The Inequality Gap

A report called “A New Global Partnership” has been released by the United Nations that discusses the priorities and goals the UN should take on once the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.  One of its primary goals is the eradication of poverty on a global scale by the year 2030.

We will examine this report in more detail, but for today, I want to throw out to our community a question raised by The Guardian UK regarding the question of wealth inequality.  In an online piece today, The Guardian expressed disappointment that “[d]espite overwhelming consensus from the global consultation that inequality should be top priority, the report does not include it as a standalone goal.”  Rather, inequality was addressed indirectly, in the sense that raising the economic standing of the poor would, in and of itself, reduce inequality.

What really caught my eye about this — as was intended, I’m sure — was The Guardian’s headline:  “Shouldn’t we aim to end extreme wealth, not extreme poverty?”

What a remarkable question.

It is an easy thing to say, “Let’s raise people out of poverty.”  That is a laudable goal, and one I think everyone would agree upon, even if they disagree on how to go about it.  No one likes to think of their fellow humans starving, suffering, dying.

But the emotions raised by the idea of ending “extreme wealth” are rather different, and I think, especially in America, far more complicated.

How does one go about ending extreme wealth?  It’s one thing to give more to those who have-not; it is quite another to take things away from those who have.  What mechanisms would have to be set up?  What taxes, what surrenders, what incentives would have to be created to un-make the wealthy?

How does one fight the human desire to keep what one has?  How does one convince those whose situations would be thus altered that they would nevertheless be protected from falling into poverty themselves?

How would governments prevent panic and the collapse of economic institutions?

This is just scratching the surface of the kinds of questions that could be asked.

I, for one, am fascinated to hear the results of such a discussion.

The Guardian will be hosting a live, online chat on this topic on Tuesday June 4, from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm BST (8:00-9:30 am EDT; 6:00-7:30 am MDT) with a panel of experts, including one member of the high-level panel which drafted the UN report.  Comments are being accepted via the Twitter hashtag #post2015.  This should be a very interesting discussion, worth listening in on and participating in.

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