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Despite the war on poverty declared in different ways by various politicians in different countries since World War II, the rich–poor divide continues as it has been more or less the same for the last ten thousand years or so. Also, the rich–poor divide continues across revolutions and across societies that describe themselves using different labels, such as communist, capitalist, socialist, liberal-democratic, and Islamic. For example, the number of billionaires in communist China rivals that in the capitalist United States, and the rich–poor divide in Islamic Iran is even great than in most European countries. Various legitimizing ideologies are used to justify the rich–poor divide, with the rich using their power and resources to shape education, the media, religious ideology, and the various other avenues for socialization and communication. The tendency for both the rich and the poor to believe in a just world and to blame the victim is discussed in this chapter, in relation to false consciousness and legitimizing ideologies, to explain the continuity of societies with enormous rich–poor divides.
As the science of human behavior and its global reach, psychology is perfectly positioned to address the major challenges facing humankind, including growing wealth concentration and inequality, the plight of the global poor, global warming, and intergroup conflicts and wars. But the causal-reductionist model monopolizing mainstream psychology does not allow for progress along these lines, which require attention to collective processes and a 'from societies to cells' approach. In order to make real progress, psychology must abandon causal-reductionism. The power of the context, and of poverty in particular, to shape human behavior must become central to psychology. Second, psychology must be extended to become the science of both causal and normative behavior. Not all behvaior is causally determined, and by also incorporating normatively regulated behavior psychology will become a far more effective and comprehensive science.
Reciprocity, if harnessed in the right way, can serve as a force for good, but it can wither and thus needs to be nourished. This chapter suggests three nutrients. First, reciprocity should be emphasised in the political discourse. If we want social structures that support the basic human motivation to reciprocate and hence cooperate, then how they do so ought to be explained clearly. Second, the decentralisation of more of the management of public services to local planners, purchasers and providers is advisable, partly because securing reciprocal motivations and actions and abating egoistical ones is more difficult the larger the group, partly because this would afford greater local level innovation, which, if good results were shown, could be disseminated cross-regionally, and partly because local level actors will be more in tune with the objectives and priorities of the people they serve. Third, there ought to be policy action on reducing the high concentrations of income and wealth within small percentages of the population, because if one wants people to give and take it makes sense to create conditions where they do not feel that others are merely taking.
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