the overall goal. The US networks are slightly more subtle in their delivery (debatably), and the overall message is arguably more nuanced. However, the objective is the same, to deliver a narrative that serves the ruling elite, which comprises of establishment politicians and corporate CEO’s.

I was born in the UK and currently live in New Zealand so I have had exposure to two nations mainstream media; to a certain extent you could argue with some vigor that news channels in these countries do have some political leanings. At certain times they may appear to espouse a certain ideology; such as the UK’s mainstream media’s harsh coverage of Jeremy Corbyn during the Labour leadership campaign. Most of the time, however, you could argue that they appear to be relatively objective or certainly more subtle with their reporting compared to the US. In the UK in particular, biased reporting tends to be more obvious and unabashed in what would once be described as the print media, but that’s a blog for another day. In the US, mainstream media seem less concerned about reporting the news and more interested in championing ideological opinion.

The creation of an ‘echo chamber’ of lies and deception is a vital component of the ruling elite to keep the proletariat anesthetized, misinformed and in check. Powerful organisations such137px-World_Economic_Forum_logo_svg as the World Economic Forum meet annually in an ‘ivory tower’ in Davos, Switzerland to decide what is good for the masses and which direction the world should go. The elite club consists of 2500 people considered top of the game in business, politics, selected academia (no Noam Chomsky I’m afraid) and journalism; just so they’re on the same page from the outset when the plutocracy write the script. Even the WEF’s mission statement, begs the question; for who? Who are they trying to improve the world for? If it’s the masses, they’ve failed miserably; more wars than ever, nothing seriously has been done about climate change, inequality is ever-increasing and still we have masses of people throughout the world in abject poverty. However, if we turn our attention to the 1%, they’re doing very nicely thank you. Between corporations and governments, they dictate policy and then use the media to hypnotize us into believing we’ve never had it so good. Sadly for a large portion of the population it works remarkably well and it’s not a new phenomenon.

As mentioned previously in my blog, one of the first protagonists of propaganda was Edward Bernays, he worked during the first world war for Woodrow Wilson’s government,225px-Edward_Bernays influencing public opinion towards participation in the war. Bernays wrote a book called Propaganda in 1928, this and other books such as ‘crystallising public opinion’ were enthusiastically read amongst other people by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebels . Bernays described his techniques as engineering consent, he concluded that what he did was an important, legitimate tool in a democratic society. The works undertook by Bernays went on to be called ‘public relations’. This a quote from Propaganda, this encapsulates not only what Bernays was about, but how this is relevant to what is happening today;

‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country’. 

Although we know through countless events in history that this attempt at control is widespread throughout so-called democracies, it is still unnerving when you read how clinically callous these people are. What is equally incredible is the justification for these actions as stated in the second paragraph;

‘We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society’. 

Bernays had incredible success in his field including; increasing smoking rates in woman during the 1920’s and helping with the overthrow of democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala. The downfall of Árbenz was in the interest of the United Fruit Company who possessed a lot of the land that Jacobo Árbenz was intending to democratize. Due to early contributions to his craft Bernays was generally described as the ‘father of public relations’.

The operation behind the overthrow of Árbenz was what became popularly known as Operation Mockingbird. This was a CIA attempt to infiltrate mainstream media, which started in 1948 by Frank Wisner. By 1953 ‘Operation Mockingbird’ had influence on over 25 newspapers and wire agencies, which were run by people with well know right-wing views. The operation was investigated in 1976 by the ‘Church Committee’ who stated that there were several hundred individuals who were providing information to the CIA, who attempted to influence opinion through the use of propaganda. It concluded by proposing that these individuals provided access for the CIA to numerous newspapers, news agencies, book publishers, TV and radio stations. These practices have continued today, albeit in a slightly less transparent guise, but the goal is the same, control of the people to create a conformist, apathetic electorate. In 2013 a press freedom index rated the US at 32 in the world (a jump from 47 the previous year), the UK 29 and my adopted country New Zealand a very commendable 8th. It’s generally thought in the US that the press is relatively free, however, this index suggests otherwise, likewise for the UK, in particular the print media.

There is no doubt that the left will claim that the media has a general conservative bias, as the right would suggest that the mainstream media is very liberal and this argument predictably would go nowhere. Personally I find this is a difficult topic to write about, it’s relatively subjective and we all look through our respective political lenses. Being from a more scientific persuasion, I like to support my views and opinions with facts, however, obtaining these illusive nuggets in an industry which is alleged to be providing them is difficult. However, the recent terrible treatment of Bernie Sanders in the mainstream media may help us focus in on what is going on and why.

