Monday, February 27, 2012

2/26/12: Economic Inequality

What is the issue?
- Although we may be among “the 99%” when compared to the rest of North Americans (only 4.5% of the world population), each of us is almost certainly in or near “the 1%” when compared to the rest of the world. This great disparity is true even when purchasing power (because of differences in cost of living) is taken into account. The great divide between the rich and the poor means that many people in the world do not have access to things like clean water, nutritious food, education, healthcare, entertainment, etc. It also means that power, particularly political power, is concentrated in the rich. Our wealth as North Americans seems to be based mostly on the simple fact that we were born here, not on all of our hard work. How different would things be for us if we were born in a slum in India?
- In the US:
o The wealthiest 20% of Americans own 84% of the national wealth, while the bottom 20% own only 0.1%:
o Upward mobility in terms of income seems to only be truly available to the top 1%:
- In the world:
o The median household income for the US, $51,914, is already at the top 1% of the world:
o Richest 1% make as much as the bottom 57%:
o While the average wealth of a North American is over $100,000, the average wealth of an Indian or many Africans is under $4000. However, if all of the world’s wealth was distributed among all 4.4 billion adults, each one would have $43,000. There is no reason for people to be extremely poor:
o World Bank comparison of GDP of various countries, adjusted to take into account differences in purchasing power:
What does the Bible say about economic inequality?
- The Sabbath Year (every 7th year) and the Year of Jubilee (every 50th year) were structures that God put in place to make sure that the poor were provided for, and that if anyone became very poor, they would have a “second chance.” Slaves were set free, debts were cancelled, and property was given back to its original owner. See Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15:1-18, and Exodus 23:10-12.
- In 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, we see the Macedonians giving with joy despite their extreme poverty—even begging to have the opportunity to give to people they don’t even know. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to give “so that there may be equality,” even if that means needing to be helped out themselves in the future. Would I be willing to give so much to others in need, even if it hurt my comfort and standard of living?? Our example for this kind of radical, selfless, extreme giving is Jesus, who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
What can we do about this? (Just some ideas… I’d love to hear other ideas from people‼)
- Check out to put your income in a global perspective and see how much good you can do (and how little it would actually affect you) by just giving away 10% of your income.
- Here’s another good site, based on World Bank figures, to put things in perspective:
- Vote and contact representatives about issues related to poverty
- Consider supporting organizations that are working to cancel the debt of the poorest countries—just like what the Year of Jubilee was supposed to do:,
- Go on a “luxury fast.” Can you live on $5 or $10 per day for a week? This would take some creativity but would help us relate to our poor brothers and sisters who may not even make this much.
- Choose to cut out a specific, repeated expense (ex: coffee on the way to work; a retirement fund contribution; regular eating out; going to the movies; etc.) and give all of that saved money to a charity that directly helps the poor.
- Consider “downward mobility”—in a culture where we are always pushed to buy bigger, better, and newer things, how about downsizing so that we can give more away? Or setting a limit to our standard of living (say, the median US income or the median income for our area) and giving away whatever we make beyond that?