‘Working for the Few’

Bharat Dogra

Arecent report by Oxfam titled 'Working For the Few' has presented an alarming picture of the extreme and increasing inequalities in world economy. one percent of the households of present-day world own 46 percent of the total wealth. More specifically this top One percent has wealth equivalent to the wealth of world's poorest 3.5 billion people. In addition it is estimated that a much greater amount is held unrecorded and off-shore (in tax havens). Despite alarming inequalities, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 of the 30 countries for which statistics are available. In India the number of billionaires has increased ten-fold in the past decade, while essential needs of the poor have been neglected. Inequalities have increased during the last 30 years in countries inhabited by 70% of the world's population.

Inequalities have clearly increased to such an extent that this can be called the number one problem of world economy today. Economic growth without reducing inequalities will not solve the economic problems of an overwhelming majority of people in the world.

Another serious problem related to inequality is that the life style of the wealthy poses disproportionately high environmental costs. For reasons of justice as well ecological protection, today it is more important to work for equality than ever before.

Keeping in view the perpetuation of large-scale poverty and the colossal ecological ruin wrought by the existing economic system, the creation of an alternative economic system has become one of the most urgent issues of present time.

The basic needs of all families should be met. In other words everyone should be able to get clean drinking water, adequate and healthy nutrition, access to basic health and education facilities as well as to such clothing and housing as will at least protect them from weather extremes and indignity. Further, to meet these basic needs, the household should not be forced to carry out work which destroys health.

Having met these basic needs, a household should further feel free to add such small and inexpensive items of consumption which will bring some comfort and colour in their life, and satisfy some strongly felt special needs.

Having reached this level of basic needs plus small comforts, however, it is equally important for a family to voluntarily and happily stop yearning for more. In particular a family should strive to avoid as much as possible the consumption of those goods whose adverse impact on (individual and social) health and environment is well known.

Any income and wealth that a family may have in excess of this basic requirement should be voluntarily and happily given up to more needy persons, or else (if it is possible to do this entirely honestly) held as a trusteeship to be used for weaker sections or for other equally worthy causes such as the protection of environment, preventing cruelty to animals.

This is the value system that should be spread among as many people as possible to lay the foundations of a good economy. The emphasis on voluntary giving up of excess wealth and income does not mean that the government will not use various levels of force to obtain the excess resources of those who refuse to give it up on their own. However while conceding this right to the government one should nevertheless stress the voluntary aspect so that appropriate values can be created among the people on a large scale.

The propagation of these values should be based on facts and logic, instead of rhetoric and dogma. It is necessary to keep consumption within limits to save environment, and there is no better gift that one can leave for their children and grandchildren than to give them a clean and safe environment. Aspects such as these which are likely to touch a soft corner of ordinary people should be emphasised.

Vol. 46, No. 37, Mar 23 - 29, 2014