The number of Billionaires Has Decreased In 2019 But I Just Don’t Give A Damn – #CauseAChatter
After I passed out of college in 1988 I took up a marketing job and was posted in Bengaluru. Those days I used to share a room with a colleague who was a devout Muslim. His name was Sami Ahmed. I am not a very religious type but Sami took religion very seriously and we often used to discuss the significance of various religious rituals after a day of cold calling selling electronic exchanges.
During one of these discussions, he explained the significance of fasting during the month of Ramadan to me. He mentioned several things which escape my memory, but I still remember one thing he told me. One of the reasons for fasting, he informed me, was to make people actually go through the agony of hunger which the poor experience almost every day. The idea was to increase the empathy people feel for the poor.
Though I mostly frown upon religious rituals, sometimes I have to admit that they do seem to be rooted in sound logic. I agreed with him that to actually go without food, is a sure way to make people understand the pangs of hunger. This is a sure-fire way of making people recognize the plight of the poor and needy. I don’t think anyone can deny that this idea behind fasting during Ramadan is definitely a well-intentioned and sound one.
Coming to the actual problem of poverty and dealing with it on a more intellectual plane, I feel poverty alleviation is a multi-pronged process. I will first provide some minor statistics. This is what Forbes reported in 2018 regarding the number of billionaires in the world.
“There are a record 2,208 billionaires in the world, up from 2,043 in 2017, according to Forbes. And the average wealth of the billionaires is $4.1 billion, a record high.”
Things haven’t been too good for billionaires in 2019. This is what a search on the net tells me about billionaires in the year 2019.
“By our latest count, there are 2,153 billionaires, 55 fewer than a year ago. Of those, a record 994, or 46%, are poorer (relatively speaking) than they were last year. In total, the ultra-rich are worth $8.7 trillion, down $400 billion from 2018”
But does this reduction in the number of billionaires between 2018 and 2019 really make any difference to men and women who eke out a living by doing manual labour? Or for that matter does it make any difference to people who make their living by manual scavenging? Does it make any difference to the poorest of the poor? Definitely not.
The number of billionaires may seesaw from year to year but this is of no consequence to the poor man or woman. I did some more research regarding the percentage of people living below the poverty line all over the world and here is what I found.
“Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.”
Notice the fact that more than 80 per cent of the people live in countries where income differentials are widening. This means that wealth, on the whole, is concentrated in the hands of a few people. These statistics should stir our conscience.
Further, the consequences of poverty are many. Poor people do not have the monetary affluence to educate their children. The children of the poor become earning members of their families by the time they reach the age of ten. They, in turn, do not educate their offspring. As we move from generation to generation poverty causes more illiteracy which again results in more poverty. The cycle is vicious.
Communists try to address the problem by forcing all citizens to work for the society as a whole and providing for all citizens based on their need. This is the broad definition of communist logic. The idea is to prevent uneven distribution of wealth. This was tried out in the now non-existent USSR and it failed miserably. It was found that people value freedom a lot and no one was interested in giving their best at work if the corresponding benefits do not accrue to them.
On the other hand in a capitalistic society, the spread of wealth is most often uneven. The philosopher-writer Ayn Rand argues very powerfully in favour of capitalism and she considers the capitalist society of the USA to be the closest to an ideal state. But what she fails to reckon with is that the USA developed over a long period of time and was not built overnight.
In the US there has been rampant exploitation and then again the material resources are very high. Further, the US is also facing several unsavoury consequences of being a highly capitalistic industrialised society. Thanks to the rampant cut-throat competition, American society is a highly individualised society where there is no room for vulnerable people. The family is not a very cohesive unit. There are widespread mental health problems and the crime rate is also high in the US.
So what is the solution? How can we build a rich thriving society? Communism is definitely not a solution and capitalism has its own issues. A middle path between these two ideologies is what a country like India needs. In my opinion, what really makes a difference to a country and the citizens is the kind of rulers who govern it. But even the kind of government that rules a country depends largely on the citizens as they are the ones who elect the government in a democracy.
All problems of society including poverty are the result of unscrupulous politicians, bureaucrats and middle-men who loot the common man. Funds meant for building hospitals, schools, vaccination for children of the poor and numerous other monies invariably get diverted into the pockets of unscrupulous elements.
In a democracy, citizens can vote governments in and out of power. It is not that democracy is not the correct mechanism to govern a country, but more often it is the kind of rulers citizens elect that make democracy look inadequate. In short, we citizens are responsible for our own problems in a major way.
All said and done, it is actually a question of educating the citizens to elect just and capable people to power. This, in turn, would depend on the ability of citizens to think clearly and make correct choices when they cast their votes during elections. In many cases, people get swayed by the charisma of one man or woman and the emotional appeal is so great that people’s thinking gets muddled.
Rhetoric, rabble-rousing speeches and religious polarization are some of the examples of how citizens get befooled into electing the wrong people to power. To avoid this, the only solution is education and I strongly believe that every citizen should be provided with the fundamental level of education which would empower him or her to think with clarity. This would enable them to choose rulers wisely.
Education up to the level of primary classes and if possible higher education must be made available to the poorest sections of the society for free. It is very important to make the poor realize the importance of education. It has mostly been observed that poor people do not send their children to school because they feel it is quite unnecessary. They also feel that their children can take up menial work and contribute to the kitty.
Education sharpens the intellect and equips people with the ability to improve their standards of living. As I have already mentioned it also helps citizens elect good people to power by exercising their franchise judiciously. Good rulers mean rich and contended citizens – it is that simple.
Another problem is the burgeoning population in India. People should be made aware of the benefits of smaller families. One of the main reasons poor people have large families is because of ignorance. It might sound surprising but in some of the very remote rural parts of our country, people are not aware of the existence or use of contraceptives. Several initiatives like the Anganwadi scheme have been taken to provide health care and spread awareness among people in these areas.
The importance of cleanliness and hygiene cannot be understated. In this respect, there have been some efforts made by the government like the Swatch Bharat initiative but the effects have still not percolated down to the lowest levels. Some schemes like the mid-day meal scheme have driven the children of the poor to the schools and things are improving. In short, we need to make more efforts but above all, we have to elect proper people to govern us. Education, I feel is the key to reducing poverty all around.
Author’s Note – This post has been written as part of Blogchatter‘s #CauseAChatter initiative. This post is written with an aim to bring awareness about poverty and its alleviation.