COLUMN: The growing chasm between wealth and poverty

COLUMN: The growing chasm between wealth and poverty

Wealth inequality was a significant factor in the Russian Revolution on Nov. 7 and 8, 1917

The world’s eight richest people have more wealth between them than the poorest 3.6 billion people combined, according to a report from Oxfam.

The report, released earlier this year, also states that one person in 10 worldwide has an income of less than $2 a day.

Since 2015, the richest one per cent of the world’s population possess more wealth than the remaining 99 per cent.

It’s hard to comprehend such a staggering gap between rich and poor.

Even in Canada, where we have assistance programs in place, there’s an astonishing gap between rich and poor.

Two people, David Thomson and Galen Weston Sr., have more wealth than the poorest 11 million Canadians.

The president of the Royal Bank of Canada receives more money in a single day than a full-time employee on minimum wage earns in two years.

David McKay’s $11.52 million, which he received in the last fiscal year, is an amount few can comprehend. It’s also a lot higher than his compensation package, in the same role, just a few years earlier.

These facts and figures leave me feeling uneasy.

Some may argue that those raising the issue of wealth inequality are nothing more than dissatisfied, lazy whiners who believe the world owes them a living.

What’s wrong with prosperity? Shouldn’t hard work and ambition be rewarded with financial gain?

But such questions miss the point. This is not about whether hard work and ambition should be rewarded. Rather, it is a question of why a day of work for one person is worth more than $46,000 while another person’s work day is worth $90.80 and a day’s work for another is valued at less than $2.

It’s a question of why some have immense wealth while globally, one in seven people face chronic hunger, malnutrition and starvation. What creates such gaps, and what can be done in response?

The chasm between rich and poor is growing, in Canada and throughout the world. What could happen if this gap continues to grow?

One possible scenario is a mass unrest or revolution.

It has happened before.

Wealth inequality was a significant factor in the Russian Revolution on Nov. 7 and 8, 1917.

That revolution, 100 years ago next Tuesday, resulted in the formation of the Soviet Union, a nation which attempted to do away with wealth inequality, but had many other problems instead.

Wealth imbalance was also a factor in other revolutions including the ones in China in 1949, Cuba in 1959 and a number of African nations in the 1950s and 1960s. It was not the only factor, especially in the African nations which were also shaking off colonial rule.

A revolution is a messy, violent attempt to bring about change, a move made out of desperation.

Right now, the frustration has already begun to show itself. The Occupy protests a few years ago were attempts to raise the issue of inequality in our society.

But instead of dialogue or discourse, they were met with ridicule and mockery.

Occupy is over, but the issue has not gone away. We still have a huge gap between rich and poor, in Canada and around the world.

This is a problem which demands a response. Inequality at this level eventually affects us all.

If the gap continues to widen, how long will it be before today’s dissatisfaction and frustration turn to rage? And when that happens, could we experience a revolution similar to the one which led to the creation of the Soviet Union 100 years ago?

I’d rather not find out the answer to that question.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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