The New Robber Barons
A recent report from Oxfam International held a shocking stat. The 85 richest people on the planet have cornered as much wealth as the bottom half of all the people on earth. In other words, 85 people now own as much as 3.5 billion people.
Perhaps even more startling is that the richest 1 percent of the world population has about 65 times as much as the 3.5 billion poorest people. The top 1 percent has $110 trillion, compared to only $1.7 trillion shared by the lowest 50 percent of people.
Oxfam found the money was going in the same direction in all 26 countries in the study.
The income inequality trend has actually been accelerating worldwide, and especially gaining momentum in the U.S. Since 1980, the richest 1 percent of people in the U.S. has seen their wealth grow 150 percent, while 90 percent of the overall population has lost income.
More recently, since 2009, of all the wealth created in the U.S., 95 percent has gone to the wealthiest 1 percent.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about income inequality, with even President Obama identifying it as a big threat. Most of the talk centers around the problem as an economic issue. But when so much wealth is concentrated among so few individuals, and people die or suffer as a result, it’s actually a moral question: Is this kind of super wealth a form of evil?
America is often labeled a Christian nation, especially by Christians and if you look at the foundation of Christianity, it’s very anti-wealth. The Bible famously states that, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” and Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple and said “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.”
So it seems strange that Christians seem to be largely silent against excessive wealth. When was the last time any Christian leader condemned the wealthy?
But forget about condemnation. Actually, just the opposite is going down. Being wealthy enough to have way more than you need to sustain a comfortable lifestyle is not only an acceptable, but widely lauded goal, in our capitalist society. Billionaires in our culture are not looked on with scorn. They are celebrated celebrities who are admired for having achieved the American dream.
One indicator of just how bad things already are is that the super wealthy have now become so powerful that they are virtually beyond the law. The financial crisis that brought down major financial institutions in the U.S. about five years ago caused tremendous loss, but the wealthy financiers who caused it are still unpunished. The government says they are studying ways to prosecute them, but nothing is really happening. Try stealing something from Wal-Mart and see how long the prosecutors study on whether to throw you in jail. The more you steal today, the less likely you are to face any prison time.
No, just like The Wolf of Wall Street, you’re perceived to be a colorful dynamo. If you’re one of those hoarders on a TV reality show, people think you’re weird. But if you hoard money, you’re viewed as a leader.
The nasty downside of monumental wealth is that there is a finite amount of resources on the planet, and when some people have far more than they can ever use, it leaves many others with less than enough to live on or, even more radically, people die because they can’t get enough food to eat.
With so much wealth at the top of the pyramid, there’s just not enough to go around. Of the earth’s 7 billion inhabitants, 1.2 billion live on $1.25 or less per day. More than 800 million people struggle daily with hunger. An estimated 2.6 million children die of hunger every year.
And with more money moving into the hands of fewer people, those problems are only going to get worse. Poverty, starvation, and deprival will increase. The middle class, the banner lifestyle of Americans for generations, is disappearing. If the trend toward concentration of wealth continues, the U.S. will devolve into a two-class society.
The view of the wealthy needs to change, and they need to be reined in. The old term robber barons is a pretty good description of what the wealthy are doing. The truth is that many wealthy individuals are obsessed with acquiring as much wealth as they can. Their whole life is about piling up lucre, and they don’t care what it does to the masses. Their attitude is, get your own.
Let’s stop admiring the super wealthy. Many of them are dangerous freaks. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this: If you won $50 million dollars in the lottery tomorrow, what would you do? You’d probably quit your job and retire to a life of luxury for the rest of your life. That’s what most everyone would do.
Except for the types who can never have enough, those who aspire to be super wealthy. If they have $50 million, they’re striving to turn it into $100 million. If they have $100 million, they want to have $1 billion. And it never ends. They can never get enough, because they are fixated only on acquiring wealth.
And it’s become obvious that it doesn’t take that many of these types to create a worldwide crisis, with less than 100 people hoarding as much as 3.5 billion. Things are way out of balance.
What’s the answer? Remember when you were a child and you were taught the importance of sharing? The rich must be forced to share. Sure, most of them do some philanthropy to make themselves look good. But, at the same time, they’re hanging on to most of what they have and plotting to get more.
So someone needs to act to reverse the money flow downward instead of upward.
If that doesn’t happen the risks are enormous, and inevitable, and when people finally get enough of the rich not sharing the resources of the planet, the problem will be resolved by force. But we don’t have to get to that point. One of the dictates of our all cultures should be that society strives for the greatest good for the most people, not for the excesses of a few.