Wealth and Human Nature

According to Oxfam the richest 1% of the people in the world own about as much as the remaining 99%. This is the kind of figure of which we have to be suspicious – as King Hal asked his men when he was told how far the French were at Agincourt “Who has measured the ground?”. The research may be inaccurate mainly because measuring the value of all the assets in the world is an impossible task.

Certainly the premise that a very few wealthy people own as much as all the rest of the non wealthy people depends on the definition of wealth. There are seven billion people in the world. The population of the richest ten nations is not more than 10% of the seven billion. What is wealth to a person in a three bedroomed semi detached house in Finchley is much less than what is wealth to a farmer living in sub Saharan Africa.

Even if Oxfam’s premise is right, it is difficult to discover a way of rectifying the position that is fair to all. We can take away wealth from the wealthy and give it to the poor, but that would no doubt result in there being the same differentials in wealth in ten years time, but with different people being included in the world’s wealthiest 1%. We can try and arrange affairs so that the poorest people in the world create and enjoy more wealth, but that would merely mean that among those poor people 1% of the population would acquire the as much as they could of the added wealth.

This is how the system of capitalism works; those who are stronger, cleverer and more ruthless acquire wealth created by the work of the many. This is also how the system of communism has been shown to work.  The process is human nature where competitiveness as a form of evolution and survival takes logically the easiest route.

Survival takes a short term view, hence the problems that humanity will experience with future climate change. Evolution takes a short term view but works over an extended period, hence the problems of poverty, relative poverty and those shown by Oxfam’s statistics. Survival and evolution are driven by greed.

One Response

  1. I think your suggestion that the rich 1% have acquired their wealth through ruthless capitalism is a bit wide of the mark. The truth is that the western world is crony capitalist, ie governments run by the wealthy for the wealthy. The eastern world is corrupt in a different way. Confucius might have said honest men are paupers.

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