Here's the embed of the much-discussed October 2011 TED presentation by Richard Wilkinson, "How Economic Inequality Harms Society".
Wilkinson (mini-bio here) is co-author of Spirit Level along with Kate Pickett. The BBC World Service have recently run a brilliant two part report on income inequality (Episode One and Episode Two).
An important part of the report was the level of household debt now exceeding income in many instances - in a consumer society when debt repayments negate any ability to consume, society must start to implode. Capitalism requires consumers to purchase - in the poor sector of society, this has been achieved by accumulating debt because incomes are so relatively small that they cannot afford to do so by any other means. The accumulation of debt has led to a false idea that the economy is still functioning, in fact it has become artificially inflated.
The report examined small businesses which made great profit by catering to the "super-wealthy". But capitalism as a whole cannot be supported by the "much less than 1%". How severe the correction is will depend on how far into the population this debt bubble has gone. Indeed, according to the WEF, the numbers don't add up.
As the debt repayments are no longer met and as the High Street is reduced, public policy will become more conservative. It isn't Orwellian to imagine a near future where there's a cap on the number of children allowed by families on a certain percentage of their income as welfare. This economic puzzle will require severe solutions and we should anticipate what sort of political landscape such a scenario will bring. The Conservative party will move further to the right, but the disenfranchised will either coagulate at the extreme left (as in Occupy) or in the extreme right (as in anti-immigration). Anticipation of the debt bubble bursting is key to ameliorating its impact.
There's a fascinating part of the World Service report: a clip of Gordon Brown in 2007 praising and thanking the City of London.