Unease, Uncertainty, and Strife: Global Inequality and Instability

At his final United Nations address on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama focused much of his time on what he called “the paradox that defines our world today.” By almost every objective measure, this is the best time in human history be alive. People are richer, safer, healthier, and enjoy more individual freedoms than ever before. “Yet,” the President noted, “our societies are filled with uncertainty, and unease, and strife.”

The reasons for this disconnect are varied, but to many, the steadily rising rate of global wealth and income inequality is the main culprit. From the revolts of the “Arab Spring” in 2011 to the sudden rise of populist political movements in the United States and Europe, wealth and income inequality is seen as a political tinderbox, generating angst and instability wherever it manifests. However, concrete evidence for such a link has been difficult to produce.

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