|São Paulo: Geography All the Way|
We know there is something wrong, and this book goes a long way towards explaining what and why.For a while, this work was drawing a lot of interest in Great Britain, even among more conservative politicians. Eventually, however, the backlash ensued. By this summer, professional "idea wreckers" were circling around this work. In today's polarized political discourse, there seems to be little room to the left of unbridled capitalism, whose defenders pounce on any suggestion that the extreme concentration of wealth may be harmful.
The authors point out that the life-diminishing results of valuing growth above equality in rich societies can be seen all around us. Inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; it destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes; and its function as a driver of consumption depletes the planet's resources.
Incidentally, the image above is an example of extreme wealth disparity in São Paulo, Brazil, a city I have visited quite a few times. Although Brazil was not included in the study, the disparity of incomes -- particularly in its great cities -- serve as an object lesson. In fact, the word Brazilianization refers to the process of increasing the concentration of wealth in any society. It is not difficult to find luxury condominiums immediately adjacent to favelas (slums), and it is therefore not difficult to see the problems -- for rich and poor alike -- that result from such abrupt juxtapositions. As I left the famous Rosinha favela in Rio, for example, I saw prestigious American School, where I learned that most students are picked up by armed guards. I later learned that the school was moved to a new location to avoid the stress, danger, and expense of this situation. In São Paulo, I observed police officers patrolling the wealthier neighborhoods (they do not bother much with poor neighborhoods) only in groups of four. I have enjoyed myself in both cities, and have spent time both in a variety of ordinary and luxurious locations in each. It is definitely the case, however, that the extreme poverty does interfere with the enjoyment of extreme wealth. In fact, the wealthy of each city have taken to moving about their cities only by helicopter and to sending their families for extended stays in Florianopolis, a city with less extreme but much more evenly-distributed wealth.
Over the past decade, the government of Brazil has taken a number of steps to reduce the disparities while achieving impressive gains in overall wealth. Even though wealth there is still more concentrated than it is in the United States, the trend is gradually toward more equality. Meanwhile, Brazilianization is a process that continues apace in the United States.