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💬 "Inequality and Revolution"

Making Sense with Sam Harris

Photo by Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash

Table of Contents

🆕 Feature: Listen to the audio clip of the highlighted quote by clicking on the link in the timestamp.

Host: Sam Harris
Guest: Jack Goldstone, Professor, George Mason University
Category: Society & Culture | 💬 Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[4:25] “[I]n general, across the centuries, there's a pretty persistent pattern and it goes back to some of the wisdom that Roman leaders shared among themselves. And that is when you work for honor and the richest and most powerful members of society try to enrich and make their society as a whole stronger, the society flourishes. On the other hand, when the rich and powerful simply try to protect and extend their own wealth at the expense of others, the society sooner or later collapses.”

[6:32] “[T]he underlying cause [for rising inequality and unrest], and this is why it's a global phenomenon, has more to do with the changes in technology and society that we've seen in the last 30 years. We've had two things happen. One is that the big post-World War II generations, what we call the baby boomers […] came of age in a time when manual labor was the key to the economy. People made things, they provided services. They got wealthy or at least made stable good incomes doing that. And there was respect for people who made things and built things, did things with their hands. But as the baby boom got older,  […] the economy started to shift in the direction of finance […] [and] the digital economy […]. But the digital economy doesn't employ that many people, and it certainly doesn't give its rewards and respect to people doing manual labor. And so for the baby boomers, the life that they expected, the respect, the dignity that they had and work they find is disappearing. Their communities are hurt by it. The prospects for their children, if they can't get into university, which is increasingly expensive and difficult, have diminished. So we've seen a slowdown in social mobility the same time we've seen a reduction in the life quality and life prospects for those, especially in kind of the smaller towns, rural areas that were the farming manufacturing heartland.”

[8:25] “Now the big metro areas have continued to thrive, but [they] have their own issues. They tend to be very diverse. They have to deal with the issues of racial justice, discrimination, managing diversity. And that's that's another source of anger for those who feel that as immigrants, […] or as people of color, society doesn't grant them dignity and respect either. And so you have both on the left and the right, these kind of widespread feelings that, wait a minute, all the rewards of society seem to be going to a very small group. And they also seem to be taking over all the institutions and they seem to be rigging everything in their favor. […] We need someone to fight back against everything being rigged. And that leads to the attraction of kind of the populist strongman who says I alone can fix it, I can be your champion and produces really an almost quasi religious devotion to someone who presents themselves as a savior, as a national symbol of regeneration.”

[10:44] “[T]here certainly are many inequalities besides just inequality of wealth and inequality of wealth is probably not the most troubling. […] [I]t's more the differences in opportunity and social mobility in access to what I would call middle class amenities, a safe neighborhood, good schools for your children, medical care, the ability to have a varied diet. […] Even though the price of a color TV has gone way down, the price of a new automobile has gone way down. The things that are essential to quality of family life remain competitive and therefore expensive and in many settings increasingly beyond the reach. […] So a lot of it has to do with how wealth is deployed and how income and opportunities are distributed.”

[18:18] “[I]f we think about the elites having become more cosmopolitan and traveling to the same conferences and the same ritzy resorts and really being cut off in some ways from their society in which they grew up, that's a very unfortunate thing. Not that long ago, the rich might have lived in the fanciest part of town, but they attended public festivals and they attended church in the same town and in some of the same buildings and institutions as the other people who lived in that community. And the way the rich wanted to be remembered was as benefactors, as generous, whatever they were in their private lives, in their public lives. They wanted to be seen as people who were pillars of the community. And that phrase […] the pillar of the community seems to have gone out of fashion.”

[19:59] “If the richest and most powerful turn their backs on public welfare, then democracy doesn't make sense for people anymore. Because why should they vote for a government that ignores them and that concentrates its benefits on the rich? So if we want to restore and rejuvenate democracy, we need governments that function to provide broad, general benefits.”

[24:11] “America along with the United Kingdom, was one of the only rich countries in the world where life expectancy started going down between 2015 and 2018. We've never had that in our history. It indicates that our society was suffering from illness. It was an illness of opioid addiction and other deaths of despair, alcoholism, suicide. […] You can look at the vote for Trump against counties that had declines in life expectancy in the prior few years. And it's a very close match. It's one of the best predictors of Trump kind of voting as a protest because you're unhappy with conditions in your community, in your life.”

[30:37] “[F]rom the point of view of my model, there [are] actually three things that need to be kept in mind as we try and pull our society back from the edge of extreme conflict and decay. One is restoring people's trust that government can function and can solve problems. The days when we looked to government to provide the interstate highway system, to build beautiful airports, to build subways, to take us to work, to provide law and order, to provide for the national defense, to send rockets to the moon to develop new cures for disease. All of these things we trusted government to do reasonably well, and we thought they were prudent investments for the future. But […] too many people now think that any dollar spent by government is wasted […].”

[32:31] “The second thing is that elites have to work together to find some common ground in what needs to be done to strengthen and improve society, as opposed to just being in competing camps saying this is what our group needs to do and we don't want you to be involved and vice versa. If you have Republicans and Democrats […] instead of saying, yes, of course we have differences, we're human beings, but because we're human, we have some common needs and interests and we have to work hard to find them.”

[33:39] “And then the third thing is you need people to feel the system is fair, that the taxes that they pay are not unfair compared to the taxes that others, especially the rich, pay. […] [O]ne of the big problems we have with the tax system now is […] that so many assets and so much income escapes taxation altogether. It's an offshore LLC. It's in real estate trusts […] [that] make the system unfair and give people a general hatred of taxation as just something else that's rigged. So we need to go back to fair enforcement, clear and understandable laws and a system that people believe in.”

[38:39] “If leaders have empathy for people, if they really do work to make government benefit, not just this interest group or that particular minority, but really help all Americans where all Americans need it, like with public health care, like public education, then we get back to people seeing government as a good thing, an important part of society.”

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🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 42 min | 🗓️ 01/27/2021
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