one Hundred and twenty years ago in new York came one of the most famous economic works of the turn of XIX and XX centuries — “the Theory of a leisure class” by Veblen Thornstein. In it the author showed the history of the formation of the upper strata of modern society and tried to justify (generally quite successfully) their economic uselessness. The author’s ideas, most of which occurred in the so-called gilded age maximum conspicuous consumption of the American elite and extremely high levels of income inequality, is widespread. Veblen did not live before reproved them chart more than half a century the movement towards greater material equality: he died just a few months before the stock-market crash that launched the great depression, remained in the history of the accuser of idleness, identified with luxury.

meanwhile, over the next century the world economy has changed radically. Veblen described the history of mining and industrial societies — and rightly evaluated their features: today in peripheral countries from Equatorial Africa to the oil Emirates of the Persian Gulf, from Latin America to Russia conspicuous consumption of the upper strata of society looks more like a picture of Europe of the XIX century and America of the early twentieth century. However, I’m not going to convict anyone — it will be a different story.

Over the years, the composition of wealth has become entirely different. Comprised of 30 companies included in the Dow Jones, today, none of those that were represented a hundred years ago. 8 of the 10 most expensive corporations in the world — high-tech companies, created not so much labor, so much ingenuity and knowledge of their founders. Of the 20 richest people in America only 3 to some extent have used entrepreneurial successes of the parents, while 17 earned their fortunes from scratch. And as the economy changes, reviving the old phenomenon of inequality and poverty — but now it is much more alarming than in the “past” life.

In the world of industrial capitalism, poverty was quite functional. The poor was necessary in order that the entrepreneurs could hire them for the factories to produce goods. As the economy grew, the welfare of the poor still had to rise, because otherwise there would be a crisis of demand. So there was the famous middle class and the welfare state of the 1960-ies. However, technological progress breaks down the old order. First post-industrial revolution dramatically reduced the number of industrial workers. Then, the demand for highly skilled workforce has led to rapid income growth of the educated population, and reducedUW real wages of those who have behind shoulders a normal school. It all seemed valid up until the services were ready to absorb an almost infinite number of hands. Then the change came here: employment was clearly excessive (in the US it responded by creating millions of meaningless jobs — so, in many States it is impossible to run your car without the help of a “trained” man; Europe established chronically high unemployment). To all this was added migration: under its influence, competition in the labor market deteriorated even more. Inequality has returned to levels of the late XIX century, and its retention within the acceptable range became a concern of governments.

In 1910, the US budget was 2.2% of GDP, the UK is 8.2%, France — about 10.5%. By the end of 2019, these figures amounted to 20.8%, 39.3% and 55,6%. A large part of the costs (of 48.4%, 50.5% and 57,4% respectively) goes to funding social programs. Only in the last twenty years, the growth in appropriations for these purposes in developed countries exceeded 50%, but the problem of poverty is not so resolved and calls for the redistribution of wealth become more active: the B. Sanders demand that America had no billionaires in Germany will begin to erect monuments to Lenin.

What is particularly noteworthy in this case this decrease in the level of prestige of upper-class consumption, which was written about Veblen. W. Buffett, whose fortune is estimated at $70.5 billion, lives in a Midtown Omaha house of 600 square meters, which he bought for $31.5 thousand in 1958. B. gates against this background, luxuriate in its 6000-foot mansion near Seattle, but the main item of its expenditures are not yachts and airplanes, and contributions to the Fund Melinda and bill gates fighting malaria and other infectious diseases (the total amount of personal donations to it totaled $39 billion). More than 92% of Americans are within 1% of the population with the highest income, work and do not live on a percentage of the capital or income from real estate (the average age of termination of employment in this group today is… 74 years). In other words, idleness, and luxury all at least look the privilege of the wealthy classes, who spend on current consumption less than 1% of their income, and this, again, applies to most developed countries.

what is Happening dramatically changes the social agenda. If earlier the old left fought for the interests of working people, exploited by the bourgeoisie, now the emphasis has greatly shifted to the side of any poor and unfortunate — including those who never wanted to work. Now more and more do not speak about fair pay for work, and about the problems of unconditional basic income. I would noticed that society in General is ready for this new division: in the United States by 2018 44% of the adult population did not pay any Federal taxes, while different kinds of benefits were an important source of income for more than 21% of adult citizens. In other words, in the beginning of XXI century previous ideas turn on the head: the idle class, which previously was looking for in elites, moves down. Now, he is not shikuet rather poor — but that doesn’t make it less idle.

the Problem is compounded by two factors. On the one hand, the emergence of a large part of society, which the rest of society while not really necessary (and in the future will not need it at all), gives rise to tremendous social alienation. Mass protests of the lower classes today emphasize the simple truth that the loyalty of these people cannot be bought with money. They need demand, which is difficult to achieve in modern conditions. The society ceases to be purely economic, and just buy off the poor from the rich will not work. On the other hand, throughout the previous history of the “idle” class to generate certain meanings and values, including those that subsequently led to the humanization and development of society, while the new idle class of such values does not create. As a result, the society is forced (in connection with the established ideas of equality and the right to political participation) increasingly take into account the requirements of the new leisured class, no matter how absurd they may be, and the result of this movement can only be a gradual degradation.

I Have no way out of the situation, however, looks rather obvious in some circumstances. In the nineteenth century, society has evolved in a manner that gave enormous power of the “higher” the idle class, which was fraught with social explosion: in the end, this trend was broken social democracy of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century society has swung in the opposite direction, allowing you to manage a “lower” the idle class, and while it is unclear who, when and how to stop this roll. In the nineteenth century, the “higher” the idle class really brings people together, without which the society could do (and tried to implement the Bolsheviks), but they were a small minority of the population; in the twenty-first century “lower” the idle class ten times more numerous, and even thought about getting rid of him is impossible. His demands are quite clear and reasonable from the point of view of humanism, but the question is, to what extent they are valid (in other words, in the new environment the ideas of equality and justice, regarded as almost synonymous since the time of Christ, begin to “diverge” all d��where and away from each other). All of this suggests that humanity is facing one of the most difficult challenges in its history — certainly more complex than the one it faced at the turn of XIX–XX centuries.

Twenty years ago I described these contradictions in his book “broken civilization,” and because today’s my reasoning purely secondary. But, how would anyone want to believe in a quick overcoming of arising problems, too much suggests that we are at the beginning of the painful process of understanding social reality.

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Jennifer Alvarez is an investigative journalist and is a correspondent for European Union. She is based in Zurich in Switzerland and her field of work include covering human rights violations which take place in the various countries in and outside Europe. She also reports about the political situation in European Union. She has worked with some reputed companies in Europe and is currently contributing to USA News as a freelance journalist. As someone who has a Masters’ degree in Human Rights she also delivers lectures on Intercultural Management to students of Human Rights. She is also an authority on the Arab world politics and their diversity.