The Rich Get Richer, And The Poor Get Poorer – OpEd


British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his work A Defense of Poetry (1821), scribbles that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” They say that French economist Thomas Piketty was right when he took the initiative to gather empirical data spanning several hundred years that supports his central thesis that the capitalists, or owners of capital, and employers create wealth and fortune more quickly than labor or employees, thus making the socioeconomic trend “the rich-get-richer” all the more infallible (Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 2014).

I remember so well several outrageously funny scenes from the 2018 hit movie Crazy Rich Asians, which is actually an adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same title. It’s all about the super-rich, not just rich, pedigreed Chinese families in Singapore, who are representatives of the emerging face of the exclusive one percent of the most affluent families in this part of the world.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, both the highly developed and rapidly developing economies of Southeast Asia are making the rich richer, who are mostly young and passionate entrepreneurs, digitally literate, and avid followers of global trends. They are now regular consumers and acquirers of luxury products and services.

Home to more than 4.6 billion people in 49 countries (North, East, and South Asia), Asia is the largest continent on Earth, comprising 30 percent of the planet’s total land area. China and India have the world’s largest populations, with 1.44 billion and 1.39 billion people, respectively. They, too, are two of the largest economies in the world.

On the other side of the material wall in Asia, Mother Teresa in Heaven isn’t happy seeing millions of the Asian poor who are perpetually scavengers, “scraping by,” or barely managing to survive with very little. Imagine the gap between the filthy rich on one end of the economic spectrum and the poorest of the poor on the other end.

The poor became poorer during the pandemic in Nepal, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Myanmar, Cambodia, India, and other Asian countries with less than $2,000 GDP per capita, according to the 2020 World Bank report.

If the poor’s bank account is overdrawn, the poorest of the poor have never been to a bank. If the poor is short on cash and hard-up and always complain, “I’m broke,” the poorest of the poor have no cash and are broken beyond repair.

North Korea is one of the poorest nations, and the European Commission once reported that the poor are so hungry that they eat grass. What we know is that their poverty problems are attached to deficient and non-transparent governance by a totalitarian regime.  

Pope Francis is so vivid about this: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion” (Evangelii Gaudium, 53).

The ideal is that the economic development of any country is inclusive, but, sad to admit, it isn’t so in Asia, where the “Economy of Exclusion” deprives millions of Asians of a life worthy of human dignity.

The socio-economic causes of global poverty include high inflation during crisis periods, a series of natural disasters, the weakness in employment generation, and the quality of jobs generated, combined with the failure to develop the agriculture and other labor-intensive sectors.

Income inequality in highly unequal regions across the planet, where the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, is in itself a symptom of a deeper crisis, which is moral in essence. Moral crises, such as corruption and kleptocratic bureaucracy that thrive on red tape, produce injustice, and injustice in turn fabricates an inequitable distribution of essential goods and services originally intended for all. 

The regrettable situation is that Asia is where the lion’s share of the best lands, crops, properties, and material resources are owned by the smallest minority, or “Crazy Rich Asians,” of course, without insinuating that all rich people are bad.

As St. John Paul II has put it in encyclical letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: “One of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world consists precisely in this: that the ones who possess much are relatively few and those who possess almost nothing are many. It is the injustice of the poor distribution of the goods and services originally intended for all.”

Again, from the Christian perspective, nobody, just nobody, needs four luxury cars (Ford Expedition, Lamborghini Huracán, Jaguar, and Volvo), a yacht, a helicopter, several exclusive apartments in New York, Dubai, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, and a private vacation house in Nihi Sumba Island in Indonesia, when in fact nearly three billion human beings live on less than five dollars a day.

It’s scandalous that the salaries of the chief executive officer (a.k.a. executive compensation) rise by an average of more than 10 percent every year while the rank and file subsist on the minimum wage. American statisticians John Abowd and D. S. Kaplan criticized how outsized executive compensation violates anyone’s basic sense of fairness. It’s actually bothersome to know that executives make so much money only because they have so much economic power.

Even under the pretext of property rights, greed can never be justified at any time. Yes, we have the right to own, but not to own what is profligate, extravagant, and excessive.

From the Christian perspective, private ownership is not an absolute right, for it is a means and not an end in itself. Affluence is a natural personal right; yes, it is, but with corresponding social obligations. As a means to an end, wealth is subservient to the higher needs of society, better known as the common good or public welfare. 

Every crazy rich citizen is reminded that private wealth has a social dimension, a principle that is grounded in the universal destiny of the goods of the earth. Sometimes called the “creative original intention,” it means that God intends to give the goods and resources of the earth to every person, not just the rich.

Dr Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano

Dr. José Mario Bautista Maximiano is the lead convenor of the Love Our Pope Movement (LOPM) International. Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano, based in the Philippines capital Manila, is a Catholic scholar, public educator and columnist. He is author of the three-volume work on the Chronological and Thematic Essays: 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines.

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