Oh, Tea Party help me. Oh, my right wing, Republican and Conservative friends, please… stage and intervention. Set me straight, for I am about to write something incredibly naive.
You know that Oxfam report? The one that said 85 people alive in the world today are worth as much as 3.6 billion people at the other end of the curve?
That’s something, eh? Eighty-five people have shown so much initiative and get up and go; so much resourcefulness and ingenuity; so much pull-yourself-up-by-the bootstraps that their efforts in this world balance the efforts of 3.6 billion other people.
Good on them, I thought when I read that report.
Then, in a weak, lefty moment, I thought something different:
Suppose, just suppose, those 85 people decided to distribute their fortunes among the 3.6 billion. Suddenly, more than half the world would wake up twice as well off as they were the night before.
Some of them would squander it, for sure. They’d drink or gamble it away — just like some people at the other end of the curve have done.
But I like to think others might use that windfall to fix (or get) a roof over their heads. They might use it to get an actual address they can proudly write on a job application. They might buy more nutritious food so they have the energy to go out and perform effectively at that job — or even create a job for themselves.
Maybe they’ll put their money together and get a water system in their community so their young girls can go to school instead of spending much of their waking hours fetching water.
Maybe some of them will purchase material goods with their money — things that will improve their lives, like lights and stoves and computers — and that money will trickle up and start replenishing the recently depleted coffers of those 85.
Oh, yes, you don’t have to worry about those 85. They’ve still got all the ingenuity and resourcefulness that took them to the top in the first place. They’ll get back on their feet in no time. But just in case, we could let them keep a million each. Hell, let them keep 10 million each. The 3.6 billion will hardly miss it. That’s a drop in the bucket.
I’ve heard the arguments. The 85 are willing to risk a lot to get where they are. They are willing to put in the hours. To work hard, to work above and beyond.
But I wonder… do they risk more than the Bangladesh clothing factory workers who get trapped in fires or crushed in collapsing buildings in order to earn about 30 bucks a month? Do they work longer hours than a farmer, or a good teacher or a dedicated doctor?
Say we live in a pond. We are fish. Bugs fall in the water, wriggly things hatch, algae blooms. There is enough food so that all us fish can live reasonably happy, healthy, well-fed lives.
But then, one fish lucks out. He stumbles upon a whole big swarm of wriggly things. He could call his fishy friends over to share, but that’s not really fish-like. He makes sure no one is watching and gorges himself. He gets a little bigger than his piscine pals. A little faster. He gets to the next swarm a little quicker than everyone else. And he gorges again. After a while, he’s eating more than half of the food in the entire pond.
He gets so big, those other fish barely look like fish to him anymore. They get so weak, all they can do is scrounge after the crumbs that aren’t good enough for the big fish anymore.
One day, without even realizing he’s doing anything wrong, the big fish gulps down some of the other fishes’ smaller, scrawnier offspring. And nobody says anything because they’re all just grateful for the crumbs.
I am a poor one to preach. I’m not among the 85, or even the one per cent. But I’m probably in the top 10 per cent in worldwide terms. I’ve got a great life. I don’t want to give any of it up. I’d even like a little more. There are homeless people I encounter during my walks around the city among whom I distribute my crumbs.
Life is not fair. But I would like to find a way to make it fairer.
No, we can’t just take the riches away from those 85. That would take a revolution, and nobody wants a revolution. They can be pretty disruptive. But how about a slow revolution? How about we start by nurturing our innate sense of fairness? How about we stand up to injustice in the places where we see it? How about we reject politicians who pander to the greedy and resist laws that favour the greedy?
And especially, how about we stop measuring a person’s worth by their greediness?
We are not here to strive to be among the 85. We are here to be better than the 85.