Perspective

Initial considerations regarding the elimination of the extremes of poverty and wealth

In Brief: 
  • A focus on material wealth has not necessarily translated into social improvements, and growing inequality has made humanity increasingly insecure.
  • Most of the world’s people live in societies characterized by relationships of dominance — one nation by another, one race or class by another, one religious or ethnic group by another, or one sex by the other.
  • We propose alternate assumptions about human nature, wealth generation, and access to knowledge. The masses cannot continue to be regarded only as consumers and end-users of technology originating in industrial countries.
  • We invite a dialogue on the purpose of an economy, the concept of wealth, the role of knowledge, and the nature of work, among other things.

Poverty eradication programs have generally focused on the creation of material wealth. While these measures have improved living standards in some parts of the world, inequality remains widespread. In its 2005 Report on the World Social Situation, the United Nations highlighted the growing chasm between formal and informal economies, the widening gap between skilled and unskilled workers, and the growing disparities in health, education as well as in opportunities for social, economic and political participation. It has been well documented that the focus on growth and income generation has not necessarily translated into significant social improvements, and that growing inequality has rendered the global community increasingly unstable and insecure.

The Bahá’í International Community wishes to consider the related phenomena of the extremes of poverty and wealth. While the goal of poverty eradication is widely endorsed, the notion of eliminating extremes of wealth is challenging to many. Some fear that it could be used to undermine the market economy, to stifle entrepreneurship, or to impose income equalization measures. This is not what we mean. To be sure, material wealth is of critical importance to the achievement of individual and collective goals; by the same token, a strong economy is a key component of a vibrant social order. We propose that recognition of the problem of the extremes of poverty and wealth concerns itself, in essence, with the nature of relationships that bind individuals, communities and nations. Today, most of the world’s people live in societies characterized by relationships of dominance — whether of one nation over another, one race by another, one social class by another, one religious or ethnic group by another, or one sex by another. In this context, a discourse on the elimination of the extremes of poverty and wealth presumes that societies cannot flourish in an environment that fuels inequitable access to resources, to knowledge, and to meaningful participation in the life of society.

In this contribution, we briefly reflect on the manner in which the following aspects of society contribute to these extremes: a materialistic worldview, assumptions about human nature, the means of generating wealth, and access to knowledge. We propose an alternative set of assumptions and consider how these might advance a more equitable economic environment.  

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