Poverty is old news. For thousands of years the great majority of human beings have lived and labored at a low material standard of living.. .The one place where rich and poor families came into direct contact was in cities, but preindustrial urban centers were few in number and never contained more than a tiny fraction of the human population... The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century upset the apple cart by creating and distributing wealth on a grand scale, enabling affluence and poverty to become geographically concentrated for the first time. Through urbanization, the rich and the poor both came to inhabit large urban areas. Within cities new transportation and communication technologies allowed the affluent to distance themselves spatially as well as socially from the poor, causing a rise in the levels of class segregation and a new concentration of affluence and poverty.
For a short time after World War II, mass social mobility temporarily halted the relentless geographic concentration of affluence and poverty in developed countries. The postwar economic boom that swept Europe, Japan, and the United States created a numerically dominant middle class that mixed residentially with both the upper and the lower classes. After 1970, however, the promise of mass social mobility evaporated and inequality returned with a vengeance, ushering in a new era in which the privileges of the rich and the disadvantages of the poor were compounded increasingly through geographic means.
In the coming century, the fundamental condition that enabled social order to be maintained in the past--the occurrence of affluence and poverty at low geographic densities--will no longer hold. In the future, most of the world's impoverished people will live in urban areas, and within these places they will inhabit neighborhoods characterized by extreme poverty. A small stratum of rich families meanwhile will cluster in enclaves of affluence, creating an unprecedented spatial intensification of both privilege and poverty. As a result of this fundamental change in the geographic structure of inequality...We have entered a new age of inequality in which class lines will grow more rigid as they are amplified and reinforced by a powerful process of geographic concentration.
This summary of the argument cannot do justice to the breadth and scope of his analysis, but it gives you a flavor. The point, though, is that two decades ago--before Thomas Piketty and before even Republican Members of Congress were talking about "fixing" inequality and before the Baltimore riots--Douglas Massey had figured out where the world was headed and why. He himself admits at the end of the paper that he doesn't have an immediate solution (and we'll ask him tomorrow if he has an update for us), but the point was for all us to recognize what was going on so that we could start figuring out what to do. He hints at the same solution that Piketty proposes, though--for the affluent to come to the realization that a redistribution of income, even if painful in the short-term--is healthy in the long run.