The Problem of Inequality:A Case for Bridging the Gap
1 Timothy 6:17-19
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
Life in South Africa provides us with many opportunities to “do good” primarily because there are so many “wrongs to right”. Even the most cursory overview of the challenges we face as a society, will show that our past has left us with a devastating deficit. When one looks more closely, the statistics tell a sad story.
We found a recent study focused on wealth inequality in South Africa where the following observation was made: “South Africa is known for its extreme income inequality which is one of the highest in the world. Ten percent of the population earn around 55%–60% of all income, compared to only 20-35% in the advanced economies.” (Anne Orthofer: “South Africa needs to fix its dangerously wide wealth gap” published in “The Conversation” on 26 October 2016.)
Of greater concern, the author points out, is the even wider “wealth gap”: “But while the top income share is high in its own right, it pales in comparison to those for wealth; such as real estate, pension funds and shares of listed companies. New tax and survey data suggest that 10% of the South African population owns at least 90–95% of all assets. This share is much higher than in the advanced economies, where the richest 10% own “only” around 50-75% of all assets.”
The author’s conclusions based on the above statistics, captured our attention: “A growing number of studies have suggested that high inequality can have unfavourable political and economic consequences, which is why South African policymakers are increasingly concerned about it.” Even the most sanguine amongst us, can not ignore the “restlessness” which has marked our political landscape of late; the protest action, the deep dissatisfaction with the status quo surfacing at every turn. Given the history of our country, we will be unwise to ignore Orthofer’s conclusions and the evidence thereof in the growing unrest amongst concerned citizens.
This link between inequality and a wide range of social ills, is extensively explored in Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Based on years of research, this controversial book connects inequality with a range of societal challenges – from poorer life expectancy to mental illness, violence to illiteracy; to name but a few. The evidence suggests that members of societies with a bigger gap between the wealthy and the poor, are all worse off, the rich included.
If this is the case; how do we narrow the gap? Our author suggests that policymakers have 2 options:
- redistributing wealth held at the top through taxing the wealthy, or
- building wealth at the bottom through a more comprehensive pension system.
Can we afford to leave this problem entirely in the hands of policymakers? Do ordinary citizens not have a correlated responsibility to address this gap?
We can only speak for ourselves when we conclude that the question is not, “Should I do something?” But rather, “What can I do?” Framing our response in this way assumes the following:
- Everybody can do something.
- Together, we can make somewhat of a difference.
- The details of what that “something” looks like depends … on our resources, our passions, our network, our interests.
So … here we are, mentoring Grade 10 to 12 female learners; exposing young women to experiences outside their daily reality; connecting people to opportunities. Doing our “something” to bridge the gap we have identified in our city, the communities we straddle, the spaces we occupy.
Can we challenge you to find that “something” you can do to narrow the gap between you and someone who has less than you…you may not have to look that far!
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