When inequality is high people lose face, they lose confidence, they suffer from comparisons in which it is implied that the vast majority warrant little or no respect. Improvements in life expectancy stall or even reverse, you fear for your children and their future. Life feels like a game of chance with most of the odds heavily stacked against you. Fear divides one from another; loneliness increases, even as we become more crowded in cities. Our greatest fear is other people, and inequality becomes the enemy between us.

Where inequalities have risen the most, the rich are terrified both of becoming poorer and of the poor. The poor and everyone in between cannot believe how much the rich waste. Great economic inequalities rose at the end of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the greedy few took advantage of the confusion created by great social change. This was not because their huge greed was needed, but because it was not well enough understood and so not well enough controlled.

Today the pace of social change is slowing, global populations are stabilizing, and we better understand the pathology of greed. We should not be surprised to see economic inequalities slowly fall. Children aged between 8 and 14 today could live all of their working lives in countries becoming more and more equal, as most of their great-grandparents did. The alternative is catastrophe. But even if that is our fate, most catastrophes end with economic inequalities reducing. None of us can any longer afford the extent of inequality we currently tolerate – and be safe.

This text is an edited abstract taken from the book “Do We Need Economic Inequality?

The question of where we are heading now, worldwide, was the key global talking point early in 2018: