Wealth gap widens

If only lottery could bridge gap

Last week, just before the PowerBall lottery winner was announced, one of my Facebook friends posted a note letting everyone know that, if he won the $1.5 billion jackpot, “100 percent of my winnings are going to the Third World to help bring an end to hunger and disease immediately.”

I know my friend, who is a Catholic in the Green Bay Diocese, would surely have done as he promised. Unfortunately, he did not win. (Nor did countless millions of others who bought tickets.)

My friend’s philanthropic gesture came to mind after reading a newly-released report from Oxfam. The report highlighted the disparity between the rich and poor of the world and it reminds us how sentiments like my friend’s are needed as wealth continually moves into fewer hands.

The report, titled “An Economy For the 1%,” was released Jan. 18 by Oxfam, a nonprofit organization that works to find solutions to poverty. It stated that 62 people now own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population.

“The wealth of the richest 62 has increased 44 percent (more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76 trillion)” since 2010, reported Oxfam. Meanwhile, the wealth of the poorest half (3.6 billion people) has fallen by $1 trillion, a 41 percent drop.

“Since the turn of the century, the poorest half of the world’s population has received just 1 percent of the total increase in global wealth, while half of that increase has gone to the top 1 percent,” stated Oxfam.

Wealth at the top continues to be shared by less people. In 2010, it took 388 people to equal the poorest half of the world. The number dropped to 159 in 2012, to 80 in 2014 and to 62 in 2015.

“Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate,” noted Oxfam. “Once there, an ever more elaborate system of tax havens and an industry of wealth managers ensure that it stays there, far from the reach of ordinary citizens and their governments.”

Oxfam offered several recommendations to bridge the wealth gap. Among them:

  • Pay workers a living wage.
  • Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights.
  • Increase investment in public services.
  • Crack down on tax dodging and share the tax burden fairly.

“We need to end the era of tax havens which has allowed rich individuals and multinational companies to avoid their responsibilities to society by hiding ever increasing amounts of money offshore,” stated Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam Great Britain.

If the world’s billionaires had been taxed 1.5 percent on their wealth directly after the financial crisis that began in 2007, according to Oxfam, “23 million lives across the world’s poorest 49 countries” could have been saved by providing them with funds to invest in health care.

Oxfam and Pope Francis share a belief that the world’s financial leaders have a duty and a moral obligation to make ethics a part of their business plan.

“Money must serve, not rule!” the pope said in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). “The pope … is obliged, in the name of Christ, to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.”

My friend ended his Facebook post saying that, after he donated his winnings to help the poor, he would be “the shortest-lived billionaire ever, and I’m pretty much OK with that.”

Sharing his compassion, however, is about as likely — for many of those who avoid sharing their wealth — as winning the lottery.