Does richness cause poverty?
Since my last article, Jeff Bezos has flown into space. I noted in the article that Richard Branson charges $250,000 for a 10-minute trip into outer space.
This brings the concept of timeshares to new heights. You don’t buy a week or even a day – just 10 minutes, once, for a quarter of a million dollars. What a trip!
I also noted that the purchase of 10 minutes of thrills could also employ 200,000 Burundians for one day. On a yearly basis, that means you could use the money to employ 100 Burundians, working five 8-hour days a week, for a full year. (Two-week unpaid vacation not included).
Something is wrong with the disparity of money in the world between “the rich” and “the poor.” This is not news, even to the rich like Branson and Bezos. In fact, they both already contribute a lot to charity.
But that’s not the point. The point is that something is wrong with the way we have failed to organize the world — that we allow such a big disparity between the rich and the poor. According to UNICEF, 14,000 children under the age of 5 die every day, primarily from malnutrition and preventable disease. When I first learned about child mortality rates in 1983, the number was 40,000 a day. So we’re headed in the right direction, but far too slowly.
Ever since learning about that, I have pondered the question, “Is richness actually the cause of poverty?” That is, is it precisely the fact that so few have so much that causes so many to have so little?
The answer I have come to is “yes.”
Here are my opinions:
1. The world and its resources are finite. If they were infinite, everybody could even have their own spaceship! The accumulation of money is what allows people to control more and more of the goods of the earth. Investing money gains the “right” to more and more future goods. Yet we only have the “right” to our share.
2. We also use money to consume, to buy more, bigger, better, shinier, prettier, louder, faster, etc. This “more is better” mentality deprives those who don’t have enough for survival, whether we or they are conscious of it or not.
3. Because you have something legally, doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right to it. Having the right to something means we deserve it. Looking at the big picture, we don’t even deserve the right to exist. How can somebody who does not exist yet deserve the right to come into existence? That we each happened to show up on the planet is a gift.
4. Everything we have on the planet is a gift as well. That includes our body, our parents, our genetic code, our family, the house, the country we live in, etc. Everything we have or get is a gift which comes along with the gift of existence. Even every thought that comes into our head is a gift. To be smart enough to get rich is a gift as much as inheriting riches.
5. We don’t own the goods of the earth. We simply have them on lease, for whatever time we’re here. We’re all going to die, so we are all renters of everything, not owners.
6. Side point: My hunch is that many of us use the game of accumulation as a way of fleeing from the fact that none of this is permanent. We will die.
7. “Rich” means you have access to more than a fair share of the earth’s resources; “poor” means you don’t have access to a fair share.
8. Conclusion: Don’t “contribute to charity.” Instead, “invest time and money into a world that works for everyone.”
Yet I don’t want to be a killjoy. If someone wants to go into outer space, let them do it. After all, I play golf! Maybe Richard and Jeff can join me for a round at Muni!
The author lives in Santa Barbara.