What is a cause you feel passionate about?
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few days now, as there are lots of issues I’m concerned about but none that I would say I am passionate about.
I was thinking climate change but then the idea came that behind climate change comes inequality.
Inequality is not a cause as such. It’s not Amnesty International, World Wildlife Fund or Greenpeace. But it is something that underlies most of the other causes in this world.
Inequality means some people have access to education while others don’t. Inequality means some people can afford health care and some people just have to suffer in their sickness. Inequality means some people have a safe place to live, and some people sleep on the streets in a shelter made of whatever they can find. Inequality means certain groups in society are entitled to more because of how they look, their gender, how they talk. Inequality means people don’t have a chance to get ahead – children who have to work instead of going to school, children who grow up malnourished will suffer health effects as adults, adults who are not paid enough cannot afford to put something aside for a rainy day, to save, to move, to open a bank account. Not everyone who is born poor stays poor but most do, because the inequalities in society are structured to keep them there.
Inequality feeds other causes – if the cause close to your heart is to do with health or a particular illness, wouldn’t it be great if there was adequate care for health care for people who need and proper funding for health care and research? If you’re concerned about climate change, wouldn’t it be good if the worst polluters were also the highest tax payers? Unequal treatment of industries means some companies actually get paid to pollute. If you’re concerned about violence against women or women’s rights, wouldn’t it be great if women were treated as equals in society – paid as equals, respected as equals, sharing the caring duties of the household as equals, able to occupy space as an equal?
Inequality has always been there, of course. There have always been the haves and the have-nots. (And then there are those lottery winners who end up in debt two years after winning millions. Seriously peeps – you win the lottery, come and talk to me, I have ideas for you.) But the have/have-not divide is increasing and increasing rapidly and dramatically.
I read this week that in the past two years, during the pandemic, the world has become more unequal, because the world’s billionaires have become even richer. Yes, that handful of men (and – no surprise – they are all white men) who hold 60% of the world’s wealth have become even richer.
At a time when other people have lost their jobs, or suffered income reduction; not to forget people in developing countries who haven’t had the same access to vaccines and medical care that those of us from wealthier nations have enjoyed. There are people in this world who work today so they can afford to eat today. They don’t work, they don’t eat. When you’re in that situation and your country initiates a lockdown, you can stay home and not work, and risk your family having nothing to eat, or you can go out and try to work so your family can eat, but at the risk of you bringing home a virus that could kill or leave someone in your family too ill to work for many months.
And this is going on while the world’s 10 richest men have doubled their fortunes in the past two years – from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion – gaining $15,000 per second.
I don’t know how much you earn but think about that for a second. In the time it takes you to think about that number – $15,000 – the ten richest men have gained another $15,000. In the time it took you to read that previous sentence, they have gained another $45,000.
Think of any cause you care about – any local charity, any family you’ve read about in the news, any initiative that needs support for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the elderly, the homeless – think about how much difference one second’s worth of profit could make. Think about how much difference one sentence’s worth of profit could make.
This story from IPS contained a sobering statistic: “a new billionaire is created every 26 hours while inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds.” Or every $60,000 if you’re a trillionaire. One human life ends every time you make $60,000.
Asked for his comments, Ben Phillips, author of How to Fight Inequality, told IPS the new report “confirms four vital truths about inequality are now proven beyond doubt.
Firstly, inequality kills. Inequality is not just inefficient and unfair. As the data shows, it is deadly.
Secondly, inequality is spiralling. The driving cause is neoliberalism, but it has now been supercharged by the pandemic.
Thirdly, inequality is a political choice. The rise in inequality is not inevitable. Governments can reduce inequality if they decide to do so.
Fourthly, policy-makers will only shift if we make them do so. A reversal in inequality depends on us, ordinary citizens, organizing to push our leaders to make them do their job and put in place the policies that will deliver a fairer, safer, world.”
This article from IPS suggests that super-taxing the super-rich could solve a huge amount of inequalities and go some way to resolving major social issues in the world.
“If these ten men were to lose 99.999% of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people on this planet,” said Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher. Think of that – you lost 99% of all your wealth, but you’re still richer than everyone else.
A one-off 99% tax on the ten richest men’s pandemic windfalls, for example, could pay:
- to make enough vaccines for the world
- to provide universal healthcare and social protection, fund climate adaptation and reduce gender-based violence is over 80 countries
- All this while still leaving these men $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.
(See, I’m not a monster – they are still $8 billion better off, even after giving away 99% of their wealth.)
I’ve looked up the countries with the highest inequality indicators (the Gini index): two are in South America, the remainder in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Wealth Inequality (World Bank Gini index):
- South Africa – 63.0%
- Namibia – 59.1%
- Suriname – 57.9%
- Zambia – 57.1%
- Sao Tome and Principe – 56.3%
- Central African Republic – 56.2%
- Eswatini – 54.6%
- Mozambique – 54.0%
- Brazil – 53.4%
- Botswana – 53.3%
But you can’t look at the negative side all the time. What countries are the beacons, where are the most equal countries?
Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Wealth Inequality (World Bank Gini index):
- Slovenia – 24.6%
- Czech Republic – 25.0%
- Slovakia – 25.0%
- Belarus – 25.3%
- Moldova – 25.7%
- United Arab Emirates – 26.0%
- Iceland – 26.1%
- Azerbaijan – 26.6%
- Ukraine – 26.6%
- Belgium – 27.2%
Here’s an interesting fact – of the eight European countries in the top 10, five are former communist countries. Although we are now some 30 years post-communism, these countries are still more equal than any of the Scandinavian countries. (Iceland is not Scandinavian, it’s Nordic. It’s complicated…) Was there something in the societal structures that communism left behind that has enabled these countries to remain more equal? (Call me a socialist or a communist, whatever, I don’t care. I care about Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk sending rocket ships into space while people are dying for want of a vaccine.)
Inequality is a complex issue. It’s not something I’m going to be able to fix with a simple blog post. It’s not even something I feel I’m able to properly explain in a blog post. But I have discovered from writing this, that it is something I feel passionate about.