Posted by: aboutalbion | January 21, 2013

Davos … and the cost of inequality

I appreciate the challenge which the CEO of the UK charity, Oxfam, has issued ahead of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos beginning tomorrow evening.

While around 1500 chiefs of the world’s top performing companies are enjoying an informal networking opportunity with themselves, and with politicians and with academics, the CEO of Oxfam writes that it is worth reflecting that an ‘explosion in extreme wealth’ has meant that the richest one per cent of the world’s population had increased its income by 60% in the last 20 years.  The challenge is to quantify the cost of increasing inequality among the human family.

On my visit to Central America, I have been reminded of an aspect of Roman Catholic social teaching that is relevant to this challenge.

In 1987, the Vatican document  Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [para 42] has the quotation “private property … is under a ‘social mortgage’”.

As I understand it, the key idea here is that private property is a social asset, that the owner of private property is a steward, and that the steward is accountable for the ‘work’ that her/his private property does.  It follows that private property is not exclusively private, and that there exists an obligation on the part of the steward to make appropriate ‘social mortgage’ payments to the society in which s/he and her/his social asset reside.

The reluctance to make appropriate ‘social mortgage’ payments has consequences.  The Oxfam paper states that the cost of increasing inequality among the human family is economic inefficiency, political corrosion, and social division.

The participants at Davos may be alive and alert.  But will their consciences be so as well?

[Oxfam The Cost Of Inequality: How Wealth And Income Extremes Hurt Us All.]


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