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Law in Context

Abstract from Volume 35 No 1 (2017) Ethics in Alternative Dispute Resolution

Inequality in America and Spillover Effects on Mediation Practice: Disputing for the 1 Per Cent and the 99 Per Cent

Ellen Waldman has been active in the fields of mediation and medical ethics for two decades.

We are living in an era of vast inequality. Income and wealth gaps between ‘the haves’ and ‘have-nots’ have reached epidemic proportions. The top 1 per cent of earners in the United States pulled in a whopping 19.3 per cent of household income in 2012, their biggest slice of total income in more than 100 years. In 2014, the World Economic Forum listed severe income inequality as the number one global risk and Tom Piketty’s unlikely best seller, Capital in the 21st Century, documented the rising ratio of wealth to income and the growth of a ‘rentier class’. Even in Australia, where the mining industry continues to power economic growth, the income and wealth gap between the lowest and highest quintile of earners is stark. According to recent data, the top 20 per cent of Australians earn five times the income of the bottom 20 per cent, while holding 71 times more wealth. The question for mediation scholars and practitioners is whether this growing gap is affecting the way in which society’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ access and experience mediation. At the low end of the socio-economic totem pole, government cuts in legal services – combined with mediation practitioners’ obsession with neutrality – potentiate uninformed decision-making by unrepresented parties. At the high end, models of practice catering to legal professionals’ preferences threaten to rob mediation of its transformative, therapeutic potential. This paper will explore these troubling developments and query whether growing social inequality should precipitate shifts in our thinking about mediation ethics and the way we educate the next generation of lawyers. 

(2017) 35(1) Law in Context p24

   
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