By Arley Gill
“The richest one percent of people in the world receive as much as the bottom 57 percent; or, in other words, less than 50 million richest people receive as much as 2.7 billion poor’’ (Milanovic 2002).
To put it graphically, six percent of the world’s population owns 52 percent of the global assets. The richest two percent of the world’s population owns more than 51 percent of the global assets; the richest 10 percent owns 85 percent of the global assets; and 50 percent of the world’s population owns less than one percent of the global assets.
Each year, for example, Forbes Magazine publishes a list of the world’s wealthiest people. This year, as in previous years, Microsoft founder Bill Gates tops the list with a reported net worth of US$79.2 billion.
There is no doubt about the glaring disparity between rich and poor countries, and between the rich and the poor within countries. To put it loosely, the triumph of capitalism over communism has exacerbated that reality. There is no longer any serious experiment to build a more egalitarian society or any serious effort to redistribute wealth. The societies that have attempted to do so have all buckled under the strains of capitalism values. And Cuba, while it may be the last man standing, is so small and powerless that soon time it may choose to go the way of China, which has opted for a one-party state with an open capitalist-oriented economy.
My mind is occupied with these issues as I continue to fret over the lives lost by the African migrants in the Mediterranean; and, as if not to be outdone, there is a similar problem in South East Asia where thousands of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh risk their lives going to Malaysia.
Now with all the threats of terrorists, and civil unrest in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere and the recent earthquake catastrophe in Nepal, the plight of these migrants is not highlighted in the western press as much as it should. Moreover, the root causes of this mass migration are never addressed.
The fact of the matter is that poor countries are getting poorer. Poor people are getting poorer and the converse is true — rich folks are getting richer. Imagine you are the occupant of a palace in the middle of a slum. One day the occupants in the slum will stop, line up at your gate for your handout, and they will want to enter the palace to get employment, or to rob or to do some other thing.
Residents of poor countries are fed up with the little assistance from well-to-do countries (in most cases, the people never benefit anyways), and they want to come to the source of the aid. They want to see if the good life, with all the smiling happy faces they are shown on television, is real; and, they are prepared to risk their lives to experience the good life.
The United States, Japan, China, Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and the few other truly wealthy countries and regions in the world, are clearly not doing enough in distributing wealth across the globe, including to Grenada and rest of the Caribbean and Latin American region.Their large multinational companies set up sweat shops in many poor countries and they exploit the workers of these countries.
I am mindful that there are poor people in these rich countries; and this further begs the point. The capitalist mind set is that anyone who wants to lift themselves out of poverty can do so; and, of course, persons have to take some personal responsibility. But, do we really believe that persons choose to be poor? Or countries choose to be poor?
It is sad enough that there can be so much poverty in rich nations and people have to resort to what is called, “freeganism’’ — a practice where they take discarded waste food and consume it, just for survival.
Switzerland and Canada, as rich nations, have put in place strong social programmes to help the poor. But, the United States and the United Kingdom do more talking than acting.
The recent social unrest in some US cities is not just about police brutality; the neglect of the poor — based on racial discrimination — is at the core of these issues. In other words, police reforms will not address the fundamental problems until these black communities feel that they have better opportunities for upward social mobility.
And, the mass migration at sea by persons risking their lives to seek a better life in wealthier nations will continue, until the poor in poor countries feel they have a better chance in life for them and their families. This economic improvement will not happen until, and unless, the rich nations make an honest effort to assist in wealth-generation in these poorer countries; by helping them with creating real employment, and also with healthcare and education opportunities.
These struggling impoverished countries will have to be given a big “hand up’’, since their economies will not be able to do so in the foreseeable future. Until then, the “boat people’’ will continue to sail.