It is first important to recognize that due to years of mergers 6 huge corporations own 90% of the media in the US, this has been reduced from 50 back in 1983. This gives enormous influence and responsibility to a select few in providing news and information to the citizens. It’s also worth noting that this blatant monopoly of information control does not stop at news channels, it also rife in newspapers, magazines, movies and TV shows. So here are the big 6 who control the 90%;

  • General electric – this group includes; NBC in its varying guises, the History Channels and Universal among many others.
  • Time Warner – which includes CNN and HBO.
  • Walt Disney Company – ESPN, ABC and Disney Channel amongst others.
  • New Corporation – Fox and its varying spin offs, National Geographic Channel, Sky TV and Asia’s Star TV network.
  • CBS – CBS and spin offs, Showtime and Flix.
  • Viacom – Includes MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount.

It is no secret that Bernie Sanders is openly campaigning against the 1% in society who use their status and power to obtain more control over society at the expense of the masses. Are the billionaires really going to publicise somebody who is going to challenge their way of life, to question the morality of the status quo? Of course not. On the 6th March the Washington Post set a some kind of journalistic world record by writing 16 negative post in 16 hours, these reports are no more than opinion pieces and blatant lies, which range from Sanders being clueless to unelectable. Bernie_Sanders_Arrested_1963_Chicago_TribuneOne such claim, suggested that Sanders is incapable of appealing to people of ethnic minorities or woman. When you actually analyse these issues in detail you will notice that Bernie Sanders has an impeccable record in these areas and was there at varying civil rights marches back in the 60’s. It’s important to note that the Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, billionaire CEO of Amazon and a committed Libertarian. The Washington Post are not on their own regarding bias towards Sanders; on the 14th March the New York Times ran a moderately positive story for Sanders, stating ‘Bernie Sanders scored victories for years via legislative side doors’. This was later changed to “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.” Although this may appear initially subtle, the general content that showed Bernie Sanders in a favourable light was also removed and replaced with a more critical tone.

The US TV networks are as equally blatant regarding their biases, as an example; ABC World News Tonight from January 2015 to November 2015 aired 81 minutes of footage from Donald Trump’s campaign, compared to a miniscule 20 seconds for the Sanders campaign, even though both men’s popularity at the time were remarkably similar. Another example of ‘Sanders-phobia’ occurred on the 16th March after the latest round of primaries, neither MSNBC, CNN or Fox News covered Bernie Sanders’ speech, rather they cut to an empty podium awaiting Trump. The reasoning was that Sanders was just delivering his standard speech. Oh, do they mean the one about policies, the one that would improve healthcare and decrease inequality, in which case, move along there’s clearly nothing to see here. Anyway, as a little light relief, here is an indication of media coverage up to the 15th March. The ‘earned’ section is the amount of ‘free media’ the candidates have received thus far.

NYTCandidateMedia

The disparity between Clinton, Sanders and Trump regarding TV time is incredible. There is no real data to indicate why, so from here on in this is my opinion. I strongly suggest that there are some important things to consider regarding the role of mainstream media and how this plays out on the general public in manufacturing consent.

Firstly Trump is great for ratings for the main TV channels, he provides at times brilliant sound bites, he’s fantastic value and practically writes the script for them. Trump’s rhetoric, buffoonery and schoolyard personal attacks sadly inspire people to watch, even if it is just to witness the ridiculousness of his performance. He doesn’t complicate matters for his supporters such as discussing policies, or how he will get things done, he simply states he will and his supporters love him for it. Trump is feeding off a very angry, group, upset by perceived failures, tired of not being heard and he simply reflects their anger. He normalizes bullying and harassment at his rallies, he fuels the bigots by declaring that he would build a wall on the Mexican/US border and he has also indicated that he would ban Muslims from entering the US. This is all music to the ears not only of his misguided followers, but to the mainstream media CEO’s as the ratings rack up. Make no mistake MSM does not want Trump to be President, as he is a maverick and would be impossible for the elite to control. Right now, however, it’s about money and ‘The Don’ is money in the rather corrupt bank. It will be interesting if Trump’s popularity persists  and at what point the MSM will turn on Trump, there are already early signs on the horizon, but this will intensify as he starts to be perceived more of a threat.

