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The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future

Stiglitz, Joseph E.

Growing inequality within most countries around the world is one of the critical issues facing the world today. People everywhere sense that it is morally wrong. We sense that it cannot be justified. We sense that it is dividing our societies and undermining our democracies. And we are right in sensing this harm. These effects of inequality should be more than enough to steel the resolve to do something to reduce growing inequality. But even if one didn't care about these effects, there are further reasons to fight inequality. It is self-defeating: it undermines our economies. In this short paper, I want to do two things: First, I will describe the nature of this growing inequality, its multiple dimensions, and say a few words about its origins, explaining why it is has such adverse effects, and arguing that this inequality is not inevitable: it is a result of policies and politics. There are policies that would simultaneously reduce inequality, heal some of the divides in our societies, and strengthen our economies. Then, I turn to the main focus of this conference – the environment – and explore its relationship to inequality. This paper takes a global perspective with a special focus on the United States, simply because America has achieved the distinction of becoming the country with the highest level of income inequality among the advanced countries. As others have followed America’s lead, they too have suffered increasing inequality.

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Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences

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April 15, 2019