For the Times They are a-changing (Bob Dylan)

Statistics tell a disturbing tale of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and they raise questions about the status of the world’s population in general. Over three billion people, almost half the world’s people live on less that $2.50 a day. 80% of the world’s population live on less than $10.00 a day. And what is most striking is that globally income disparity is widening, not diminishing. To put it in more graphic terms, according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. As UNICEF says “they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes the dying multitudes even more invisible in death.” If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth then it must be an early grave in the earth that is the reward. Believe it or not, nearly a billion people entered the 21st century in the year 2000 without being able to read a book or sign their name.

The world has survived with this kind of Wealth disparity between rich and poor for most of its history and we are still here. But there is a slight difference. For most of our history, poverty has been invisible – now it is not so easy to hide from poverty in gated communities or to block out the slums and favelas of our cities.

Is there not something wrong with a civilization that accepts a situation in which 12 percent of the world’s population consumes 85 percent of its water and the 12 percent do not live in the third world? Is it right that we spend $8 billion on cosmetics or the Europeans spend $11 billion on ice cream when people are starving to death? We spend $17 billion on pet food in the US. The Europeans spend $50 billion on cigarettes and $105 billion on alcoholic drinks. Compare these figures to what it would cost to provide basic services globally. Basic education $6 billion, Water and sanitation $9 billion. Reproductive health for all women $12 billion. Basic health and nutrition for all $13 billion.

Even among the wealthy the distribution is highly skewed. The world’s billionaires, l97 people in all, account for $36.6 trillion dollars or 76% of the world’s wealth. The Gross Domestic Product of the 41 heavily indebted poor counties (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people. In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6 % of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%.

There was a day, not too long ago, when such a massive accumulation of wealth was a symbol of success not oppression – when a Social Democrat would not appeal to the broad electorate and when we could all understand Miranda Priestly when she said: “Oh, don't be ridiculous. Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.”

If that is true, then what happens if people suddenly wake up to the time bomb of wealth inequality that is ticking away in our cities? Why have our politics become so personal, nasty, and devoid of intelligent debate? Why are Wall Street and wealth suddenly a target for politicians rather than the engine of growth? Is there something in the air or the water?

“Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don't stand in the doorway

Don't block up the hall

For he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled

There's a battle outside

And it is ragin'

It'll soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin'.”

-Bob Dylan ( 1964 Columbia Records)


Statistics drawn from “Poverty Facts and Stats,” Global Issues//