Ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam has released a devastating report that unveils the extreme economic inequality of our world today. The report shows, among other things:
- The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.
- Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.
- Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health.
Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar commented on the report by saying:
“Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system. They spend billions of hours cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly. Unpaid care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies moving. It is driven by women who often have little time to get an education, earn a decent living or have a say in how our societies are run, and who are therefore trapped at the bottom of the economy.
“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist”.
This last sentence got me thinking. Why do we allow the existence of billionaires? Now, before anyone misinterprets this – I’m not saying that billionaires should be assassinated! We’re pacifists here at PCPJ, if you didn’t know.
No, I’m questioning why the people who currently possess billions of dollars keep them. Why they continue to be billionaires, and why others don’t seem to have much of a problem with that.
I feel like the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement in particular actually often celebrates billionaires as some kind of inspiration. The goal of the whole prosperity movement is to get as rich as possible. People making billions upon billions are often assumed to be exceptionally hard-working and smart, deserving to be way richer than everybody else.
In fact, this is how we often justify economic inequality and the existence of enormous corporations being run by one single individual: their wealth means that they are smart and can make better decisions than poor people, and so all of society benefits when the rich sit by the steering wheel.
This logic doesn’t have much support in the Scriptures. The only one coming close to a modern notion of being a billionaire is King Solomon, but what most people overlook is that God had forbidden the kings to gather large amounts of silver and gold (Deut 17:17). Then why did God give him wealth when Solomon asked for wisdom (2 Chron 1:12)? Well, he was the king, responsible for the economy of an entire nation. God gave him access to resources to help his people, but unfortunately, he spent it on himself instead (along with indulging in enormous polygamy, which God also forbade in Deut 17:17).
When we encounter the New Testament we see how Jesus warns the rich for their coming doom (Lk 6:24), Paul says that we should not want to be rich but be content with the simple life (1 Tim 6:8-10) and James says that the rich will weep and wail as God strips them of their wealth and judges them (Jam 5:1-6). The idea that the world needs billionaires to work is totally absent from the Bible.
In fact, it’s painfully obvious that while some super-rich are indeed brilliant, several of them inherited wealth or opportunities while people who work much harder than them are stuck in poverty. Consider all of Africa’s women, who according to Oxfam are poorer than the world’s richest 22 men. Most women living in poverty work extremely hard, and many of them would bring amazing ideas and innovations to the world if they were allowed to study more. What about their skills and talents?
As a charismatic Christian, I think it’s extremely important to recognize what Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 12: everyone has gifts, and everyone is important. I believe businesses and organizations are better run when more people get to contribute and lead. The billionaire mindset of a few individuals, most of them men and most of them white, being better than everyone else doesn’t fit well with my Bible.
That’s why we need to work for a world with fewer billionaires and more economic equality.