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Why Don’t We Riot Over Wealth Inequality?


Why Don’t We Riot Over Wealth Inequality?

Alvaro Sanchez

Tell people their gas taxes are going up and they will riot, literally. Tell people that 62 individuals hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population and we don’t blink an eye. Okay, maybe we do a hard blink but we certainly don’t riot.


I’m inclined to believe that the reason people don’t riot over inequality is that they’ve been convinced that they’re just one disruptive idea or lucky break away from joining those 62 ultra-wealthy super heroes of capitalism.

The super heroes deserve their wealth–and someday, so might we.

My latest idea: a robot who can vacuum bear spray or other toxins out of the air in Amazon warehouses.


People don’t riot because they can’t afford to. It’s hard to focus on the long term when food and shelter for today is a real struggle.


“Socialism never took root in the United States because its workers see themselves, not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
–Ronald Wright (or John Steinbeck, depending on which source you believe)


Some rioters in France would claim that they couldn’t afford NOT to.


I don’t disagree. Immediate vs long-term needs.


Plus, there’s a stigma associated with financial insecurity - one might appear weak or incompetent if they led the charge.

Plus, it’s actually a national issue that can only be truly solved with a national income supplement plan, paid for with much higher top-marginal income tax rate…


The simple answer. Because the majority of Americans still believe the American canard that the reason for American wealth inequality has nothing to do with the corruption and greed of the 1%. Like the trite and banal saying that if you are so smart; why ain’t you rich!


Vive la France!


We don’t riot over wealth inequality because we don’t know what’s going on. We think that if someone is making a huge income it’s because he is earning it. He may be earning it in one sense, in that he is acquiring the money legally, but he may not be earning it in that he is taking more from the economic pie we all share than he is contributing… That excess is coming, somehow at the expense of others. Huge income often comes at the expense of others. Hedge Fund managers for example redistribute, but don’t increase much the economic pie we all work to produce, but get to eat a lot of it, leaving less left over for you.


A lot of aspects of wealth inequality are hidden. The issue is rarely discussed in corporate media. For a long time it was rather hard to get figures on trends of wealth in the US. Ed Wolff at NYU changed that as later did Piketty and Saez.

That doesn’t mean that folks dont’ respond to wealth trends. I doubt we would have riots over gas taxes if collective net worth of people of modest means was actually increasing. There are a lot of people concerned with wealth inequality. There are a lot more concerned with lost of wealth in abosolute terms on the part of the bottom 95% in the US and increase of the percent that have nothing(currently 40% in the US).

I think the French government might have gotten away with their gas tax increase if it were accompanied by an allowance so that say 80% of the bottom 80% of french citizens would have felt no net impact and if they had also raised the asset tax a by say 30% of net proceeds so that there woudl be no distributional change.

Gas taxes have an economic effect similar to flat taxes. There as a Wharton study that concluded you need about 30% of tax revenues coming from a flat to be paired with a progressive asset tax to have distributional neutrality compared to the present system. The french government broke that rule and paid a price because Macron’s government was careless.


I read once that in the US the people are afraid of our government, so not much rioting occurs about gas taxes or anything else.
In France, however, the government is afraid of the people. History, I suppose has given them good reason.
But also, I think, Americans are brought up wanting the bigger, better deal- at whatever the cost. So if the government raises taxes, well, we may vote that person out AND we just press on,working that much harder, longer, instead of collectively looking at the bigger picture.


We do riot over inequality. After Martin Luther King was assassinated there were riots in many US cities. Our riots were over racism as much as economic inequality and racism was blamed for the economic inequality. Many whites in the US are not doing well economically but as long as they feel they are doing better than blacks they are satisfied with the situation. Bernie Sanders and many progressives are obsessed with the wealth of billionaires but for many people in the US it comes down to race.


There were riots then. And they were important and fairly effective at that time. And we have had marches against wars, but honestly, when was the last time “the people” rioted and the government backed down? I am not saying right or wrong, simply putting it out there that there is a fundamental difference in how we view our government and the French view theirs. They see their government as responsive to what the people want, need, believe. Not the other way around.


And so the working class sit around expecting their fairy god mother to fix the problems you bring up, when neither will be solved until they rise-up.


One of the main reasons there’s no rioting is the working class in this country have been brainwashed to believe it’s their fault their not rich, because everyone could be, if you just worked hard enough.


Self-identification with either of the two Duopoly parties by nearly 95% of the voting electorate, is what I believe is the most telling reason why few are willing to riot over wealth inequality.