Hillary on the other hand is non of the above, she is not charismatic, you certainly don’t get fired up listening to her and her followers are pretty well-behaved (if not brainwashed), so what’s the deal? Why does she get the coverage? It’s quite simple, (I’ll whisper it) if you didn’t know already, she’s one of them, Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t really matter to the guys really pulling the strings, they bet on both teams anyway. She’s bought and paid for by the corporations, particularly on Wall Street, she will do exactly what she needs to get into power, at which point she will be controlled by the establishment, just like Obama. Effectively, a vote for Hillary is a vote for absolutely no real change whatsoever at home, but perpetual war globally and this status quo suits the ruling elite just fine. Hillary like Obama confuses the electorate; on the surface particularly regarding social issues she sounds like a liberal, she acts like a liberal, but in reality she is absolutely enmeshed in the establishment and with the GOP in disarray, Hillary is the ruling elites safe wager.

Then we come to Bernie Sanders, a rather elderly, pleasant, Jewish gentlemen born in Brooklyn and resides in Vermont, who is beholden to nobody, speaks with unwavering passion and subsequently scares the crap220px-Bernie_Sanders out of the establishment. A self-described Democratic Socialist, who is desperate to reduce inequality, tackle the Wall Street gambling addiction, force corruption out of politics, improve healthcare and increase wages; as for the establishment he is a self-proclaimed ‘danger’ to the plutocracy. It’s not remotely surprising that mainstream media initially tried to ignore Sanders even existed. They then progressed to phase two; mocking Mr. Sanders once he became a factor, now the MSM have resorted to blatant attacks, using pro-establishment political speakers from both sides of the aisle. Bernie is challenging everything the ruling elite hold so dearly, he is questioning their very being and does not conform to the usual political playbook. Even more worrying for the establishment, he is exceptionally popular, especially with the under 40’s, who are disillusioned with the same old empty promises and who are not afraid of the dreaded ‘S’ word like their parents before them. They have seen capitalism favour the few, watched corruption grow, witnessed perpetual war, felt the wrath of the recession and they’ve concluded it’s time for a change. The millennials have inoculated themselves from the virus of mainstream media, by obtaining their information from the internet.

After ranting I really need to learn to breathe: Here’s a delightful; summary of Bernie’s mainstream media coverage.

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You could argue that by the millennials seeking their own source of media it is a form of confirmation bias, that these internet channels are reaffirming what they want to hear. This is partially true, however, you could say the same for people who regularly tune in to Fox News (you know that ‘fair and balanced’ place). Although, I would argue that the ‘progressive media’ which can only be found on the internet is infinitely more impartial than the conservative juggernaut that is the Rupert Murdoch owned Fox News. The term ‘News’ quite frankly is a misnomer, Fox is a blatant propaganda outlet that dumbs down a certain section of the US population, whilst trumpeting right-wing ideology. Fox’s views for most of its existence in the current incarnation has been under the steely stewardship of Roger Ailes; who amongst other things appears to be a deeply conservative, paranoid, control freak. His politics are reflected in extreme bigotry, stoking the fires of a perceived white oppression, whilst appealing to a right wing, evangelical audience. Perpetuating a permanent state of anxiety in the viewer from such as things as lambasting so-called amoral atheists to suggesting Muslims are waiting in the darkest alleyways, ready to take your life in the blink of an eye. In reality these potential terrorists are inhabiting the darkest recesses of the average Fox viewers amygdala, the part of the brain that initiates fight or flight responses. Conveniently Fox News are selling fear at every bigoted street corner as they aid the military-industrial complex by trying to preserve the public’s consent for war. All the while the government continues to impose increasingly, draconian, invasive security measures, all in the name of ‘Homeland Security’. A whole host of conservative lunatics get a spot on Fox from presenters such as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to ‘special guests’ such as the despicable Ann Coulter spouting racist bile at every given opportunity. Here’s a little taste of the type of stupidity that you may encounter on Fox News, a quote from the ‘fair and balanced’ Sean Hannity;Sean_Hannity_by_Gage_Skidmore

“Here you are, you’re a liberal, probably define peace as the absence of conflict. I define peace as the ability to defend yourself and blow your enemies into smithereens.” —Fox News host Sean Hannity (October 2009)

Delightful! In contrast the female presenters appear to be all polished teeth, perfect hair and short skirts; and although they may be relatively intelligent (this is arguable) they are there to do a job; which is to convey an exceptionally small-minded, distorted view of the world and present it to their receptive but experientially deficient audience. It’s a calculated deliberate plan by Fox that appeals to a certain market and it works remarkably well. I guess for some people vitriol and hatred doesn’t seem quite so bad coming from an attractive woman.

