Culture—a defining element for containing the pandemic—explains why East Asian nations (where community acts as a collective agent for the common good) have done much better than individualistic countries characterized by a “to each his/her own” mentality. The reason is the following: the lower the level of social cohesion (or the higher the level of social inequality), the stronger the incentive for individuals to compete for relative advantage (and the lower the incentive to cooperate for the advancement of society as a whole). This prompts the following question: How far are countries like the US and the UK willing to go to revisit the terms of their social contract?

Abundant academic literature shows marked inequalities are economically and socially corrosive. New research also indicates it is detrimental to a sentiment of wellbeing across the board (i.e. including those who benefit from inequality). A new study from Oxford University and University College London shows high inequality “kills” human motivation by reducing the willingness to work, and inequality can trigger psychological dynamics that damage the productivity and wellbeing of all those involved. The greater the inequality, the greater the collective unhappiness will be.

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