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The Broken Ladder
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.
Learn the key ideas of the book by Keith Payne

The Broken Ladder

How inequality hinders our happiness

Inequality makes us feel poorer than we really are, and that influences how we behave and how we think, which leads to us living a generally unhealthy life in which we struggle to feel satisfied with what we have. In The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die, Keith Payne explains, in detail, how inequality works, how today’s society ended up in its current situation, and what we can do to combat the harmful effects of inequality. A certain degree of inequality is normal in a society such as ours, but today it has reached unprecedented levels.

The Broken Ladder
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.

Poverty and inequality have a similar effect on people: they are both extremely harmful

Inequality has increased considerably over the past fifty years, and this has had profound repercussions on people's lives, especially in the United States. Inequality hurts everyone, both the rich and the poor, because it is systematically proven to affect both our actions and feelings. Inequality makes a person short-sighted, and pushes them into taking risks in the name of immediate gratification, which often ends up jeopardising his or her future. Inequality splits society in two, creating opposing sides, not only in terms of income, but also in terms of ideology and race. Inequality wears away people’s trust in one another, creating an unhealthy social situation. It also prompts people to believe in superstitions, and can even push some people into causing self-harm.

Inequality is different from poverty, but ultimately it produces the same harmful effects, signs of which are visible even across the middle class and the more well-off. This tendency to act according to behavioural patterns more usually seen in situations of economic hardship explains why the United States, the richest country in the world, as well as the one with the highest inequality rates, shows tendencies that are closer to those of a developing country than to those of a superpower. Today, the 85 richest people in the world are worth more than the 3.5 billion poor put together. In America, the richest 1 percent earn more than 20 percent of all income in what is estimated to be the richest nation of all time: Ancient Egypt. Understanding the extent of modern-day inequality in the United States, however, is difficult, if not almost impossible, because it touches the limits of our imagination. It is like trying to imagine the distance of a light year, or understanding the immensity of the neural connections of our brain.


The key ideas of "The Broken Ladder"

Poverty and inequality have a similar effect on people: they are both extremely harmful
Inequality makes us feel poor and behave like as if we were poor even when we are not
The social ladder is a reflection of people’s perception of their social status
Climbing the social ladder these days is like climbing a mountain
To get a better understanding of how poverty and inequality work, we must first understand human nature
Inequality leads to living fast and dying young
Inequality also influences religion and the perception of racism
Work is the most common place where people experience inequality, day-in, day-out.
Learning how inequality works enables us to live with dignity in an increasingly vertical world
Take-home message
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