The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 1096.a5
As election day approaches it’s been easy to see some of the ugly problems facing the United States today. From a political standpoint I see the number one problem as: unlimited and unaccounted money in politics. This problem arises from the number one social problem; income inequality. This is a huge problem that threatens to rip our country apart. Unfortunately the problem of income inequality is only a symptom of the deeper problem.
You are probably thinking I was going to say the deeper problem is “greed”, but I’m not. The deeper problem is “hunger”. Not hunger for food, but that unsatisfiable hunger for that je ne sais quoi. Just as Kaonashi (No Face), in the film Spirited Away, many people have an unidentifiable hunger that can never be satisfied.
Even if we took the most radical approach to fixing income inequality, divide all the wealth evenly among all the people, after some time there would again be haves and have nots. After every revolution from the French to the Communist, we have seen the same thing. Some people driven by a hunger for more and more, that they don’t even recognize, claw their way back to the top. Taking and hoarding as much as they can these people recreate the society that they overthrew. It takes a deep change in the culture to break a cycle like that.
Culture is made by the people in it, yet ironically culture also shapes those same people. Culture and the people in it are in a feedback loop. So while we look at the problem of income inequality we must look in the mirror to see the true problem. Our current culture celebrates and encourages avarice. As long as most of us let society shape our wants and needs, rather than shaping society to reflect out actual wants and needs, our society will have this problem.
Unfortunately people who are never satisfied often try to satisfy their needs by moving into places of power and leadership. Our culture is influenced out of proportion by those who have a need for more and more. This hunger manifesting as a driving force, leading some people to move into cultural leadership roles. Since they can never satisfy their hunger they set the tone for the culture to say, “you can never be satisfied, you need more and more”.
Solving this problem will require each and every one of us to examine what is important to us. If you believe there is never enough, you won’t see a problem with income inequality because that would be your goal, to get on the top and keep going. But if you can be satisfied with a finite amount of wealth, and can imagine enough being enough, when you no longer feel the need to keep reaching for more; then you can begin to think about how to solve the problem of income inequality.
The trick will be solving the problem of income inequality for our heterogeneous society. There will always be people for whom enough is not enough, who will always want more, no matter how much they have. There will thus be competing efforts to solve the problem. As some don’t see income inequality as a problem, only the fact that they are not on top as the problem, there will be some not ideal suggestions to solving the “problem”.
We’ve seen the effects of one possible solution, enabling. That is what we are doing now, enabling those never satisfied people to have the support of the culture to build a societal structure to suit them. This just leads to the broken political and cultural system we have now. The other commonly used solution, revolution, doesn’t work either. We just wind up with a different set of unsatisfiable people running the show.
The difficulty lies in the fact that we are letting the unsatisfiable set the course of our society. I believe most people deep down are content, are close to believing that they no longer have the need to reach for more and more. Most people know when they have enough. Most of us have just been listening to those for whom enough is never enough and believing them. Instead we should be setting the tone for society. When those of us who can be satisfied step up and set the cultural norms, when we build the legal and financial structures then we will see the end of income inequality.