My last few posts have documented the growing wage inequality in the UC system. Like the rest of America, the university is structured by a divide between the people at the top and everyone else. This type of income disparity has motivated the Occupy movement to call for a fairer system, and we are now seeing a series of protests at the UC campuses, which will culminate in a large action at the next UC regents meeting on November 16th.
Already our actions are having an effect. In fact, the LA Times reports that due to the fight back against President Yudof's planned tuition increases, the system has backed off of its plan to increase tuition again for now. Currently, we have to turn our attention to getting the state to raise taxes on the wealthy so that state funding for higher education can be restored.
As the important book, The Spirit Level, reveals, income inequality not only undermines the productivity of an economy, but it helps to generate a host of social problems. According to global statistics, the developed countries with the highest levels of income inequality, also have the lowest levels of social trust, and the highest levels of crime, infant mortality, heart disease, and illiteracy. Even the rich people in unequal societies suffer from increased anxiety due to their constant drive to increase their wealth.
On the other hand, in countries where there is a lower disparity of income, like the Scandinavian nations, people report a higher rate of happiness and health. As The Spirit Level reveals, when people feel that their society is not divided between winners and losers, they support social programs and promote education and subsidized healthcare. However, when wealth inequality grows, social welfare programs are not protected because people do not feel that they are living in a just society.
In the case of the UC system, the growth in the number of high-earning administrators and medical faculty undermines any sense of a shared purpose. Moreover, as medical incomes increase, the cost of healthcare in California also increases. We can also anticipate that as UC moves to a new compensation system for faculty, we will see even more wealth disparity and a reduced sense of social trust. Likewise as income becomes concentrated at the top in California, we witness a decreased desire to support social welfare programs and higher education. In short, wealth inequality is the driving force behind most of our social and economic problems.