The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
People rightly have fears that we face jeopardy from climate change, war and natural disaster—but human greed, and the world’s vast and growing wealth imbalance, pose a far more immediate danger.
The Baha’i teachings advise us all to eliminate the extremes of wealth and poverty:
… the base of life is … mutual aid and helpfulness, and the cause of destruction and non-existence would be the interruption of this mutual assistance. The more the world aspires to civilization, the more this most important matter of co-operation and assistance becomes manifest. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 139.
The inordinate disparity between rich and poor, a source of acute suffering, keeps the world in a state of instability, virtually on the brink of war. Few societies have dealt effectively with this situation. The solution calls for the combined application of spiritual, moral and practical approaches. A fresh look at the problem is required, entailing consultation with experts from a wide spectrum of disciplines, devoid of economic and ideological polemics, and involving the people directly affected in the decisions that must urgently be made. It is an issue that is bound up not only with the necessity for eliminating extremes of wealth and poverty but also with those spiritual verities the understanding of which can produce a new universal attitude. Fostering such an attitude is itself a major part of the solution. – The Universal House of Justice, October 1985, The Promise of World Peace, p. 3.
If collectively we don’t act, a high probability exists that economic and social stability and the rule of law may break down, and we could see the world regress to forms of medieval feudalism, along with all the horrors, injustice, disease, and ignorance associated with that dark time.
In the medieval era, all of the power, and almost all the wealth, was controlled by a handful of emperors, kings, war-lords and religious leaders. That hoarding of wealth and the widespread poverty it produced resulted in plagues, injustice, lawlessness, forced migrations, famines, uprisings and wars.
Current trends suggest we are witnessing an accelerating return to forms of medieval feudalism. To get the picture, try substituting terms such as; super rich, mega-corporations, financial manipulators, big stock market players, for Emperors, Kings, and War-Lords.
Oxfam and the World Economic Forum released reports in 2016 showing some startling trends. One such figure showed that 62 persons—just a bus full—are the richest on the planet, and own as much as 3.6 billion of the poorest persons. Another statistic estimates that 1% of the world’s population now own 99% of everything. Oxfam indicates that world-wide imbalance, unfairness, and inequality has reached levels not seen in over 100 years. For instance, the report calculates that the wealth of the world’s 62 wealthiest people has risen a massive 45%, more than half a trillion dollars or $542 billion U.S. dollars, in just over five years, while, at the same time, the wealth of the bottom half has fallen by over $1 trillion. Frighteningly, the trend appears to be accelerating.
If Mother Nature went seriously awry, and just a few squirrels gathered and hid away millions of times their normal share of nuts, what do you think might be the outcome?
Thankfully, this has not happened in the woods and forests of the world. However, it would appear that it is happening in the human world. Recent reports clearly show that the rich are getting very much richer, while the rest of society is getting poorer. What do you think might be the outcome?
Those who take and hide away more than their fair share inevitably deprive others. Those who take vastly more than their fair share actually commit violence against the greater part of the peoples of Earth: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” – Gandhi
History has shown that in every case where this hoarding of resources has happened, the deprived, the starving, the under-privileged, and the oppressed have eventually risen up and chaos has ensued: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced … neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass
If you want a stark way to visualize these trends, take a look at the above figures and graph, extrapolated from reports published ahead of the annual World Economic Forum of global political and business leaders which took place last year in Davos, Switzerland.
Consider the symmetry of both sides of the above graph and the unnerving future estimates. The enormous and growing imbalance is akin to too much water building up behind a dam—it becomes only a matter of time before the dam will burst.