Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Why tolerate the Power Gap?

In every sphere of life, if some become too powerful in relation to others, the risk of injustice and oppression surges to intolerably high levels. In international relations, once the balance of powers is lost, hegemony and aggression show their ambitions. For centuries, nations have known the importance of not allowing a small minority to attain the capacity to invade others at will. In the privacy of our homes, exclusive male domination of households has for a long time put women and children at the mercy of many arbitrary domestic rulers. Across the world, the rebalancing of power in families has a long way to go.

But even though an increasing number of people recognise the need to close the gap between those with too much power and others who stand in their shadow, our global economy is built around a widening power gap between those with ever accelerating wealth accumulation and those who drop by comparison to growing insignificance.

Richard G. Wilkinson has shown the indisputable correlation between income inequalities and social problems such as violence, poor health and discrimination (see his book, ‘The Impact of Inequality’). There is mounting evidence that the greater the gap between those who are richer by the day and those left behind, the more likely the quality of life will sink. For those pushed down the hierarchy, there is the loss of self-esteem, loss of efficacy to control their destiny, fermenting resentment against being marginalized. For those climbing to the top, there is dwindling sensitivity to the needs of others, na├»ve embrace of ‘equal opportunity to climb’ as a bridge to a fair society, and obsession with pushing their own agenda as the only respectable one in the world.

Hurricane Katrina illustrated all too vividly how in the most unequal city in the most unequal developed country in the world, a rich nation could so readily see the wealthy escape while the poor drown.

We’re not asking for everyone to earn the same, just to close the insanely widening gap. Do people really need to earn 1,000 times more than others to be motivated to do things which benefit society? For many doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, their readiness to help others is not limited by the desire to be richer than everyone else within a hundred mile radius. A world in which the richest is no more than 100 times wealthier than the poorest is not going to implode – only deranged modern descendants of Midas might think that.

The power imbalance between countries, regions, households, and individuals is all inextricably linked with the power gap fuelled by the obsession to attain superiority through wealth accumulation. There is nothing more urgent now than to begin to reverse the growth of the power gap.

No comments: