This article has been written to accompany the release of the first episode of our new podcast to help you understand what a more equitable world could look like and how to get there: The Equitist.
"The ten richest men double their fortunes in pandemic while incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall," reads the 2022 Oxfam' Inequality kills' report. In the United States, a nurse's salary is around $75k, while an entry salary in Goldman Sachs hovers around $110k. In the meantime, nearly 3 in 5 millennials without children say they don't have any because they cannot afford it. Worrying data points have constellated these last few years. However, what scares me most are not the numbers: it's how most people still accept this.
As Millenials, we've lived through a couple of stormy decades: from the Great Recession to the Great Pandemic, the world's economy has been on patchy tracks for a long. Even in highly developed countries, the situation is dire: in Italy, 1 out of 3 young people are unemployed; more than 20% of British families live in relative poverty, and Japan shows similar numbers. Thirty million Americans do not have basic health coverage, more than the population of Australia. In the meantime, billionaires compete to fly to space, stock markets have generated incredible wealth for those with the capital to invest, and bank profits soared in 2021.
Significant levels of inequalities have existed before, as Cambridge University's "Global History of Inequality" articulates very well. Evidence from 40,000 years ago shows that some of the graves contained a much larger number of ivory beads and more prestigious items than others. In more recent times, inequalities across Europe peaked in the middle ages before being halted by the Black Death in 1347, when the dramatic loss of population pushed up workers' incomes across the globe. In the United States, data show continuously rising inequalities from the late eighteenth century to the 1860s, followed by a stabilization until the Great Depression in the 1930s. However, inequalities used to spur more significant reactions. The miserable conditions of workers and peasants in the 18th and 19th centuries gave rise to the french revolution first and socialism and communism later. Humans stand up to injustice: when inequalities cumulate for too long, a revolution occurs.
So, where's today's revolution? Inequalities have increased in most Western countries since the early 1980s. If you are 40 or younger today, you have grown up in a world where the norm is that the richer get richer and the poorer get poorer. We are used to bleak economic data; we are surrounded by irritating news of billionaires growing their wealth; we are accustomed to seeing our peers struggle. Intoxicated by the capitalistic myth that when you work hard, you get more money, we fail to recognize the systemic issue of a large share of the population working multiple jobs to make a living or struggling to find any occupation at all while just a few people hoard most wealth. Even the knowledge that during the two most socially and economically painful years in modern history, ten wealthy people have doubled their wealth when basically everyone else has suffered losses has been normalized. We wonder how Robespierre would have reacted to such news.
Has this situation of constant decline quelled our thirst for justice? Did we decide that it's enough to sometimes lash out on social media against the system instead of trying to change it? We fear so, but we hope not. With all the heartbreak they bring, extreme dire situations often make room for extraordinary change. The concept of "weekend" came in the 1930s, just after some of the most challenging years for the global economy. WW2 sparked the creation of universal health care in the United Kingdom. Breakthrough can come, even in the darkest of times.
So if a revolution comes, what should we hope for? If capitalism is crumbling under the blows of inequalities, and history has canceled the appeals of communism and its likes, what should we long for? A survey of more than 21,000 adults from 27 countries finds that 86% would prefer to see the world change significantly – and become more sustainable and equitable. The status quo cannot hold any longer.
A few months back, with the help of my colleague Colombe Cahen-Salvador, we started working on Equitism. As you can hear in the first episode of our podcast, Equitsm is a political philosophy aimed at making the value of Equity the central pillar of our society; a political, social, and economic doctrine promoting the idea that to maximize peoples' well-being, society must ensure equitable rights and opportunities for all. In short, we want to systematically improve society by applying the value of Equity (from Aequitas, justice & fairness) to all its areas.
How can this be done? Clearly, a profound overall of the economic system will be needed, and it won't be easy, but we know where to start (especially in wealthy countries). A wealth tax, an increased income tax for the super-rich, a more robust corporate tax, and a slightly higher inheritance tax would be more than enough to finance necessities such as universal health care, free higher education, and general social protections that should be a given nowadays. But maybe even more importantly, an innovative measure to ensure that young people become masters of their own destiny could be implemented: a Youth Basic Income.
A youth basic income would finally eradicate the primary source of inequalities in human society, the level of support one's family can grant in the early years of one's life. Imagine if anyone could decide to go to college, open their own business, or travel and learn because the state was backing them until they were 25 or so. And contrary to its more famous relative, Universal Basic Income (which we support too), it'd be easier to squeeze such a measure in the budget because of its reduced perimeter. Do we want to eradicate structural inequalities? Let's start with those that can lead us into a brighter future.
Andrea & Colombe