West Virginia Law Review, 2019. Paper Website abstract bibtex
Wealth and income inequality have been studied across a number of fields, including economics, political science, sociology, psychology, and public health. This Article surveys and synthesizes the most recent findings across these fields to better understand the effects of high inequality on society. Those consequences are profound. High rates of inequality do not just mean that some people have more money than others. Highly unequal societies have slower economic growth than more equal societies. They have a variety of health problems, including lower life expectancies, higher infant mortality rates, and higher rates of mental illness. High levels of inequality are also associated with various social problems, including lower rates of trust and social cohesion, lower levels of life satisfaction, and higher rates of crime. And finally, high levels of inequality undermine democracy by decreasing voter turnout, increasing corruption, and undermining the rule of law. Unsurprisingly, given that the United States is the most unequal advanced democracy, the U.S. is suffering from all of these problems. We have high crime rates, high infant mortality rates, low life expectancies, and low overall rates of life satisfaction. By most measures, living in America today is more like living in a country like Russia or Chile than it is like living in Norway or Denmark. The consequences of high levels of inequality represent an existential threat to both our society and our democracy. It is for this reason, that this Article proposes a constitutional amendment designed to limit wealth inequality. The amendment would prohibit the U.S. government from passing laws or rules that increase wealth inequality unless the government can demonstrate that they are narrowly tailored to accomplish an important governmental goal. It is not designed to eliminate all inequality, but there are good reasons to believe it would eventually reduce inequality in our society. This would lead to greater trust in government and society, better public health, and greater economic growth. These changes would make the United States a better place to live for everyone.