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par Graham PEEBLES
For many people around the world, where and to whom one is born is the single most important factor in deciding the trajectory of one’s life. If you are born to middle class parents in one of the developed wealthy nations of the world, you will be blessed with comfort, opportunity, good healthcare and education, and a life of profitable possibilities. On the other hand, find yourself in a slum in Nairobi in Kenya or if you are the daughter of tea pickers in Assam in India, then all a life of poverty, uncertainty, suffering and the threat of extreme exploitation awaits you.
We live in a world rife with inequality of wealth, income, power and influence. It is the underlying cause of deep-seated social tensions, community divisions and a range of poisons that cause terrible suffering to millions of people. The disparity between the wealthy minority and the billions living in suffocating poverty is greater than it has ever been. Worldwide it is estimated that the wealthiest 10 % owns 85 % of global household wealth. According to Wikipedia, “As of May 2005, the three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 47 countries with the last GDP”, and “The richest 2 % of the world population own more than 51 % of the global assets”. At the other, more densely populated, less perfumed end of the scale, Global Issues reports that : almost half the world’s people (over 3.5 billion) live on less than 2.50 US dollars a day ; and 80 % live on less than 10 dollars a day. The largest proportion of those living in poverty are in India, rural China and sub-Saharan Africa, where despite the fact that some countries within the last decade or two have seen economic growth, poverty rates have remained unchanged and “some countries –Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon– have actually seen an increase in the percentage of their population living in extreme poverty”. And there would seem to be no light at the end of the tunnel. According to UNICEF, “it would take more than 800 years for the bottom billion to achieve 10 % of global income under the current rate of change”.
The world of income and wealth inequality is awash with shocking statistics. Figures disclosed by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, and reported by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stieglitz, are shocking and revealing : “8 % of humanity takes home 50 % of global income, the top 1 % alone takes home 15 %”. America, he states, “provides a particularly grim example for the world”. It is where income and wealth inequality reach their zenith, and where one in four children live in poverty. The countrys wealthiest 1 % (incomes above 394000 dollars) take “home 22 % of the nation’s income ; the top 0.1 %, make do with a colossal 11 %. Stieglitz goes on to make the staggering point that an average American worker earns less today than he did 45 years ago (inflation adjusted), and that men without a university degree earn “almost 40 % less than they did four decades ago”.