Deep, systemic poverty continues to pose a daunting challenge to an increasingly interconnected world. According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty – an income level of about one dollar a day.1 Preventable illnesses like malaria and HIV/AIDS, along with malnutrition, a lack of access to clean water, and poor sanitation, collectively contribute to the deaths of thousands of children every day. This dismal status quo poses challenges for the resources, peace and security for all nations, not only those impacted directly by disproportionate levels of illness, malnutrition and lack of opportunity.
– Understanding the Wealth Gap
Today, on a global and national level, economic inequality (wealth and income inequality) is at an all-time high, and the gap is widening. Some poor are getting richer, some poor are getting poorer, but the rich are getting exponentially richer (and this creates a wealth gap). One effect of all this is that the poorest have more, and this is good, but another effect is the growing wealth disparities between the >.01% and <99.9%, which is bad.
Wealth gaps have historically collapsed governments, which is a very real consequence. Wealth gaps also create economic injustice, which is bad in both a real and idealistic sense. See below, for instance when a country itself has a wealth gap to other countries, or when a wealth/power exists between the people spurring on a revolution of any flavor. NAZI Germany provides a good specific example of why economic injustice leads to political chaos (the WWI treaty led to hyper inflation, which led to Hitler).
Economists recognize that a wealth gap could potentially collapse the economy on a global scale. Seeing the problem is simple for any historian or economist, but agreeing on a solution isn’t. A given solution isn’t just hard to come by, it is also the bane of monied interests (as a solution would likely involve prickly things like slowing the acquisition of capital and assets or affecting the distribution of capital and assets).
Special interests aside, solutions are made increasingly convoluted by the sheer complexity of global markets and the entrenched aristocracy (power through bloodline or given by monarchs) and plutocracy (power through money) in many nations. Capitalism is a mechanism of liberty (see their parallel timelines), but capitalism is also the mechanism of oligarchs (aristocrats and plutocrats). We explain this all in more detail below. See forms of government for terms used in this paragraph.
TIP: To understand more about inequality in America see inequality.org. This page does discuss statistics a bit, but our focus is on framing the history of politics in a light that will help you understand the importance of addressing inequality from a broader perspective. In other words, this isn’t a rant on modern times or a breakdown of last year’s statistics (see the links, videos, or CBO reports for that).
In a world that recently passed the 7-billion population threshold, extreme poverty is a challenge with complicated long-term solutions, but one with progress and hope on the horizon. In the nearly 15 years since the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals, a global pact to systematically devote resources and efforts to end the deepest poverty and disease around the world, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined, rates of new HIV/AIDS infections have fallen by 44 percent, and rates of malaria death have fallen by 42 percent.4 The collaborative efforts of a global development ecosystem – wealthy donor countries like the United States, local governments, international humanitarian organizations, in-country NGOs and social service agencies, social entrepreneurs – have resulted in victories and innovations for the future. And yet, the work is not done. The quest for large-scale social change in global poverty and health continues.