“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr. in a book, “Where Do We Go From Here — Chaos or Community?” that was written in 1967, and into which I dip every year around this time.
He said that almost 50 years ago, when there were three social classes in this country. Now, it’s pretty much fair to say there are two, the gap between them continuing relentlessly to widen.
Those who’ve been left behind have yet to raise their voices sufficiently, and those with power, closeted as they are behind gated communities and cosseted as they are by policies over-friendly to wealth, haven’t felt the need to raise theirs except when periodic mention is made — as is happening more and more frequently nowadays — of this festering social wound and their role in it.
Brandeis, Keynes, the pope (in his ringing “apostolic exhortation”), President Obama, and now Oxfam have been quoted in stories on the subject recently, nor should the economist James Henry’s finding in a report in The Guardian a year and a half ago that tax-haven wealth — estimated then at about $21 trillion — would be more than enough to pay off developing countries’ debts to the rest of the world be forgotten.
The Oxfam report says, among other things:
That “the wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion — 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.”
That “seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.”
That “the richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.”
That “in the U.S., the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.”
And that “this dangerous trend can be reversed . . . to the benefit of all, through more progressive taxation, public services, social protection, and decent work — all of which can be possible, the report says, should the majority make its voice heard in political forums.
Perhaps the time for a more equable world, and a more equable society here, has come.
Dr. King, whose birthday we celebrated this past week, had reason to hope that “a people who began a national life inspired by a vision of a society of brotherhood can redeem itself.”
Will we become more just? Or will it for us just be more?