I have never thought of myself as wealthy. I’m comfortable but I have never been able to spend money without regard for the bottom line. Still, although I’ve often been careful, I’ve never had to choose between eating and heating, which is sort of my short-hand definition of poverty. And I have been given the almost priceless gift of an extremely good education.
I am not a die-hard socialist, but I have a deep concern about the kind of poverty people cannot escape, no matter how hard they work, how careful and disciplined or clever they may be. Systems in which there are extremes of extraordinary wealth and inescapable poverty seem to me to be one of the greatest moral outrages our economic systems can sustain.
And so I have been rather piously outraged when I read statistics that in 2013:
- 8.4% of the people in the world own 83.4% of all household wealth – that is, property and financial assets like stocks and bank accounts
- while at the same time, 67% of the world’s population have a net worth of less than $10,000
- which includes 64% – that’s 3.2 billion people – who have no net worth at all: no property, no bank accounts, nothing.
Then I found where I belong. Sort of slipped into the statistics is the information that only 393 million people in the world have a net worth of $100,000 or more – including property and financial assets. That’s in the global top 10%. 10% of us own 86% of all the wealth in the world.
I’ve always known that life isn’t fair. And I’ve always known that I’ve been given more than my equal share of good fortune.
I don’t feel guilty that I’ve been so lucky. And although I think there is obviously a place for charitable giving, living on state or charitable hand outs simply because one doesn’t like work is as immoral as outright theft. We need to pay our way, we need to be needed, we need to make a contribution.
But how to create systems which support human dignity and opportunities for work for everyone with our huge diversity of abilities and preferences has challenged far greater minds than mine. The answers are not simple, however morally outraged I and many others might feel about the existence of so much profound poverty in the world.
I do think that it’s one of those problems – like the problem of human-created environmental destruction – that is worth struggling with though.
The statistics for the United States in a way are more disturbing than the global statistics although possibly more hopeful if we want to do something about it. But enough for today. I will tackle the subject of inequality in my own country in the next post.