What appears abundantly obvious regarding presenters and so-called experts is; no matter how far right you are on the political spectrum, regardless of how much of an uncultured, narrow-minded, bigot you may be, you will always find a warm cozy home at Fox News, providing you fit in with the channel’s modus operandi and follow the script. On the flip side, if you are remotely ‘progressive’ or even left of centre you are banished to the confines of internet media. Great progressive thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Cornel West and Richard D Wolff, rarely see the light of day on mainstream media, they are found eventually, hidden in the bowels of the internet. However, this castigation of the ‘progressive’ is starting to wane, the left are starting to create excellent, insightful, fresh broadcasting on many internet channels. More importantly people are actively looking for alternatives to mainstream media. There is a shift regarding how people attain news and information, particularly amongst millennials; therefore, the internet is no longer considered the dark, dusty corner of marginalized media. People are bored with the same old prosaic way the mainstream media deliver information and are drawn to the highly informed but laid back presenters who may debate with each other and disagree like adults no less.

So where do we find such ‘oases of political sanity and rational discussion’? Funny you should ask. I am sure there are countless of gems out there; but I have a few particular favourites which I have on my Facebook feed and my subscribed YouTube channel list. I find Alternet extremely good for general news and information, the Real News Network has some excellent interviews and series, such as Days of Revolt with Chris Hedges, who also appears on the informative website Truthdig. Democracy Now is a long-established outpost for the sane and inquisitive, hosted by the brilliant Amy Goodman. Regarding specialist features associated to the perils of US policy, the wonderful Abby Martin is doing some outstanding work on the Empire Files attracting some of the worlds greatest thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Cornell West, Richard Wolff and the aforementioned Chris Hedges amongst many others. If you are looking for passion, Kyle Kulinski rants with the best, with brilliant shards of incisive commentary on Secular Talk. Finally, I am a complete convert to The Young Turks (TYT), or ‘rebel headquarters’ as host Cenk Uygur likes to refer to the channel. Some fantastic hosts are to be found on TYT such as the full on (slightly unhinged) Cenk, the political geek/goddess Ana Kasparian, the calm voice of reason with a splash of measured passion from Jon Iadarola and not to mention the liberal whirlwind that is comedian Jimmy Dore. It has been a delight during ‘US primary season’ to encounter hosts who are impassioned; they enthusiastically debate (which is fun) and are fully engaged with providing news and information to their audience. TYT currently have roughly 2.8 millions subscribers on Youtube with varying options to be members on their website, which helps to keep it rolling along, providing you with a sanctuary of sanity amidst the chaos of neoliberalism.

I am acutely aware that this article is biased towards a breakdown of US mainstream media issues, which is odd being a Brit, however, the US primaries are in full swing and democracy in the US has huge implications for the rest of the world (imagine President Trump). Knowing how the media manipulates the narrative is a vitally important tool for staying out of the ‘matrix’ and is applicable all over the world. I have really just highlighted the US as a relevant, recent example of how we are all potentially subjected to the ‘Ministry of Truth’. Don’t worry I will be back to decimate the UK tabloid bias at some point, using the medium of the UK’s #1 hot topic immigration.

To finish I will leave you with the outstanding Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, questioning recent mainstream bias on CNN.

 

 

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OK, the game is up and it’s rigged: Why the inequality gap needs to close now.

We are now in 2016 and inequality is an epidemic that encompasses the world. There is more wealth than ever before, therefore, it would make sense that poverty should be seriously tackled. Agreed? Sadly this is not a view shared by the rich. Money and power are concentrated in even fewer hands than ever since the great recession. It is this oligarchy that appears decidedly disinterested in making any serious effort in reducing the disparity between rich and poor. Reports from 2013 state that corporate CEO’s in the US made 340 times more than what the average worker earned that year. What is even more startling is in 1980, before neoliberalism got a firm stranglehold, the ratio between a CEO and the average worker was 42 . Below is a visual representation of the changes from 1965-2005. Although it is 10 years old, the trend is quite clear and as stated this ratio has increased significantly over the last 10 years.

snap20060621

In 2015 the headline news regarding inequality was that the richest 1% own more than the next 99%. Further to this, an article in early 2016 stated that the richest 62 people own as much wealth as the worlds bottom 50%. These figures alone should raise alarm bells that something is fundamentally wrong with the world, that what we have created is morally unacceptable and practically unsustainable. The extreme rich alongside their apologists will claim that this is ‘just the way it is’, they will vigorously defend the status quo and bombard you with reasons why we need the ultra-rich in society.

