NEW YORK— Over the past three decades, countries across the world have taken significant and meaningful interest in poverty. Extreme poverty, a condition of living characterized by a severe deprivation of basic human needs or, monetarily, living within US$1.25 per day, and its eradication have been the focus of major international conferences and initiatives. The U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG) program, for one, highlights the elimination of extreme poverty worldwide as its number one priority.
On the bright side, global efforts have met great success in combating extreme poverty. Extreme poverty rates are down by 50 percent since the MDGs were established in 1990, and these rates are continuing to drop. Unfortunately, however, the inequality gap between the richest and poorest in the world continues to widen.
In the United States, where CEOs now make 185 times more in annual income than the average wage earner, income discrepancy between the wealthiest 1 percent and the remaining 99 percent is as high as it has ever been. In the United Kingdom, the same is true, as disparities have risen to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens. The phenomenon of wealth disparity is not limited to rich countries, however. China and South Africa are seeing unparalleled wealth gaps, worse than those experienced during the Apartheid.
A frequently heard, but wrongheaded, response to these gaps has been that the creation of wealth for the wealthiest in the world will trickle down to the rest and that wealth generation, not wealth distribution, should be our main economic goal. On the contrary, extreme wealth and inequality have been found to be just as harmful as extreme poverty, according to one Oxfam report.
Extreme wealth and inequality is not only politically corrosive, it is also socially divisive, environmentally destructive, and unethical; the same Oxfam report details the ways in which wealth disparities are a threat to meaningful democracy a la the rising powers of lobbies and special interest groups and political purchase gained from campaign financing, as well as the simple fact that the super-rich have less and less reason to care about publicly-funded enterprise. For example, wealthy parents need not concern themselves with issues related to under-funded education programs when their children are attending private schools.
Though much ground has been gained in the fight against extreme poverty, the focus proves to be one-sided; wealth disparity ramifications, as discussed in the aforementioned Oxfam report, plague developed and developing nations alike. Large-scale protests, such as the global Occupy Movement, indicate an inspired recognition of this inequality and, hopefully, the beginnings of change for the better. Absent adequate representation of the need for progressive policy, however, look for an increasingly disgruntled middle and lower class worldwide.
– Herman Watson
Photo: Strange or What