Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Would You, Could You, Should You?

If you're well off would you give up the excess that you own, so that all the world's people can enjoy the same advantages? Could it be done in such a way that its viable, and remain so? Should it be done to bring balance to a world spinning out of control; to ensure a future for all, even the least among us? These are intractable questions that have been pondered since biblical times, and continue to be so to the present. Let's start with a wide sampling of historical opinion courtesy of Wikipedia:

"In many societies, moderate attempts are made through property redistribution, taxation or regulation to redistribute capital and diminish extreme inequalities of wealth. Examples of this practice go back at least to the Roman republic in the third century B.C., when laws were passed limiting the amount of wealth or land that could be owned by any one family. Motivations for such limitations on wealth include the desire for equality of opportunity, a fear that great wealth leads to political corruption, to gain the political favor of a voting bloc, or fear that extreme concentration of wealth results in rebellion or at least in a limited consumer base."

"Various forms of socialism, and capitalism to a lesser degree, make attempts to diminish the conflicts arising from the unequal distribution of wealth. The economic/political system of communism forwards the idea that a government, serving the interests of the proletariat, would confiscate the wealth of the rich and then distribute benefits to the poor. Critics of state-managed economies, notably Milton Friedman, point out that the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" turns ability into a liability and need into an asset. They cite the former Soviet Union and The People's Republic of China as examples of countries where, despite aggressive economic regulation, wealth continues to be distributed unevenly."

So by modern standards we can own as much as we can accumulate, providing we're part of the ruling class and play by it's rules i.e. don't mess with the system. And that system dictates that wealth is concentrated among the G8 and western industrialized nations; along with some Asian nations. A study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the United Nations reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. The bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth. Despite this, the distribution has been changing quite rapidly in the direction of greater concentration of wealth.

So much for the undeniable facts, they hardly provide comfort; much like a fallow field's accusing stare has to the farmer who can't afford the seed to bring forth crops. This lack of security makes it fair to assume that pressure will inexorably build towards outright revolution. George Bush's concept of the "haves" and the "have mores", for example, seems to discount the effect of population numbers. Every year the planet has more poor people, but they won't remain passive forever. Which brings us to the original question: what will the "haves" forgo in favour of the "have nots", how will they do it and, most importantly, can it leverage a new world order?

Some actuaries and economists posit, that, an equal re-distribution of the world's total wealth could result in a middle class lifestyle for every family on the planet. In a perfect scenario this means equal resources for food, shelter, education, transportation, employment, gender equality, political franchise, religious freedom and racial tolerance. At a stroke we will remove the reasons that perpetuate divisions among human beings; human beings that possess DNA that differs by less than half a percent across all racial groups, according to geneticists. The implication for the species is immense.

Imagine the potential that could be released, when, the vast majority of the planet's people is no longer consumed with just trying to feed itself every day. The current fear based system will no longer be credible, the need for wars of domination and the artificial manipulation of resource shortages a thing of the past. No doubt there will be massive resistance, for the roots of fear run deep and they have been used to great effect. Two of our great religious traditions were formed on it's principle, as was every war fought in it's name, every political election ever stolen, each and every woman suppressed by patriarchy and all of the poor kept from the high table of the first world. Yet, it remains within our power to alter this reality.

There is a gigantic catch though, perhaps best described by the Cold War acronym MAD, better known as Mutual Assured Destruction. MAD was coined to describe the inevitable result of rampant nuclear arming in the 50's and 60's. Today's obsession with destruction revolves around the global environmental crisis, fuelled as it is by the relentless pursuit of material wealth; and it's exorbitant benefits which consume massive amounts of energy. Take away the need for excessive consumerism though, and demand drops which in turn ensures that the planet's natural resources aren't over exploited. The biosphere can then recover and the future of our species is partially assured. Continuing the slavish support for our current system is, thus, nothing more than a gigantic suicide pact.

However, all of this will count for nought unless what follows is universally accepted and sustainable. This fractious human civilization may finally have to start behaving in a civilized fashion, if it were to progress further along the scale of evolution. Re-distribution of wealth will undoubtedly bring relief and equality, but will we be able to parlay that into effective global cooperation? Universal security has to be the spur for greater idealism and altruism. We desperately need to redirect spending towards programs that will unleash a paradigm shift in human affairs. This will include, but not be limited to; clean energy, free education, inter-planetary exploration, global political representation, open market economics, non-profit healthcare and international employment rights. As the boundaries of our world shrink, it must follow that our views will expand to embrace possibilities beyond our planet. Possibilities that can only be grasped by abandoning outmoded concepts.


Charles Pierce said...

I was interested to find this blog. 20 years ago I had a book published on different economic concepts to point the way to a sustainable world economy. Someone who liked the book recently contacted me to suggest that I update and re-publish it as a blog. She set up the blog, and the book is now complete on the blog in a series of postings. Here is the link:


With all good wishes,
Charles Pierce

Deon van Wyk said...

Hi Charles, thanks for the referral. Your views in 'Evolution Not Revolution' hit home in particular. Greetings and blessings from Southern Africa.