Fight Inequality

Every year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) gathers the global business, political and academic elite in Davos, Switzerland to tackle the planet’s toughest issues. This year, Pope Francis was once again invited to address the group and his message was clear: fight inequality.

A cardinal from the Vatican read the Pope’s letter to forum members on Jan. 22. It began by thanking the WEF for their invitation but quickly addressed global poverty and inequality: “The financialization and technologization of national and global economies have produced far-reaching changes in the field of labor. Diminished opportunities for useful and dignified employment, combined with a reduction in social security, are causing a disturbing rise in inequality and poverty in different countries.”

The recently published Oxfam report, “An Economy For the 1%,” corroborates the Pope’s views. Increasingly fewer people control more of the world’s wealth. From 1988 to 2011, for example, 46 percent of the global increase in income went to the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population.

Pope Francis’s address emphasized that caring for the poor means more than empathizing with their plight. “Weeping for other people’s pain does not only mean sharing in their sufferings, but also and above all realizing that our own actions are a cause of injustice and inequality.” He called on business leaders to create an inclusive future and warned about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that is hindering progress to fight inequality.

The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” refers to the coming age of robotics and artificial intelligence in everyday life. On its website, the WEF explains that while this revolution will raise global income levels, it may exacerbate inequality. The Pope wishes that this transformation of society “does not lead to the destruction of the human person – to be replaced by a soulless machine – or to the transformation of our planet into an empty garden for the enjoyment of a chosen few.”

Along with this warning, Pope Francis stressed that the age of robotics also presents an opportunity. With vastly increased productivity, humans will have more resources available for “our common home.” He emphasized that business is “a noble vocation” with the ability to improve others’ lives by providing them with a living wage and meaningful work.

His message is that, besides increasing profit and productivity, business leaders must not forget their duty to create jobs. Through the creation of jobs that pay a living wage, the economic elite lift people out of poverty and provide stability for the many living precarious lives. In the drive for modernization, Pope Francis tells leaders, “Do not forget the poor!”

Since becoming Pope, he has uniquely focused on ending inequality. In his 2016 address to Davos, he urged the global elite to work with that goal in mind. The most powerful people on earth, after all, are the most powerful agents for change.

As for what he recommends, Pope Francis’ words speak for themselves. From his 2014 apostolic exhortation: “Growth in justice requires more than economic growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” Careful planning and action are needed to fight inequality.

Dennis Sawyers

Sources: Reuters, Rome Reports, Oxfam International, The Holy See (Vatican), World Economic Forum
Photo: Merco Press

Everywhere one looks in the news media, the word inequality is beamed into television sets, either through the banter between detached pundits or through the bullhorns of activists storming littered streets.

Brought to the forefront of policy debates after the full force of the Great Recession was being felt, the rising, global inequality between the rich and the poor has stoked the powerful emotions of the disenfranchised.

And now, a French professor, Thomas Piketty, is ratcheting up the debate even further with a massive tome designed to showcase just how vast the gulf between rich and poor has become.

The book is called “Capital in the 21st Century” and in it Piketty attempts to address the reasons behind the trend of rising inequality throughout the world during the past decade.

And people’s ears are perking up; the book reached number one on shortly after its release.

Oxfam recently released a report detailing the harm global inequality is inflicting on the lives of the poor, as well as its effect on governance. Oxfam notes that 85 people in the world collectively own the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.

They note that stocks and corporate profits are continuously climbing, while wages have stagnated. And one of the most prominent concerns among the public is the over-representation of the wealthy’s concerns in governments around the world.

But has there been no progress? Has the state of those inhabiting the poorer regions of the world not changed at all? In reality, many things have changed for the better in the past several decades.

Between 1981 and 2008, the amount of people living on one dollar a day fell by 750 million. That is astronomical progress, but if one looks between countries rather than within, the inequality gap is as big as ever.

So what can be done? Many people have lost faith due to a perceived shift in political power away from the average voter and toward the wealthy and politically connected. Despite voters heading to the polls again and again, politicians routinely implement policies that do nothing to truly address rising inequality.

This happens despite the fact that most people agree great inequality is undesirable; most view its alleviation as a good thing, so long as the policies are sensible and do not harm the overall economy.