Objections to change

So lets look at the sorts of resistance and objections that you may well encounter when discussing inequality.

  • The rich keep the world going by providing jobs and by attacking them with higher taxes will decrease investment and lower job creation

Firstly is all the money really theirs? Owners/CEO’s are in a position to hire the labour of the workers in the form of wages. They also own the means of production; factories, offices, technology, land and so on. However, a combination of labour and means of production creates the profit for the corporation, which obviously is the most important outcome for a company, hence why wages are kept as low as possible. So, are the wages for someone’s labour reflective of the part they have played in creating the profit that show’s itself in the form of executive bonuses and gigantic accumulations of wealth? In the corporations haste to further increase profits, masses of labour have been shipped overseas to countries such as China and Bangladesh, thus increasing unemployment in nations such as the UK and the US. Corporations are not charities, if they can decrease labour cost, whilst simultaneously ‘lining’ the pockets of the CEO’s and shareholders, that is exactly what they will do. Job production and civil responsibility is of no consequence to the vast majority of the ultra-rich.

Furthermore, increasing the tax rate has no correlation to a decrease in job creation. This angle is often used as a general scare tactic from corporations who heavily lobby the government, to dissuade the populous in thinking that higher taxes is a good thing for the 99%. In fact 3 of the largest increases in employment in the US occurred when the top tax rate was 91%. Just to clarify the graph below, the top tax rate is indicated in pink, whilst change in unemployment rates are indicated in blue. What is clear to see is that there is no discernible link either way between top tax rates and employment rates.

tax_emp_4

The same pattern (or lack of) can be seen between lowering the top tax rate and income growth. The ruling classes will tell you that if the top tax rate of the rich decreases, income for the workers will increase. This is commonly referred to as trickle down economics, this is a major component of the neoliberal doctrine, however, there is no such evidence to suggest this works. In this diagram, the top tax rate again is indicated in pink, whilst the medium real income growth is displayed in blue. As you can see from the graph, there is no correlation between the two measures (for correlation coefficients please see the link above). In summary both these proposed arguments from the rich relating tax cuts to increased job creation and higher income levels for workers should be considered weak at best.

tax_inc_2

  • I worked hard for what I have

This suggestion is as irritating as it is arrogant, it implies for example that an executive’s wage is directly proportional to the effort that person produces at their employment. Using the example above, this theory would indicate that the average CEO, toils 340 times harder than the average worker. It is not hard to see how this argument could be potentially inflammatory to someone who may work 2 jobs, averaging 60 hours a week, just to pay their bills and rent on a modest home. This line of defence for the rich is dismissive toward people who struggle, it lacks any expression of compassion towards their fellow human being and displays a suggestion of entitlement. What the rich fail to admit is; their perceived success generally is down to luck. What has really happened is their specific talents have met the needs of the marketplace at that particular time and in that specific geographical place. This gives good grounds to argue that the system is broken; when an individual who speculates in stocks, with no real societal value can earn in the region of 300 times the amount of a nurse, who cares for people on a daily basis and is indispensable to society, we have a real problem on our hands.

  • Life isn’t fair, you just have to go and take it!

This argument from the rich should probably be filed under ‘I’ for ignorant. The rich in the US talk about the ‘American dream’, if you work hard and sacrifice everyone can make it. In reality it should be called the American fairytale, this is a tool to deflect the blame away from rich who manipulate the game for their own personal gain on to the poor who have no policy influence whatsoever. Lets look at this in a little more detail; a report back in 2012 in the New York Times (not the most socialist newspaper known to man), stated that 65% of people born in the bottom fifth of society remain in the lower classes. There is no doubt that if you are poor you are more likely to go to poorer schools, have less influential societal connections and live in an environment that is less conducive to upward mobility. The next thing to consider is; that the number of single parent families are increasing all the time and this has strong links to poverty, which adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult problem. It was reported that 91% of single parent families live below the poverty line, most of the kids in this predicament will never get a chance to go to college let alone fulfill their potential. It’s worth acknowledging that children of the educated and affluent, have access to better schools and are more prepared to thrive in these environments. When you are poor, hungry, cold and inadequately clothed, learning is not going to be at the top of your priorities, you are in survival mode, something that most of the rich couldn’t even begin to understand.