For any of this 95% to admit to themselves that, in most cases for their entire lifetimes, they have made the conscious decision to vote for a political party that has gone against their wishes, and supported policies that have given little to no benefits to them, and instead have benefited the corporations and the wealthy, well, I think their heads would explode.

They would rather bitch and moan about the other party, than admit how foolish they’ve been, for their entire lifetime.


Most regular folks don’t resent those better off, figuring that one lucky break or more hard work will land them in a better place. Maybe not Bezos rich, but better off. The riots in France were a rejection of a massive tax increase that had unintended consequences. Farmers and truckers depend on diesel vehicles for their livelihood. Suddenly a 20 to 25 percent increase in their costs were imposed on them for the purpose of stopping global warming. Especially when it is India and China that is driving the supposed anthropomorphic warming. With the prices of farm products being relatively inelastic, the farmers stand to lose their yellow vests because of the tax increase.

They are revolting because the new tax makes it impossible to make a living. Not because the are jealous of others’ success.


There are at least a couple of reasons, probably more.

In general, riots do not happen or are not intense in the first major conflict between population and government. It just costs quite a bit to riot. The general pattern shown over and over again is that there are peaceful responses first, then these get put down violently, then riots appear after a generation or so, when it becomes obvious that there is no real way that the ruling class can be spoken to.

A couple generations after Kent State, which admittedly was not Tlatelolco, we find ourselves mired somewhere in the first step, albeit with some special conditions. Most of the violence by the government onto citizens was carried out by COINTELPRO and reasonably well covered up from the general populace. The idea that various assassinations were CIA connected has been a minority view long after the fact.

The US population has been subjected to extraordinary propaganda manipulation with regard to this violence, and also with regard to income inequality in general.

The basic misconceptions regarding wealth inequality are deeply ingrained in the culture because of the history of escape from European aristocracy. Power went with ownership of land; Europeans went to North America largely to own land, thinking to thereby provide themselves a means to autonomy.

Much of the population is left conceiving of ownership as the mechanism of liberty and also as something corresponding to some sort of merit. We say, “I worked for this money,” or “I suffered for it” almost interchangeably, and as if no other argument were needed for merit. No one asks whether the work created benefit or strife. It levels the nature of a wage with that of a bribe. It absolves the owners from responsibility for what he or she does not own.

Not too surprisingly, the more influential sectors of society have taken to this sort of story readily, so it has become part of the hidden framework within all sorts of media messages, not only the directly political, but also most advertising, which encourages people to buy this or that product to satisfy largely unrelated needs for love or belonging or self-respect or anything on the “self-actualization” end of Maslowe’s pyramid.

From this, it has been easy for wealthy classes to advertise that one person’s wealth detracts nothing from another, that wealth is a matter of merit or choice or at worst luck as opposed to wholesale theft and collusion and manipulation.

The usual progression, from this point, would run about like this.

  • There is a large movement against concentrated wealth, in this case perhaps also ecological destruction.
  • It is put down with sufficient violence that it becomes clear that non-violent protest will be met with blood.
  • A generation grows in or finishes growing in–they have grown up with the violence, and shall have assumptions in keeping with that experience.
  • The resulting riots or revolutions succeed or fail. Mix and repeat.

Now, it may not work quite the same way here and now. Information has evolved considerably beyond what it was in the middle and latter 20th century, when most of the more direct examples took place. Social events tend to coalesce more quickly, when they do.

Also, the United States government is far better prepared than most governments to oppress nonviolent opposition. It has been very actively involved in “population control” events in CIA directed client states, including considerable active disinformation.


Mr and Ms Reasonable Pundit seems to always say, “I don’t have anything against rich people” before talking about wealth inequality. But it is a matter of net worth, not one of being democratic by lumping the superrich along with the simply rich. With a healthy wealth distribution we might all be rich or comparatively so.

To be more precise, we might consider anyone with a six to eight figure net worth as being barely to very wealthy. At the upper end, one could buy or rent airplanes, mansions, sport cars, travel or do whatever their hearts desire. A net worth over that I think falls precipitously into the realm of greedy bastards.

Unfortunately we have a system of government that creates superrich sociopaths. They’ve locked in their system so our only recourse is to beg their puppet politicians for crumbs.

There is hope that in our young country system wide change will come soon. Alternatives abound and democratic movements grow along with wealth inequality.

The oligarchy had best come around before the pitchforks do.