I have never found it hard to believe that as inequality in wealth grows, the general quality of life for everyone, rich and poor inversely declines. Today I was reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and read a comparison between North and South, during slavery. This part of the book was about William Henry Seward, who was in Lincoln’s cabinet. I should mention that Seward had no ill feelings for the South before his trip, and was actually looking forward to traveling, only to cut his trip short:
At the time of their journey, three decades of immigration, commercial enterprise, and industrial production had invigorated Northern society, creating thriving cities and towns. The historian Kenneth Stampp well describes how the North of this period “teemed with bustling, restless men and women who believed passionately in ‘progress’ and equated it with growth and change; the air was filled with excitement of intellectual ferment and with the schemes of entrepreneurs; and the land was honeycombed with societies aiming at nothing less than the total reform of mankind. “
Yet, crossing into Virginia, the Sewards entered a world virtually unchanged since 1800. “We no longer passed frequent farm-houses, taverns, and shops,” Henry wrote as the family carriage wound its way through Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, “but our rough road conducted us…[past] low log-huts, the habitations of slaves.” They rarely encountered other travelers, finding instead “a waste, broken tract of land, with here and there and old decaying habitation.” Seward lamented: “How deeply the curse of slavery is set upon this venerated and storied region of the old dominion. Of all the countries I have seen France only whose energies have for forty years been expended in war and whose population has been more decimated by the sword is as much decayed as Virginia.”
I wanted to use this as an example as slavery is as unequal an economic system as one can have. However, at this point in our history the inequality between rich and poor is growing. Despite this, rich people, as well as poor obviously, are very uneasy. Our country is becoming less of a harmonious community.
Meanwhile, being in Australia, which certainly has its own problems, one notices how at least in the city, where more people make a living wage and are taken care of by a larger social safety net than in the US, that the quality of life is quite high. Despite walking for about five hours through various parts of the city yesterday, I saw not one homeless person.
This is obviously a personal observation, but history and data seem to back it up. The country does best overall economically when there is a thriving middle class that can purchase goods. Why so many can’t seem to grasp this I don’t understand.