Moving away from the US, the UK also has stats that highlights the lack of social mobility. In recent times the UK government have played a similar trick as the US on the people, deflecting criticism from the rich by diverting attention away from the oligarchy, towards the poor and the immigrant community. Judging by the Conservative Party’s re-election in 2015, this has been a masterstroke of callous deception and a wondrous campaign of propaganda from large sections of the mainstream media . While we are on the subject of politicians it is interesting to note that; 32% of MP’s attended private education and 26% attended Oxbridge, compared to 7% and 1% respectively of the general population in the UK.

Oxford_-_Balliol_College_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1329613
Balliol College, Oxford.

These stats are even more amazing when you consider that 47% of the current cabinet attended Oxbridge. For most kids outside of this ‘magic circle’ Oxbridge is not even on their radar, due to a lack of money or more importantly lack of societal contacts, this alleyway simply does not exist. It was identified in 2015 that 40% of students from Oxford and Cambridge were educated privately, this information alone highlights that for students who attend state schools the odds of getting in to Oxbridge are severely diminished. When projecting this to potential employment, for many students the chance of having a career with far-reaching effects on society or impacting other professions is severely limited from day one. The very top jobs are out of reach for most people and are generally in the domain of the rich and connected. As an example in the UK; 61% of top doctors, 51% of leading journalists, 74% of the top judiciary and 63% of Nobel Prize winners all attended Oxbridge. Further to this, a report regarding employment opportunities from the Sutton Trust stated that; likes tend to recruit likes, also that strong professional social networks, good educational background and costly extracurricular accomplishments such as high quality internships are all aspects that help to gain high-end employment. These advantageous experiences are simply more available for people from privileged backgrounds. This is not an attack on Britain’s top universities, or even the rich, this is to make it clear that there is no such thing as an equal opportunity and that the flippant phrase of ‘you just have to go out and take it’ is utterly ridiculous and unfounded.

  • Equality stifles ambition and creativity

This statement relies on the assumption that ambition is based on purely extrinsic motivation (money). A study of 1.4 million workers by Gallop stated there was no significant difference in employee engagement in relation to pay level and that these findings are consistent in countries that have varying cultures (UK, Australia, Taiwan, India, US etc.). In fact economist Angus Deaton and Nobel prize-winning Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (Princeton) analyzed 450,000 responses, regarding pay and contentment in 2008-2009. They discovered that after $75,000 (US), people didn’t report any greater degree of happiness, however, the further below this threshold the deeper the unhappiness reported. In a study of 200,000 US public sector workers, it was reported that employee engagement level was three times more related to intrinsic than extrinsic factorsDan Ariely professor of psychology and behavioral economics has conducted several experiments regarding intrinsic motivation, below are some of his findings which may offer clues as to what really matters to us in the workplace;

  1. Seeing the fruits of our labour for even a short time can increase our productivity.
  2. The less we feel we are appreciated for our work, the more money we want to do it.
  3. The harder the project the prouder we feel.
  4. Knowing that our work helps others may increase our unconscious motivation.

225px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_127Purely from an experiential point of view, it’s relatively obvious that the vast majority of people do not enter into health professions for example in search of vast riches. I’m also pretty sure that the great artists of the world such as Van Gogh didn’t create masterpieces such as ‘Sunflowers’ with one eye on the bottom line. People need a certain amount of money to live a reasonable life, this is perfectly acceptable, after which point (as in our example of $75,000), motivation is shown to become much more internally driven. Having said that, people are unique, therefore, I would wager that there are certainly a minority of people who are motivated purely by money and power, but studies seem to indicate that most of us are not that way inclined. Sadly it appears that these extrinsically motivated people tend to use their money and power to influence policy not only to maintain, but to substantially increase inequality.

Clearly defenders of neoliberalism will have many other arguments defending their position, after all there is a lot at stake, however, this short section covers some common excuses people will use to maintain the ‘status quo’. At this point it’s worth clarifying that when an individual makes a case that inequality should be reduced, it does not generally imply that everybody should be paid the same. What researchers in this field appear unified about is that these current levels of inequality are not conducive to a healthy, contented, emotionally secure society. I will acknowledge also, that there is a distinct difference regarding inequality between countries and inequality within countries. It is widely noted that it is the wealth disparity within a specific country that has the most impact on a population.

