In a previous post I shared Meik Wiking's quote:
- "The best measure of any society is how we treat our most vulnerable citizens."
It came to mind again when I read the finalists' essays in The Great American Think-Off, a philosophy festival taking place in Minnesota at this time of year. The topic for the 2016 discussion is if inequality influences how democracy works.
Sam Dennison, who ended up winning the contest, is from San Francisco and is involved with mitigating hardships from the gentrification in what is now the most expensive city in United States. The essay can be read here. With California being one of the most unequal states in the U.S. - it ranks 44th when it comes to equality of income distribution - Sam has first hand experience with how society treats its most vulnerable citizens.
This is not just stuff to ponder for philosophical festivals. As access to information has lightened the dream of democracy for more and more people around the world, we all have a stake in the outcomes. Many of these countries are even more unequal than California. How do they get from where they are now toward more inclusive regimes? Which societal systems need to be in place? Which role models will they look to?
When the fight for democracy doesn't move forward by peaceful transitions but the process goes awry, millions of people move involuntarily - the number of refugees in the world is staggering. This in itself can contribute to making democratic countries more unequal.
In a growing concern that inequality will not right itself, today Switzerland voted in a referendum whether to institute a general national stipend. The subject is taken so seriously that the Economist is devoting an article to the subject of general stipends.
Last year Henrik Bach Mortensen, then the deputy CEO of the Danish Association of Employers wrote this opinion piece (in English) in one of the major Danish newspapers where he pointed out the risk to the very legitimacy of capitalism if our governing systems - as unequal as their outcomes might be - did not assure equality of opportunity. The measure for equality of opportunity is mobility among social strata from one generation to the next.
Nobody can accuse Henrik Bach Mortensen of being a Bernie Sanders. This comes from what would be the leadership of the National Chamber of Commerce or something; not exactly the enemy of business.
Recently one of the chief Danish economists warned of Denmark risking becoming precarious unequal - that social mobility is waning. This is in the country that ranks 9th on income equality in the world. In comparison USA ranks 90th.
It is an interesting paradox that much effort in Denmark goes towards trying to figure out what is done right in Silicon Valley in order to achieve entrepreneurial spirit and job growth while at the same time Americans in ever increasing numbers from the president and down ask what is the secret sauce that makes Denmark such a happy place and what they can learn from us.
We will know the final verdict in the philosophical discussion come November 8th. Let us hope democracy survives...