Europeans are unhappy with the inequalities of the economic system


One of the main victims of the euro crisis has been Europeans’ confidence in the fairness of their economic system, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

In what is now the fifth year after the Great Recession, Europeans believe that inequality is now a major problem in their societies and believe that things will only get worse.

One of the consequences of the euro crisis has been an increase in income inequalities in many parts of Europe. Inequality can be measured in various ways. One measure is how much more national income is earned by the top fifth of the population compared to that controlled by the bottom fifth. This ratio is on the rise in seven of the eight EU countries surveyed, according to Eurostat calculations, the statistical agency of the European Union. In 2010, according to the latest data available, the richest 20% of Greek wage earners held 5.6 times more of the Greek national income than people living in the bottom 20% of the income distribution. In 2011, the Greek inequality ratio was 6.4. Over the same period, there was a similar increase in inequality in Italy, from 5.2 to 6.0, and a slightly smaller jump in Spain, from 6.9 to 7.5.

As the rich got richer, people across Europe took notice, and they don’t like it.

A strong majority (a median of 77%) of Europeans surveyed believe that the current economic system generally favors the rich. This includes 95% of Greeks, 89% of Spaniards and 86% of Italians. Even seven in ten Germans (72%), who have done better economically than other Europeans, say the system is rigged.

Moreover, the vast majority of all Europeans (a median of 85%) surveyed agree that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened over the past five years. It’s a sentiment almost universally shared, with nearly nine in ten Spaniards, Germans, Italians and Greeks agreeing.

And half or more of people in the eight EU countries surveyed believe that the gap between the rich and the poor is a very large problem. This is particularly worrying in Greece (84%), Spain (75%) and Italy (75%).

With the International Monetary Fund predict continued economic stagnation in much of Europe for some time to come there will not be a rising tide to lift all the boats. Public attitudes towards the distribution of income and wealth could prove to be a growing political problem as Europe grapples with the consequences of the euro crisis.

Bruce stokes is a former director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center.


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