The Great Divide: global income inequality and its cost

Surging income inequality has turned the United States into one of the most divided developed economies on the planet.

The US is leading a global trend that economists warn has dire consequences.

For our special report on “The Great Divide,” GlobalPost journeyed from Brazil to Thailand, and back home to Fairfield County, Connecticut and Selma, Alabama, to get at the “ground truth” of global income inequality and its cost.

In cities around the world, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.

And in each of these cities, that growing inequality comes with a cost.

The greatest cost is the political and economic instability that accompanies vast disparities of wealth, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told GlobalPost, using the United States as an example.

“We are paying a very high economic price for this inequality – our economy is less productive and efficient,” Stiglitz said. “We are also paying a price in terms of our politics and our society — inequality is undermining our democracy and our basic values.”

In this first set of stories of a GlobalPost Special Report titled “The Great Divide,” correspondents around the world are examining the global phenomenon of income inequality and why it should matter to all of us.

To most Americans, this inequality seems an obvious and age-old reality of the developing world, a cliché of the global economy.

In countries like Brazil, it is not news that the searing poverty and violence of the favelas on the hillsides of Rio tumble down to the beachfront palaces of Brazil’s ‘plutocrats,’ as author Chrystia Freeland calls the “global super-rich.”

We carry images of India with the vast and intractable poverty in cities like Mumbai up against the new wealth of a small elite generated through India’s surging business sector of technology and innovation.

We may accept that places like Thailand have desperately poor swaths of the city where people live in shanties and that they lie a stone’s throw from the shiny, downtown shopping centers where there Gucci and Apple stores thrive with the business of the high society, or “hi so,’ as they are referred to in Bangkok.

But what most Americans don’t realize is that the metric of inequality used to measure the income gap worldwide mirrors the gap in many American cities. To tell that story, GlobalPost correspondents and editors have collected and analyzed data and sought out human narratives that reveal how income inequality globally compares to income inequality in America. In fact, Thailand’s inequality almost exactly matches that of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Brazil’s is remarkably close to that of Selma, Alabama.

For more on this story, visit: The Great Divide: global income inequality and its cost | GlobalPost.

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