What happens when the rich become richer?

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Perspectives with Shirley Hallee

This past Sunday the pastor of my church spoke about the evil that can come from the love of money.  He made it clear that having enough money to live decently, and a bit extra for the future does no harm.  It is when money becomes more important than our responsibility to mankind that we need to take stock.

A couple of eye-opening statements in that sermon caused me to do some research.  Both Time and Forbes January issues mention that Oxfam, the organization which looks to the needs of the world’s poor, has called on the World Economic Forum to “counter the growing tide of inequality.”  That inequality comes from the great disparity of wealth.

These publications indicate that Oxfam has reported that almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just 1 per cent of the population. That same report shows that just 85 of the wealthiest people own more than the poorest half of the world’s population.  There are now approximately seven billion people on earth, so 85 individuals have greater assets than the lowliest 3.5 billion people. 

This kind of inequality undercuts democracy in developed countries, and certainly promotes corruption in developing countries.  The wealthy can have undue influence on government policy making. Those who live hand to mouth are unlikely to have access to quality education for themselves or their children. Without the means to lift themselves up, the poor will get poorer.  Since the wealthy have more than they need to live, those additional funds are invested…and the rich get richer.

The very wealthy are able to find tax loopholes, and some even dodge paying taxes altogether. The owners of large companies are often able to access government funds just for doing business in a particular region. These funds are the result of the taxes paid by the average and below average income earners.

Oxfam wants governments to crack down on tax dodgers by implementing progressive taxes. Those taxes can then provide funds for health and education for all, thus giving those in need a “hand up.” Oxfam also wants governments to get rid of opaque political structures. It is much more difficult to hide corrupt dealings when everything is out in the open…for all to see.

Unless governments take a strong stand to insure a greater level of financial equality, a small number of individuals will hold the balance of power. There are some, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who use their money to help others.  However, there may be some who are simply addicted to making money…at all costs.


Shirley Hallee’s column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.


Organizations: Oxfam, World Economic Forum, Amherst News

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