It seems to me, what causes societal disruption is not the wealth gap, but that some are more equal than others. Over and over I hear, the problem with America is the gap between the rich and the poor. What all these pundits, philosophers and economists miss, is that the gap is no different than it ever has been, the first cause of societal anger today is that some people are obviously above the law, while others are obviously below it’s protections. That is what everyone is so mad about. That is the tension in society that warps the system of trust that is necessary for any culture to function. In Roman times the wealth gap was much bigger than it is today, yet until the patricians ascended about the law because of the bureaucracy, did the plebeians have enough. It is the same in every society, when the elite become more equal than the rest, the underlying system of trust between the ruled and the rulers is broken, and that in and of itself, is the reality of why the gap between the rich and poor appear to cause civil unrest.
Throenstien Veblen a socialist economist, when asked why the people don’t rise up at the great wealth inequality in America, (the robber barons of the time were far more wealthy relative to the average than the tech billionaires of today), he answered, because every American believes he could become rich, and they don’t want to damage their own interests should they… Imagine the magnitude of what Veblen said there. That not only was it possible to become richer than rich, for that is a precondition to people believing they themselves could get wealthy, but that the knowledge was so widespread constitutes a meme. Of course, Veblen did his work at the end of the nineteenth Century and the first quarter of the twentieth century, a time of both rapid advancements and booming economies, and of busts that threatened to upend capitalism itself. Clearly, when there is the widespread idea that anyone can get rich, that idea is true, and the reason for believing it is established by real life examples, that knowledge proves there is great wealth gap but little equality gap.
One of Confucius’ main tenets is that the people follow their leaders. We emulate those we look up to, and if those people are virtuous we ape them and are virtuous, and if the elite are vile we follow them into villainy… Obviously corrupt leaders want the benefits of a wealthy nation, and don’t want their countries to collapse in corruption, so the corrupt leader must pass ever more draconian laws to force the people not to follow him or her into depravity. The ruler who rules simply for their own self interest… will certainly not hold herself or her class to those draconian laws. To hold oneself to draconian laws, passed by you so you can remain utterly bereft of conscious, which maintains the economy by oppressing the people, would negate the advantage of being a corrupt leader in the first place.
Aristotle on the other side of the planet, pretty close to the same time said in Nicomachean Ethics, that there are three right forms of government, three wrong forms and one perfect form. His right forms all had in common that they served the interests of the whole of society, while the wrong forms served only the rulers, regardless of who the rulers are/were. It stands to reason that when the leaders of society are corrupt, they serve only themselves and therefore become by definition, a wrong form, no matter what type of government is constituted. This is another example where one could point to the disparity in wealth between the rich and poor, but in point of fact, the real source of the tension is that some are above the law while others are below it’s protections.
No matter how oppressive the law, if everyone is held to it equally, the difference between the rich and poor becomes less relevant the higher the floor becomes. To point blindly at the wealth gap as the primary cause, while ignoring the reason the gap has grown so, is to claim the phone pole next the highway caused an accident while ignoring the drunk driver. It is obvious when the elite become corrupt, the laws become ever more oppressive, a double standard starts and grows, and once the fact some are above the law while others are below it’s protections is undeniable, the gap between rich and poor grows exponentially… opportunity shrinks, meritocracy is destroyed, trapping people in their circumstances which cultivates anger to the inequality. The system of trust that underpins every civilization is been broken, government has become a wrong form, no matter it’s structure, and tension builds up in society threatening existential crisis. So clearly, it is not the wealth gap that destroys civilizations, it is when some are more equal than others.