“There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
— Frank Buchman
EIGHT individuals now have wealth equal to that of 3.6 Billion other human beings, 50% of the world’s population.
Reading Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth was nauseating. In 2016, 1% of the World’s population had reached a share of 50% of the World’s wealth. However, to read that now just 8 individuals own 50% of the World’s wealth is even more shocking. It seems that, if anything, the movement of resources from the poor to the rich seems to be accelerating.
We are all visitors to this planet and here for a relatively short time. There are ample resources to provide for all life. Those resources also belong to all of us. No one can actually “own” them and all should be afforded equitable access to them. It would seem reasonable to suggest that also, because we are very temporary visitors here – the human race as we know it having only a 200,000-year history as compared with the Earth’s scientifically estimated 4.6 Billion Years of age.
The notion that the Earth cannot sustain an increasing population is flawed because it doesn’t take into account inequity in either access to or relative levels of consumption and potential population collapse from disease and war as well as potential technological advances in food production or a massive alteration in what we eat. Other variables or methods of calculation also skew results in particular ways. Scientific estimates of the planet’s population sustainability thus vary considerably, from around 9 billion to 17 trillion. The growth rate of the population is also slowing rather than increasing.
The problem is not that of too many people but of inequity in the distribution and utilisation of resources. This inequity is largely the result of a world economic system that focuses on profit and making some wealthy at the cost of others. More and more, the increase in wealth of the rich come from unearned income whereas the majority of those at the other end of the scale are directly limited in potential income by the fact that they are paid for what they do, not for what it produces or for the real worth of their input, because in a capitalist economy the provider of the capital wants to make a profit and that profit can only come from the work effort and knowledge of those who do. Effectively, this means that the rich live, like parasites, on the backs of the workers.
There are also, of course, those at the bottom end of the wealth chain who cannot work. There may be no jobs, they may have no necessary skills or they may be partially or totally incapacitated either physically or mentally. They are dependent on others for their survival and even most basic needs. Millions of them are homeless, millions of them are starving, and millions of them don’t even enjoy the most basic need levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It is also significant that millions of these people are dispossessed and subject to a life of constant fear, a state of survival the trauma of which, most of us in the developed world can probably not even begin to imagine.
This situation is exacerbated because of the capitalist economic system, particularly in its neo-liberal form, actually engenders corruption. Essentially, capitalism is about the freedom of the individual to seek wealth and research have shown that simply thinking about money can lead to corruption. Think about that for a moment, before simply criticising the wealthiest individuals for all that is wrong with the World. It would seem likely that most, if not all, of us play a part.
Those who are at the top end of the wealth stakes include many that are clearly corrupt or have operated with varying degrees of callousness in pursuing their riches. On the other side of the ledger, there are some wealthy individuals who utilise some of their wealth for good purposes. Bill Gates, for instance, currently the richest individual in the World, supports many worthwhile causes through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that he runs with his wife. Such people are privileged to be able to make the grand gesture but it doesn’t justify or excuse the inequity of the system that allowed such an inordinate accrual of wealth, nor does it excuse its retention. On the contrary, it brings to mind the parable of the “Widow’s Mite”.
The reality is that the rich who use their wealth for good are still effectively supporting the very system that causes the injustices or disadvantage that their donations seek to ameliorate. Those that are wealthy through “good fortune” rather than corruption, theft or worse, are still guilty of welcoming, utilising, promoting and maintaining an economic system that produces inequity and injustice.
However, many of the 3.6 billion people who hold the other 50% of the wealth are not free from guilt, either. This is particularly true though not exclusively so, of those in the so-called “developed world” for many of them, (if not most) are socialised to focus their lives and work on accumulating wealth and on material consumerism. As the majority world is encouraged and sometimes assisted to “develop”, indicators are that the materialist and consumerist ethos is an inevitable accompaniment to progress. The obesity epidemic in the developed and developing world is an example of this. Another example is the almost unimaginable quantities of waste which people of the richer nations produce. The USA, for instance, wastes 30% to 40% of its food supply each year.
Capitalism and the developed world life-style infect the population with greed and selfishness. It engenders an individualism that is pernicious and uncaring and promotes it as a positive, even noble, attribute. Donald Trump exploited the disadvantaged to build his Towers and has four times filed for bankruptcy of his companies, despite having been born to a wealthy family and being given millions of dollars in loans to start his career. Those bankruptcies will have hurt and deprived ordinary workers and sub contractors, as well as poor immigrant workers, while he has continued to live in luxury. Yet Donald Trump and others openly proclaim that deceit and avoidance of tax are simply “good business.”
Despite this disturbing hypocrisy, it is those very workers who have formed the majority of Trump’s support group and caused the biggest election upset in America’s history. Ironically, Trump is wealthy as a result of his engagement, with gusto, in the very practices that have hurt his supporters and it is beyond reasonable comprehension that he is likely to be a good president for them. His rhetoric is banal, superficial & even irrational hyperbole and his “policy” statements, to date, show no rational or reasonable indication of how he will actually change anything for the better.
Whilst there are many good people who are contributing to assist the developing world to solve its problems, the reality is that big business and “smart” individuals continue to exploit its people and their resources such that otherwise self-sufficient communities are destroyed, people must move away and seek work in towns and cities that cannot provide it nor adequately cope with their needs for the basic necessities of life. So is created a new underclass of people who lose both their cultural heritage and accustomed way of life and, effectively, become the detritus that is the outcome of “development”.
That 8 individuals now share as much wealth as 50% of the World’s population is disgusting. It is particularly so because it needn’t be but for the corruption that we have come to accept as normal from our political & business leaders, even our clergymen, lawyers, and police. However, each of us needs to consider to what degree we, ourselves, have been conditioned to see this situation as normal, even inevitable? To what extent do we see success in our own lives as being measured by materialism as opposed to health, happiness, caring, compassion and value. To what extent do we seek to share our wealth, little though it may be, with those who have even less, or nothing at all?