I was intrigued last week when I happened upon an article entitled “26 Billionaires Own the Same Wealth as the Poorest 3.8 Billion People.” I think I would like to quote the first two sentences from the article in their entirety – “The gap between rich and poor is fracturing society, poisoning politics and fuelling public anger, according to a new report from the anti-poverty non-profit Oxfam, which found that last year just 26 people owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people. This figure is down from 43 the year before (!!!).” This is a really staggering statistic, as it shows how unequal our world is. The article goes on to provide more examples of this gargantuan wealth disparity. For instance, it tells us that in just ten years the number of billionaires in the world has doubled, and the wealthiest individuals and corporations are paying lower taxes than ever; while at the same time 3.4 billion people are living in awful poverty on less than Bz.$11 per day. And men hold 50% more of the world’s wealth than women.
The picture begins to emerge, with Oxfam vice president telling the media that the world’s economy today is fundamentally inhuman, and that “you’re not going to get a decrease in extreme wealth until you have leadership committed to tackling its root causes, and right now we don’t.”
This becomes even more depressing. 262 million children stay at home because there is no funding for their education, and 10,000 people die every day because they don’t have access to basic health care that could easily be funded through proper fiscal systems. While in the United States itself, the 400 richest Americans own more wealth than all African American households and a quarter of Latino households. But Donald Trump’s administration has slashed taxes for the wealthiest.
The NGO Oxfam is therefore calling for a new economic model, a “human economy” in which tax systems for the wealthiest people and businesses are overhauled to eliminate tax evasion and to increase tax revenues. The tax money could then be put into providing universal public services like education and health care in order to tackle inequality and poverty. I particularly like the comments of the Oxfam vice president when he says “Inequality is not inevitable. It’s a political choice.” “The wealthy have disproportionate power to determine the well-being of millions of people because their wealth and incomes are not being taxed properly.”
After all these facts and comments I thought of what is happening in our own Belize. I am reflecting on our reality, and sometimes from what I am observing there seem almost to be two Belize – the one in which a few fortunate persons and families are rich and powerful and getting ahead, and the other one in which the great majority of our people are suffering and just not getting anywhere. I see homeless persons on Queen Street, who hang around day and night and urinate and defecate outside buildings. I see a decently dressed individual who loiters all day with a bag over his shoulder, but who I am sure is doing nothing. I know of children who are going to school hungry or with only sugary drinks and powder bun or ‘hard time’ in their stomachs; while foreigners hog up the hugest share of the earnings from tourism, and a few yuppies and business persons dine and drink at fine restaurants, where a regular dish costs $40, more than many working persons earn in a whole day.
Looking at Belize, there must be growth in business for us to have a vibrant economy, but we have got ensure equity and fairness in our tax system. And even though the wealth and income disparity may not be as stark or as massive here as it is in other countries, it is clear that we are not doing enough to lift a majority of Belizeans out of the vicious cycle of hardship and poverty. We must look at our own Belizean economy to see whether it is working for our people. We must resolve to drastically improve our education and health systems and work to provide opportunities for young people and women in particular (but not leaving men out at all) to become productive and to provide a better life for themselves and their children.
I fully endorse our Party Leader’s call for us to ensure that we must have a Belize that works for everyone. As the Oxfam people are pointing out as it pertains to the world economy, if there is the political will to change the status quo, this can be done. The wealth and income gap can be narrowed, even closed, if the right decisions are made, but we first need the resolve to do it.