In the U.S., rising income inequality has been called the greatest threat to our democracy. And for good reason: Studies have shown that in countries where the rich make vastly more than the middle class and poor, support for democracy erodes. But where does the U.S. stand, relative to other countries?
Mint.com took a look, and produced this chart, which maps the level of inequality within a country, with an index called the Gini Coefficient. The results are sobering. While the U.S. might not show the inequality prevalent in Africa and Latin America–regions where political unrest and social problems are rife–we’re also in some fairly shady company. The U.S. is one of the only first-world countries to rank alongside Russia, India, and Western Africa. Europe, Canada, Australia, and even Ethiopia do far better.
It hasn’t always been like this in the U.S. In fact, recent studies have shown that we haven’t seen such levels of income inequality since the Gilded Age of robber barons. It’s no accident that such enormous concentrations of wealth led to widespread fears about concentrated political and economic power. Then, as now, we eventually landed in a global financial crisis. The question for the U.S. is whether the inequality will eventually abate–or whether our economy and politics are now so radically different that it’ll persist for some time yet.