Rich & Poor

According to the 2014 OECD report, the widening gap between rich and poor continues to climb and the average income of the richest 10% is now about nine and a half times that of the poorest 10%. The income gap has risen even in traditionally egalitarian countries, such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden. In the United States, 47% of total income growth over the last 40 years went to the top 1 per cent of earners; 37% in Canada; 20% in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Apparently, this widening inequality is undermining growth hence has sparked the debate on redistribution of growth’s benefits to middle and lower classes and provision of equal opportunities in education and health.

The income gap is mainly due to inequality in wages and salaries (i.e. high-skilled workers have benefitted more from technological progress than the low-skilled; as such, there are needed improvements in education, training and employment).

According to the OECD, governments need to review their tax systems to ensure that wealthier individuals contribute fairly (e.g. raising marginal tax rates on the rich, improving tax compliance, eliminating tax deductions).

What are other fair ways to distribute global and national wealth?

What are the measures that address equal opportunities in education and health?

Giving and Receiving

Last April 20, I was invited to the launch of a luxurious suitcase in Luxembourg. Before the evening ended, it became obvious that the star was not this Canadian product but its newly-appointed European Sales Director, who organised it and I call ‘the lady.’ Even the expensive champagne and exquisitely-prepared finger food couldn’t compete with this lady’s popularity. Her ex-colleagues, fellow club members and neighbours raved how kind, reliable, loyal and good humoured she is. This gathering would haven’t been well-attended if the lady wasn’t generous to the attendees.

Life is about giving and receiving. This gift isn’t always an object or money, but it can be time, compliment, appreciation, blood, care or affection. Such giving and receiving cements a relationship. If it’s only one side, i.e. either giving or receiving, there’s an imbalance that leads to discontentment and failure.

Not so long ago, staffers of Badoit in France offered their colleague 170 days off so that he could look after his son of 9 years who’s suffering from cancer. It wasn’t possible for this employee and his wife to stop working or reduce their working hours due to their financial commitments and difficulties. A petition was circulated in the company, and each personnel was given the opportunity to give days of their paid annual leave. This is a real demonstration of kindness and solidarity. The media reported him saying, “This gift, I will be grateful to my colleagues to my last breath.” He and his wife have since created an association to help families in the same situation. (A law was passed by the French National Assembly in January 2012 allowing employees to “offer” their days off to colleagues who need time to be with their sick child).

Two weeks ago, while in the bus to Luxembourg, I heard a French radio announcer commenting ecstatically on US CEO Dan Price’s slashing of his salary by 90% and dipping into company profits to give his employees a pay rise, i.e. at least US$70,000 annually in the next three years. When I mentioned this to my students, several of them commented that it’s easy to give when you’ve too much and what you give doesn’t impact negatively on your lifestyle, or when it benefits you (e.g. tax reason). Well, it’s easy to criticise when you’re not the direct recipient of such generosity.

It may not be philanthropic or charitable to give to feel good or ease our conscience; but if this improves people’s lives or causes happiness, why not? On the other hand, I agree that giving excessively or forcibly due to an obligation loses the authenticity of the action.

It’s not how much or what we give that matters but how we do it and its sincerity or lack of it. It should not be done out of pity or sense of superiority as giving is an expression of a relationship. The foundation of this relationship should be respect and fairness. As you might have heard, what you give to a person you receive from another. So, if we want love, fidelity or money, we should give these.

On the other hand, why do some individuals have difficulty receiving? We refuse an offer of help or gift because we don’t want to be close to the person for fear of commitment, obligation or indebtedness. In some societies and communities, there’s the conditioning of receiving as a kind of selfishness or shamefulness (whereas giving is associated with pride). There’s also the possibility of distrust, insecurity or fear of something.

Although the adage says “It’s better to give than to receive,” there’s beauty and pleasure in receiving, i.e. receiving with humility and appreciation.

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ and Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’… The ultimate measure of a man* is not where he stands in moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
(*or a woman. . but when s/he gives unconditionally in moments of difficulties).

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