Many individuals complain of vast oligarchies setting policy against the average man, but fail to show up at the voting booth (a problem in America especially).

It’s more important to show support for policies and politicians that will actually implement effective and sensible policies to reduce inequality than to simply bemoan the current state of affairs.

Policies such as the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit in the United States, and increasing social spending in poor countries to actually reach those in need are just a couple things that can alleviate inequality.

The policies are there. It is simply up to the public to remain informed and active within their respective societies.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: Oxfam, The New Yorker, The Guardian
Photo: Salon

On February 20, 2014, the United Nations recognized the fifth World Day of Social Justice with this year’s theme focused on alleviating global inequality.

The UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about the theme, saying, “The gap between the poorest and wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. This situation is not only between countries but within them, including many of the most prosperous.” He went on to state, “The World Day of Social Justice is observed to highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all.”

In 2007, the General Assembly of the UN announced that February 20 would officially be the World Day of Social Justice. The assembly made it clear that the governments of Member States would be invited to spend that day spreading awareness of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development’s objectives and goals. The day is meant to support all efforts to rid the world of poverty and reach full employment, gender equity and justice for all people.

In terms of social justice, the UN is seeing progress in its current causes and missions. The International Labour Organization recently adopted the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, demonstrating a strong commitment to social justice. The goal of the Declaration is to produce fair outcomes for everyone through employment, social protection, social dialogue and fundamental principles and rights in the workplace.

Mr. Ban discussed the dangers of the world’s growing inequalities, which create tension and strains existing issues within a society. Due to this increased tension, the economy can suffer as well as the general well being of society, with violence as a common result.

Mr. Ban also noted that, “There is nothing inevitable about inequality. Our shared goal should aim at taking practical steps to remove this formidable barrier to development and human dignity.”

This year’s World Day of Social Justice was centered on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and work on a post-2015 agenda. In order to do so, the UN believes that there must be an emphasis on social justice.

Social justice is closely connected with human rights, as promoting social development and equality helps to remove any barriers that people face because of gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, culture or disability. In order to create a peaceful society and an environment in which people can coexist, we must be sure that maintaining and upholding human rights become priorities.

Since 1995, the UN has made progress in its efforts to improve international relations. General Assembly President John Ashe made a point of discussing the progress that has been made, such as the reduction of the number of people living in extreme poverty, improvements in health and progress toward gender equality, such as working towards equal access to primary education for all children.

Ashe spoke about plans for the future, including a 2015 agenda, in that, “We must serve the needs and harness the capacities of all members of our global family, especially women, the young, older persons and persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and the poor and marginalized among us.”

– Julie Guacci

Sources: UN, Human Rights Education Associates
Photo: UNE-SEN

Kevin O’Leary, best known in the United States for Shark Tank on ABC, commended Oxfam International’s most recent report that stated that the world’s 85 richest people possess the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the planet’s population.

O’Leary is also a Canadian businessman and a co-host of Canada’s “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange.” On Shark Tank, O’Leary is known as “Mr. Wonderful” and the show has gained fame in the last few years for its success stories.

The report titled “Working for the Few,” detailed that 3.5 billion people, the poorest half of the world’s population, accounts for only $1.7 trillion, which is about 0.7 percent of the entire world’s wealth. In contrast, the richest 1% in the world has about $110 trillion, which makes up 46% of the world’s wealth.

O’Leary said, “This is a great thing because it inspires everybody, gets them motivated to look up to the one percent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people, I’m going to fight hard to get up to the top.”

The general reactions to Oxfam’s report, released in mid-January have been of great concern. World leaders have taken this report into account in deciding how to best improve the global economy and attempt to close the ever-growing gap between the rich and poor.

Oxfam’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima found the report cautionary as, “Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power and increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.”

Americans have especially found the wealth gap disheartening, as a recent Gallup poll reported that two-thirds of the nations were not satisfied with the distribution of income and wealth. Many Americans have been forced to take lower-paying jobs because of the economic downturn.

However, this is a worldwide issue, with the wealth gap widening in many countries. A larger wealth gap produces more social tension, which could prove to be an enormous threat in the future. Oxfam has called extreme inequality a huge danger and furthermore, “the extreme levels of wealth concentration occurring today threat to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work.”

