Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Inequality or absolute poverty

I have mixed feelings about the inequality argument. I think the issues are a slightly more complex than often argued, but in general I do not find it a problem. This puts me at odds with many of my fellow Christians, or at least the more vocal ones. Absolute wealth has its temptations, but I don't see inequality per se as a specific problem. We have inequality in many other areas of life: sporting, music, literary, and numeracy capabilities. Not many people argue against this natural inequality and most would just seek to optimise each individual's ability. Money has some differences to this but also some similarities.

Now I don't necessarily have sympathies with the extremely wealthy. I am not sympathetic to the legal protections for bankers or government bailouts. I think money can be made immorally. However I don't object to people having money just because they have a lot of it.

Nevertheless, I am concerned about the poor; especially the oppressed poor. Perhaps I could be more concerned in my actions, but in general I support just laws which I think protect the poor from oppression and, in the long term, rise them out of poverty.

But inequality is not the issue.

The Guardian quotes an Oxfam report.
The share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.
But what does this mean and why is it so?

Here is the comparison of rich and poor.


Now there is some difficulty using this timeframe. It is during the time of the global financial crisis which may skew results based on fluctuations of various currencies. And it is probably too short, a longer timeframe would be preferable. Even so, the benefit of this graph is that it shows absolute values.

According to this data: in 2000 the poorest 50% had $400 billion, in 2002 $700 billion, in 2005 $1300 billion and by 2014 $1800 billion. So if we completely ignore the wealthy we note that the wealth of the poor has grown by billions in the last decade. Even taking into account the rising population, the poorest 50% are significantly increasing their wealth. This is a good outcome. Now this seems more preferable to me than the richest 80 people increasing their wealth, but that they did so does not bother me. And it is not obvious based on this graph (alone) that the increased wealth of the rich was detrimental to the poor. Now perhaps it was detrimental, especially when politicians offered to bale out massive companies at the cost to middle class taxpayers, though that probably hits the richest 50% in developed countries. But what if wealth grows like that?

What if, as productivity increases through the use of capital, the labourers and the owners of the capital both increase their wealth? If you had the opportunity to increase the income of the poor from $2 a day to $5 a day by entrepreneurs who also doubled their income from $10 million a year would you be happy? Or would you rather remove income from the wealthy and give the poor an extra $1 a day knowing that the following year their income would be back down to $2 a day?

Now if men make money from fraud or theft then justice demands that this is taken from them and given to their victims. And those with money should help the poor: both direct giving when necessary, or providing work, opportunity, or capital. But the cry of "inequality" without consideration as to the why can just reflect a politics of envy.

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