Yesterday was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It is a good time to reflect on the historical fact that poverty could be alleviated or eradicated not just by doling out money, grants, loans or subsidies but by identifying, challenging and breaking down the structures of crass capitalism.
The widely read and widely respected Guardian newspaper in a report this week quoted some shocking figures from Credit Suisse, a Switzerland-based multinational financial services holding company. The report headlined ‘Richest 1% of people own nearly half of global wealth’ says the richest 1% of the world’s population are getting wealthier, owning more than 48% of global wealth. It warns that growing inequality could be a trigger for recession. Or perhaps a revolution.
According to the Credit Suisse global wealth report, a person needs just $3,650 including the value of equity in his or her home to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%.
Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets, the annual report says.
The report, which calculates that total global wealth has grown to a new record – $263 trillion, more than twice the $117 trillion calculated for 2000 – found that Britain is the only country in the G7 to have recorded rising inequality in the 21st century.
The findings were seized upon by anti-poverty campaigners Oxfam which published research at the start of the year showing that the richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1 trillion, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.
These figures give more evidence that inequality is extreme and growing, and that economic recovery following the financial crisis has been skewed in favour of the wealthiest. In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medicines, Oxfam’s Inequality Unit Chief Emma Seery said.
China now has more people in the top 10% of global wealth holders than any other country except for the United States and Japan, having moved into third place in the rankings by overtaking France, Germany, Italy and Britain, the report says.
In the Daily Mirror yesterday, the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) says the United Nations views October 17 as a moment that can both empower people to eradicate poverty and allow them to recognize the role the poor play in these efforts. The theme for this year is ‘Leave No One Behind: Think, Decide and Act Together Against Poverty.’
The article by CEPA analyst Mira Phillips says incorporating the voices of the poor has become increasingly emphasized in poverty-related research and development initiatives.
We have often heard that there are three types of lies – lies, damn lies and statistics. The third type is the worst because it includes white lies such as growth rates, inflation and unemployment figures, Gross Domestic Products and per capita income. The Central Bank and Treasury reports are often quoted by ruling party leaders to paint a picture of Sri Lanka becoming the economic hub or the miracle of Asia. Opposition leaders and independent analysts have often questioned whether what is emerging is a miracle or a muddle – in pithy Sinhala ‘ashcharyakda awulakda.’
For thousands of years, Sri Lanka’s hallowed civilisation and culture have clearly shown us the answer to poverty alleviation and a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. The answer is ‘alpekchathawaya’ – a simple and humble lifestyle. For this to work effectively, it must begin at the top with our political, religious, business and social leaders living in a simple and humble way. If they do it, the people will follow the example of learning to live with basic needs. Unfortunately what we see at the top often is super luxury and vulgar extravagance. This poverty alleviation day will have meaning if our leaders change their way of life, identify with millions of poor people and build the superhighway for a just and fair society.