The impact of inequality

So far, we have discovered that massive inequality exists and has increased astronomically over the past 35 years. We have touched on arguments that the rich or the propagandized may produce to defend inequality. Next we will investigate why high levels of inequality are so detrimental to society and why it is essential that this is reduced as a matter of urgency.

In this next section I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the equality trust and the endless reservoir of information that can be found using the above link. Fine work has also been achieved by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, who I had the pleasure to see present in New Zealand, explaining their findings in their fantastic book The Spirit Level. Other valuable information was found at http://www.inequality.org and http://www.inequality.org.nz.

Impacts of inequality are multi-faceted, in this case it I will be broadly categorized these into five major groups;

  • Health
  • Crime
  • Social mobility and education
  • Economic
  • Trust, participation, attitudes and happiness

For the inquisitive among you, all the original data and references can be found at http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk.

  • Health

The first thing to make clear is, the physical and mental health of population is far worse in unequal societies. Below is a chart indicating the ratio between the top 10% of society and the bottom 10% of society. Whilst observing this it is worth considering that the area between the 1% mark and the top 0.1% is where the steepest increases occur, therefore, utilising the top 10% as  this graph will level things out a little, however, this still gives a fair indication as to which nations are the most unequal.

GIMP-Ratio-Top-10p-to-Bottom-10p-Income

Below depicts infant mortality with inequality, which is a good indicator of poor health outcomes, it’s worth noting that the more unequal societies are towards the right of the screen. What is disturbing is that in the so-called western developed countries such as the UK, US and New Zealand, infant mortality is desperately high.

infant-mortality-is-higher-in-more-unequal-countries

In a report using 60 million participants, it was discovered that people living in regions with excessive income inequality had an increased chance of premature mortality and possessed poorer self-recorded health. What is important is that these finding were independent of socioeconomic status, age and gender.

Below is a sobering graphic regarding health outcomes, showing the amount of excess deaths in the US that are related to inequality during 2007 and the chasm since that time has only increased.

GIMP-Deaths-Linked-to-Inequality.png

These health disparities that are caused by inequality can be encapsulated in a single phrase ‘status anxiety’. The increased status competition found in societies with substantial inequality, causes stress which leads to poor health outcome, both physically and mentally. We are constantly bombarded daily with advertisements telling us we are not good enough; we don’t drive the right car or we need to lose weight, we are never allowed just to be. It’s not surprising we are anxious, we are in a perpetual state of updating and improving our lives, from our interior design to the clothes that we wear all to make us feel more complete. Sadly we neglect what really makes us whole and that is deep social connections and time with people who matter.

  • Crime

A study by Hsieh Ching-Chiu and Pugh in 1993 stated that poverty and income inequality were directly associated with crime; particularly regarding incidences of assault and homicide. A further study even suggested that if Spain reduced its inequality to the levels of Canada, it could reduce homicides by 20%. It is strongly suggested that the current way the neoliberal society is constructed, effects the way we think, act and relate to one another. Due to this societal structure of ‘survival of the fittest’ competition among individuals increase, leading to elevated levels of  crime, this generally occurs through a sense of fear and hopelessness. A 2010 study concluded that the key link between violence and income inequality may be trust. It is a combination these factors which are thought to be related to an increased murder rate across unequal societies.

I am not suggesting that inequality is the sole reason for violent crime, however, socioeconomic factors are very much associated and one of these specific aspects is inequality. In my opinion, it is reasonable to hypothesize that if you live in a society that values financial capital far greater than social capital and yet you have no way or means to obtain money legitimately; anxiety status coupled with some form of heightened inferiority will manifest in a multitude of ways. Sadly a lot of people faced with these issues, combined with other complex personal and societal factors can at times turn to crime to obtain this much sought after capital in an attempt to secure some modicum of self-worth.