O’Leary went on to say, “This is fantastic news and of course I’m going to applaud it. What can be wrong with this?”

In response, O’Leary’s cohost Amanda Lang was silent upon hearing his comments. Lang asked her cohost, “So somebody living on a dollar a day in Africa is getting up in the morning and saying, ‘I’m going to be Bill Gates’?”

O’Leary’s response was a repetition of his previous comments about the world’s economic conditions serving as a source of motivation.

O’Leary’s comments have faced serious backlash from various news sources, with one contributor to Forbes writing that, “this is a moment for CBC and ABC to show some responsible leadership, and yank O’Leary off the air.”

Despite O’Leary’s comments, Oxfam is stressing the importance of its findings, with Byanyima warning that if no action is taken, “we will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream.”

– Julie Guacci

Sources: Huffington Post, Forbes, LA Times
Photo: Business Insider

Isabel Dos Santos Africa's First Female Billionaire
Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of Angolan president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, is Africa’s first female billionaire. Dos Santos is an Angolan investor, and according to Forbes, she has become the Africa’s wealthiest female, reaching a net worth of more than a billion USD. She ranks in at 736 richest person in the world overall and thirty-first in Africa.

The president’s daughter works to keep her prowess as a businesswoman separated from the political field. However, she has received sharp criticism as to how she acquired her wealth. President Dos Santos has been accused of enriching his family at the expense of normal Angolans- a country where a majority of the population lives on $2 a day.  Problems come into play here because it is nearly impossible to trace the sources of her funds. There is a complete lack of transparency and many of her business transactions are approved and transferred by her father.

Dos Santos has invested in several publicly traded companies in Portugal as well as Angola. She has significant shares in a cable TV firm, as well as assets in at least one Angolan bank. Although, exactly how she got the funds remains unknown.

Dos Santos commands the biggest percentage of shares in Zon Multimedia, which is the largest cable TV operator in Portugal. She also holds 19.5% holding at Banco BPI- one of Portugal’s largest publicly traded banks. In Angola, Dos Santos sits on the board of Banco BIC and is reported to own as much as a 25% stake in the bank.

Angola has emerged from a civil war and developed into one of Africa’s largest economic contributors. This economic growth, however, has not come without problems. Angola has been criticized for its dramatically unequal society, ranking 148th of 187 countries on the U.N Human Development Index. Additionally, they have ranked 157th of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source Forbes, Guardian

#GlobalPOV Project: Who Sees Poverty?An initiative called the #GlobalPOV Project is merging social theory, art, and digital media to spark discussion and critical thinking on the problem of poverty and how to deal with it.

“We are the millennials and we are on a mission to make poverty history.”

Those are the words of Ananya Roy, a professor at UC Berkeley and well-regarded as an expert on global poverty, international development, and social change. In a series of videos, Professor Roy lectures on a certain theme dealing with global poverty while Abby VanMuijen, story artist for the #GlobalPOV Project, visualizes and draws on the paper what she sees in her head in a similar fashion to the videos produced in the RSA Animated Series.

The theme of the first video released was “Who Sees Poverty?” Professor Roy discusses how poverty emerged as a priority on a global scale. She calls it the democratization of development. As organizations like USAID, the World Bank, and the United Nations make ending global poverty the main goal through initiatives such the Millennium Development Goals, so we become the generation of global citizens that will continue working to end it, the ‘generation of millennials,’ through constant mobilization and inspiration.

“The ‘we’ who sees poverty is also the ‘we’ who acts on poverty,” says Professor Roy.

The second video released by the #GlobalPOV Project discusses the effects of consumerism and consumption on poverty. With a brief introduction from story artist VanMuijen, the video discusses the need to change how the products we buy are produced, traded and consumed to reduce the impact on the global poor.

“We can solve it, but not by sheer luck or chance,” says VanMuijen in regards to the world. “We must be taught the way.”

Implemented by the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, the #GlobalPOV Project imagines new ways of looking at and combating global poverty and inequality. Established in March 2006, the Blum Center for Developing Economies works to improve the lives of those living in extreme poverty through investing in technologies and systems and inspiring others to do their part.

Rafael Panlilio

Source: GlobalPOV