Oxfam has just published figures suggesting that the world’s 8 richest men own between them as much as the poorest half of the entire world. Whether these figures are exactly right is questionable, but the evidence is pretty strong that the world’s richest people have so much more wealth as the poorest as to be shocking.
In outrage, the article is suggesting that these rich men are unethical grabbing tax cheats. They did not refer to the possibility that any of these super-rich people may have made a valuable contribution to our ways of life in the modern world. Instead, they simply argue that governments world-wide should agree to close tax loop holes and safe havens where these fortunes are stashed away. Taxes should be given to governments to spend on the poor and starving.
If only the solution were so simple. It’s not for me
Yes, the tax systems too often favour the rich and I strongly support changes. I would especially support (as does Bill Gates, by the way) a limitation on tax-free inheritance. But that isn’t going to come close to addressing the essence of the challenge of poverty.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, for instance, are two of the three of the world’s richest men. They also spend billions (yes, billions) of dollars a year on charitable organizations dealing with, among other things, global health. Do you think it would be better spent in the hands of government? I’d much prefer this wealth is in the hands of Gates and Buffet than in the hands of most of the governments where the poorest people live in Africa and other of the world’s poorest countries. The chances are too great of taxes collected by governments in these countries for “the poor” ending up in overseas bank accounts of government officials.
Yes, corruption exists in the developed world. But research suggests that the biggest cause of economic well-being is not natural resources, population density, or even educational levels, but a commitment to the rule of law and strong institutions.
Jeremy Corbyn, the current head of the Labour government here in the UK is suggesting that along with increasing taxes on the rich, the government should cap how much any individual can earn. I agree that what he calls the “telephone number earnings” of many CEO’s is mind-boggling, particularly when they sit atop companies with workers barely earning a living wage. There might be a place to find ways to support the increasing pressure coming from shareholders to address this exorbitant inequality.
But I would be loathe to put a cap on the earnings of some of society’s most creative, innovative, intelligent, hard working individuals who are meeting needs and creating opportunities that in profound ways are making the world a better place. And many of whom are contributing significantly with their earning to improving our environment, educational systems, health, and working conditions. Gates & Buffet are not the only ones doing so.
We need to resist the temptation, I think, to believe that the answers to all our problems lie in changing the system without the constant ingenuity, dedication, and drive of the individuals who comprise it. That’s all of us.
Even the little people like me.