  • Social mobility and education

We touched upon this issue earlier; children of highly paid people are much are more likely to be higher earners in the future than children from lower incomes, for all the reasons previously mentioned in the objections for change section. This graphic encapsulates this theory, but adds in health problems too. As explained in a previous graph, more unequal countries are displayed on the right.

health-inequality-health-and-social-problems-worse-in-more-uneaqual-countries

 

So just to clarify;

  • Higher inequality has stronger links to poor social mobility than poverty alone.
  • Research suggests that the link between inequality and poor social mobility is lifelong.
  • Education scores are on average are lower in unequal societies and education is a much bigger driver in income levels for people towards the lower end of society.

educationslightlysmaller

Some reasoning behind this correlation is that there is a strong link between educational achievement and high aspiration. Conversely unequal societies display lower levels of trust leading to a decrease in quality societal and family relationships; this lack of support in turn damages learning.

  • Economics

There is a substantial body of information that suggests an increased level of inequality can lead to economic instability, shorter periods of sustained growth, therefore, ultimately leading to financial crisis as experienced in 2007-2009. There is also evidence to suggest that increased personal and institutional debt are strongly linked with increasing inequality.

There are a few suggestions why these economic issues occur; the first being rent seeking. This is when people at the upper end of the economic ladder use their position and power to increase their personal gains beyond what is needed to sustain their employment.The second potential cause is deceased productivity; the theory is that although increased wages over a certain threshold (example as used earlier $75,000) has diminishing returns after a certain point low wages have a substantial effect on productivity. This is especially true if the worker considers their pay to be unfair or if the employee is struggling to pay for basic necessities. It is suggested that this mental energy lost whilst living with scarcity could be used at their employment, therefore, increasing productivity. A third suggestion is a dear friend we have met before and that is ‘status anxiety’. Inequality leads to status competition, which drives an increase in consumption, as the citizen tries to maintain respectability and living standards within their peer group. These issues can put pressure on people to borrow more money, in turn increasing personal debt levels.

  • Trust, participation, attitudes and happiness

You may have noticed that trust seems to come up a lot regarding inequality, it appears to be the glue that binds us together, but as inequality increases trust declines. As mentioned earlier a lack of trust has far-reaching effects, in particular it has strong links to violent crime and poorer health outcomes. It is theorized that rising inequality increases the social distance between the individual and society, which leads to a feeling of alienation from your societal peers. This individualism can cultivate a feeling of mistrust, which in turn prevents relationships forming, leading to a decrease in support networks. This lack of social capital and low levels of trust can cause breakdowns in society as highlighted earlier.

A decrease in trust created by unequal societies manifests in low participation in politics and a general mistrust of parliament. These particular societies tend to believe that more respect is needed regarding authority figures, that children should be more obedient and less independent. Incidentally, these are traits that resonate strongly with people who are socially conservative. Unequal societies are inclined to believe that the people at the top are more competent than individuals towards the bottom of society and that inter-group competition leads to competent outcomes. Personally I think this is fascinating, as this is exactly the same narrative we have been fed in the west for approximately 40 years, these very traits are also characterized in popular culture and media on a daily basis. A study in 2011 suggested that people in unequal states in the US appear to be less agreeable, cooperative, empathic and altruistic. This would imply that these unequal states have led to a more individualistic, less harmonious society. It is also worth noting that more unequal states and countries have more punitive prison systems and less rehabilitation options available. Lower levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction are strongly linked with unequal societies, but it’s conceded that happiness is much more transient and therefore difficult to measure in relation to inequality.

What does all this actually mean?

To politicize this; inequality has led to a break down in society, it has contributed to poor health outcomes, atomized communities, decreased life satisfaction, it has promoted competition, decreased trust, whilst also contributing to lopsided education and economic outcomes. In summary inequality has torn us apart. Which at the risk of sounding like an alarmist, benefits the ruling elite. If we are fragmented, unorganized, suspicious of each other, apathetic, demoralized, politically absent, then we are not a cohesive, coherent force and we will be unable to initiate viable alternatives to neoliberalism.

I believe we deserve more than what we have right now. I believe that at a time of global unrest, dwindling energy supplies and an unstable economic system, we need a huge rethink of what is important in life as a collective. To re-evaluate our priorities and find a solution that positively affects the maximum amount of people. It is imperative that we investigate how we can achieve these goals so nobody gets left behind. At the same time maintaining the planet so we can pass it on to our children/grandchildren in reasonably good health.

Below I have added a Ted Talk from the fantastic social psychologist Paul Piff asking the question ‘does money make you mean’? I strongly suggest you watch this, I hope you feel as I do, that we can do a much better job within society and people need to know, it doesn’t have to be this way.