The wealth gap needs to close

The societies we have created over the course of history have always contained inequality. There have always been those who have prospered and those who have struggled to make ends meet. The question for us now however is why do we continue to allow that?

The truth is that there’s no one simple answer as to why the level of inequality we currently see persists.

In 2006, the economist Jeffery Sachs released a book called ‘The End of Poverty’. In it he detailed that it would cost $175 billion, per year, for 20 years to wipe out poverty globally. In 2006 the 8 billionaires with the highest net worth could have paid for the first year of this plan and still retained $14 billion of their fortunes each. Fast forward to 2021 and the top 8 ranking billionaires would be able to retain $13 billion each and pay for 5 years of Sachs’s plan.

In-fact the current 2755 billionaires have a combined net worth of $13.1 trillion, which is just shy of the entire GDP of China. This means that they could comfortably pay for the entirety of Sachs’s projected costs and still have a handy $9.9 trillion combined. The reality of our world however is that 3.4 billion people across the globe survive on $5.50 or less per day, that amounts to just over $2000 dollars a year. Business Insider however estimated Jeff Bezos’s income in 2019 as more than $2000 per second.

Despite the facts and figures above however, the point of this is not to blame figures like Bezos or anyone else for their fortunes or how they choose to use them. The problem does not lie with those who have advantage, or those who are simply adept at playing the game of capitalism. The problem of inequality lies in the systems we have created for our global economy.

We’re given the ideal of a meritocracy, on the surface we’re told that if we work hard and obey the rules, we can achieve the prosperity that we want. While this may sound like something designed to inspire the right kind of work ethic, it is a sword with a sinister double edge. If those that succeed are hard-working and law-abiding citizens, then it stands to reason that if you’ve failed in the game of life, you just didn’t try hard enough. This is of course false, and there are a huge range of factors that affect whether or not an individual prospers in a capitalist society. Privilege, inherited wealth, education, geography and luck can all figure into whether someone thrives or falls below the poverty line. This narrative is clearly seen in immigrant communities, those that migrate and achieve wealth beyond what is expected are lauded, while those seeking asylum or seeking a better life in richer nations are derided by the media.

If we ignore these factors, it’s impossible for us to truly understand why wealth inequality is continuing to grow as an issue in an age when we should all be better off than we’ve ever been. Modern technology and new forms of communication mean that we should be able to eliminate a large amount of the issues that have fed into poverty based on location with relative ease in comparison to the past.

The fact that the wealth gap is growing despite this, shows that governments themselves are failing to address the flaws in our economic systems that allow the disparity to continue. Instead, it is falling to independent organisations to work to reduce the worlds growing inequality. The Equality Trust run campaigns aimed at tackling various elements of wealth inequality, from progressive taxation to reform of the universal credit system as well as working with smaller scale groups to combat inequality on a local level. Other organisations work to create policy shifts that involve governments in the battle against poverty.

If we wish to end wealth inequality however, awareness is still important. There is still a wave of the 80’s Thatcherite economic thinking in which peoples own prosperity blinds them to the suffering of others. It is in this thinking that the idea of those without as being ‘lower’ or an ‘unwanted’ element of society prevails. People look at their own financial successes, no matter how big or small, and justify their own actions as a result. After all, if they’re financially comfortable then they must be doing something right, which again leads to the logic that someone without must be doing something wrong.

The Covid-19 pandemic presented us with an opportunity to alter our economic systems to support a wider range of the populace, and instead governments chose the best ways in which to protect the existing flawed model. Now that countries are beginning to re-open, the main focus is on ‘getting back to normal’ when it may have been better for us to think about how much of ‘normal’ wasn’t all that desirable. This shouldn’t be surprising as change on a governmental is often the slowest of marches, that doesn’t however mean that it’s impossible.

The number of successful trials of universal basic income (UBI) programmes could give us some clues as to what the future could look like, as well as a possible path out of the economic disparity we’ve created. As automation becomes more prevalent throughout industry, it presents the possibility for a paradigm shift in our working lives. Automation means less wages need to be paid, which increases corporate profit. If this is combined with progressive taxation, properly enforced, the additional governmental income could be enough to allow the rollout of effective UBI programmes.

For this to be effective however, a further change in thinking would be needed. The cancellation of third world debt, and an increase in foreign aid from countries that hold more wealth would be needed to help redress the balance of national wealth, and until our thinking becomes truly globalist, there will always be the haves and the have-nots.

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