A man takes a bath at a public hand pump along a road in Karachi, Pakistan, Aug. 3 CNS photo/Akhtar Soomro, Reuters

Wealth gap obscene

  • January 22, 2015

Despite the economic downturn of recent years, bank accounts of the world’s billionaires have  grown deliberately fatter as the financial canyon between rich and poor has widened. It has reached a point that by 2016 the world’s richest one per cent could own more than half the planet’s wealth.

That startling prediction — that the combined wealth of 99 per cent of world’s population won’t even equal that of the top one per cent — was issued Jan. 18 in a report by Oxfam on the eve of the annual summit of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The international charity reports that since 2008, as the overall world economy has lagged, the obscenely wealthy have increased their slice of the global economic pie from 44 per cent to almost 50 per cent.  

The report was released as Pope Francis was concluding a successful trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in which the theme of poverty was prominent. Before ending his tour with a Mass in Manila that attracted an astounding six million people — probably the largest single assembly of people in human history — he underlined the need to “hear the voice of the poor” as “it bids us to break the bonds of injustice” and “scandalous social inequities.”

“The poor are the centre of the Gospel,” he said.

Yet the gap between the poor and the rich is ever widening. The Pope frequently laments that our material society ignores the plight of the poor, while the pursuit of a universal common good is barely an afterthought for those who control money and political power. This mindset must change.  As the Pope put it, business and political leaders must recognize their “precise responsibility” towards the most vulnerable members of society. He quite correctly states that the poor “ought to shape every political and economic decision.”

Sadly, the opposite is too often the case. The poor are infrequently considered and the gap between the haves and have-nots is ever growing. In the past five years the world’s 80 richest people doubled their wealth. At the same time, more than a billion people subsist on less than $1.50 per day and 800,000 of them are undernourished.

The level of inequality is in itself scandalous. What makes it worse is the degree to which many business magnates hoard wealth, acquire influence and manoeuvre governments into tax and economic policies detrimental to others, particularly the poor.

But wealth itself is not the problem. Society requires the spark of entrepreneurial initiative, intellect and toil to prosper. The problem is when accumulating wealth becomes an end in itself instead of a means to do good.

In the words of Pope Francis, society’s leaders should ensure humanity is served by wealth, not ruled by it.

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