The gap between the super rich and everyone else continues to expand.
“In 2014, the richest 1 percent of people in the world owned 48 percent of global wealth,” a January 2015 Oxfam report said.
The remaining 52 percent was “shared between the other 99 percent of adults on the planet.”
Breaking down the 52 percent, Oxfam said that almost all of that wealth was owned by 20 percent of the world’s richest people. Eighty percent of the rest of the global population owned 5.5 percent of the wealth.
“If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1 percent will have more wealth than the remaining 99 percent of people in just two years,” Oxfam projected.
Who are the world’s richest people?
“In 2014 there were 1,645 people listed by Forbes as being billionaires. This group of people is far from being globally representative. Almost 30 percent of them (492 people) are citizens of the USA. Over one-third of billionaires started from a position of wealth, with 34 percent of them having inherited some or all of their riches. This group is predominately male and greying,” the report said.
Why is the growing economic inequality a problem?
It’s bad for the poor, who suffer from malnutrition, ill health, denied human potential. They become worse off, while a very few become much better off.
A better way is economic equality, which benefits all.
“Everybody do better when everybody do better,” said Ralph Martier, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, in “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” quoting his Italian-speaking grandmother.
Growing economic inequality is also bad for governance. Power gets concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, who seek their own vested interest rather than the common good.
Their economic power allows them to lobby, bribe, buy governmental influence to obtain a favorable tax code. Their wealth allows them to evade taxes – or their social responsibility.
Speaking two weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, asked, “Is inequality sinful?”
He reviewed the biblical witness, noting that the patriarchs had “great wealth, but it is seen as a sign of God’s blessing on them.”
During the Exodus, the people of Israel had equality. The Levitical code pressed against wealth accumulation through the laws of Jubilee. The prophets challenged the injustice that led to inequality. On the other hand, Solomon’s wealth was celebrated.
In the New Testament, believers held all things in common, according to Acts. The Apostle James struck against the wealthy who don’t share.
“The ambivalence about wealth is … in Scripture …. While at one side we see it as an evil and a sign of a society turning away from God, a danger which plays on the weakness of human sinfulness, on the other, we are equally likely to regard those who possess it as uniquely blessed and even to pray for their prosperity,” Welby said.
What practical steps can the church take to address inequality?
Oxfam offers some worthwhile objects.
One is “promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights.”
These efforts include “compensation for unpaid care, an end to the gender pay gap, equal inheritance and land rights for women.”
Another is “pay workers a living wage and close the gap with skyrocketing executive reward.”
A third is “share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field.”
Advancing equal pay for women, paying a living wage and sharing the tax burden are morally reasonable commitments, worthy of church advocacy.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.