E.H. Carr, who is strangely characterized as both the author of the textbook of realism, The Twenty Years' Crisis, and a leftist, spoke to this in his work. He wrote, "The inequality which threatened a world upheaval was not inequality between individuals, nor inequality between classes, but inequality between nations." On the last page, he concluded, "The more we subsidize unproductive industries for political reasons, the more the provision of a rational employment supplants maximum profit as an aim of economic policy, the more we recognize the need of sacrificing economic advantage for social ends, the less difficult will it seem to realize that these social ends cannot be limited by a national frontier..." Yet, the national welfare state, or the lip service paid to it, does delimit these social ends at a national frontier. Thus, we have extremely sharp gradients of inequality across borders, leading to a great degree of insecurity and instability. Here, I am not arguing for global communism, but only making an observation.
At the same time, inequality is growing within nations at a significant rate. These trends, combined, yield a growing feeling of insecurity, political polarization, and violence. This was noted by Hector Abad Gomez, a Colombian doctor and human rights activist, in the last article he penned before militants assassinated him in 1987. “We are living in a time of violence. A violence born of the feeling of inequality. We could do away with violence if the world’s riches, including science, technology and morality – those great human creations – were distributed more evenly across the Earth. This is the singular challenge facing all of humanity today.”
Consider the following, summarized from a recent OECD paper.
From the mid-1980s to the late 2000s, while income grew in OECD countries by an average of 1.7 percent per year, countries’ top earners’ incomes grew faster than those at the bottom of the economic ladder, leading to growing inequality. On average in OECD countries, the top 10 percent of the population earns 9 times that of the bottom tenth. Israel, Turkey, and the U.S. have a 14 to 1 ratio, while in Chile and Mexico, the inequality is 27 to 1. This inequality can be measured by a statistic called the Gini coefficient, where a zero means perfect equality and 1 means that one individual earns all the nation’s income. This coefficient increased in 17 of 22 OECD countries during the period in question. Interestingly, some of the more equal countries, such as Finland, Sweden, and Germany, recorded the largest jumps in inequality, meaning that the level of inequality is converging between the 0.25 and 0.35 levels.