To help myself gain a more balanced and informed perspective on the topic of the imbalance of resources within America and the world, I am reading America’s Sacred Calling: Building a New Spiritual Reality (2010) by John Fitzgerald Medina. In his writing about materialism and capitalism, Medina states:
Widespread Rising Poverty Amidst Incredible Concentrations of Wealth
“As we take a closer look at the world’s current socioeconomic situation, especially as it pertains to hunger and poverty, we get a clear view of the workings of a cruel economic machine. For any person of moral conscience, it is hard to come to grips with the fact that we live on a planet in which staggering numbers of people are literally dying of hunger. About one billion people on the globe are at or near starvation. Almost half of the world’s children live in a state of debilitating poverty and malnutrition. If our real world could be reduced to a hypothetical village containing only one hundred people, then the following would be true: sixty people in the village would always be hungry (twenty-six of these being severely undernourished); sixteen people would go to bed hungry at least some of the time [my note: currently among American children 22.5 of a ‘100 children’ would fit this category] while only twenty-four people within the village would always have enough to eat. This reveals the true callous nature of the prevailing global order in which only twenty-four percent of the Earth’s people have enough to eat. It must be emphasized here, that if food was properly distributed and shared, there would be plenty for everyone on the planet. Food is readily available; however, many of the world’s poor cannot pay the market price, and thus, sometimes even huge surpluses of food are allowed to rot away.
“Additionally, about one billion people worldwide have no access to clean water and half of the world’s people have no access to sanitation (sewage, flushing toilets, etc.). This lack of clean water and sanitation leads to health problems and to the easy spread of disease. It also results in a waste of time and energy because the poor spend several hours each day collecting water from distant areas. (pages 174-175)”
“The apparent cruelty of the existing global order is especially demonstrated by the fact that the people living in the wealthy developed nations (only about twenty percent of the Earth’s population) consume a disproportionate share of the world’s resources and goods each year, including about seventy percent of the world’s energy, about seventy-five percent of its metals, about eighty-five percent of its timber, and about eighty-six percent of its goods. The United States has the highest consumption levels per capita in the globe. Along these lines, on August 28, 2000, an article in the San Diego Union Tribune reported that Americans alone spend “$1.9 billion more a day on imported clothes and cars and gadgets than the entire rest of the world spends on its goods and services.” [bold type is mine] Similarly, eighty-five percent of the Earth’s water is used by a mere twelve percent of the world’s people who live in the wealthy developed nations.
“In addition to consuming a disproportionate share of the Earth’s food, resources, and goods, the rich countries of the globe are claiming an ever-increasing ratio of the world’s wealth. In 1950, the income gap between the people living in the wealthy developed nations and the people living in the poorest nations was thirty-five to one. By 1997, in less than fifty years during the worldwide expansion of capitalism, this income gap increased to seventy-four to one. In contrast to this situation, Baha’u’llah exhorts all peoples to “Be generous in prosperity….Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy.”
“The gap between the rich countries and the poor countries of the world is rapidly increasing as noted above; however, equally disconcerting is the fact that the gap between the rich and poor is also increasing within the United States itself. It may surprise some to know that the United States now has the most unequal income distribution of any industrialized country. [bold type is mine] Alarmingly, super-rich Americans who represent the top one percent of the U.S. population control forty percent of America’s total wealth. Meanwhile, the top twenty percent of Americans, as a group, control eighty-three percent of America’s total wealth. This means that the overwhelming majority of Americans are competing for only the remaining seventeen percent of the wealth after the super-rich and the rich take their lion’s share.
“Over the past four decades, in the face of major government deregulation, corporate downsizing, and the dissolution of trade unions, American workers have experienced a significant erosion of protections, benefits, income, and freedoms. Additionally, over this period of time, American multinational corporations have made a massive transfer of capital, factories, and labs to Third World countries with the weakest workplace safety and environmental laws, the toughest anti-union laws, and the lowest wages and taxes. Not surprisingly, as shown by the statistics above, wealth has been upwardly distributed – indeed, approximately ninety percent of the increase in U.S. income over about the past twenty-five years has gone to the rich people at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid (the top twenty percent of Americans).
“As a result of all of this, rising numbers of Americans are joining the ranks of what has been termed the “working poor.” This is a reference to the millions of Americans who are working year-round, full-time, for poverty-level wages (based on government guidelines). Some have to live in their cars or have to work two full-time jobs just to pay the rent and to buy enough food for their children. Some experience constant pain because they cannot afford medical treatment and are unable to miss any work because they lack sick leave. The reality is that the U.S. economy is not producing enough living-wage jobs to accommodate all Americans. Sadly, in the United States, about one in three children under the age of twelve are hungry or at risk of hunger. All of this once again demonstrates the grim dehumanized nature of this system.” (pages 176-178)”
Survival of the Fittest Class Consciousness
“Interestingly, in spite of the gross maldistribution of wealth in the United States, many Americans do not protest because they still feel fortunate in comparison to the vast numbers of people in the Third World who live on the brink of real starvation. As such, the maldistribution of wealth (a salient feature of capitalism) results in a pyramid-shaped hierarchy that stratifies people into socioeconomic classes ranging from the American super-rich elites at the top of the pyramid down to the lowliest peasant classes in the Third World. The rich upper classes use their wealth strategically to promote and to protect their economic and political interests often at the expense of the middle and lower classes. Through the use of gifts, grants, and contributions to government officials, churches, universities, foundations, think tanks, and a variety of other organizations, the elites exert tremendous influence on all aspects of society including governmental, business, religious, legal, educational, media, law enforcement, and military institutions. Indeed, the scandalous amount of money that the American upper classes spend on political campaigns to maintain their power is truly an affront to democracy. The corrupting influence of money, however, is not the only thing that maintains the unjust status quo. The system is also kept in order because capitalist ideology itself fosters a “survival of the fittest” mentality in which individuals perceive each other as competitors in a struggle for survival (Social Darwinism). This promulgates the faulty belief that the best people rise to the top and that the lower classes are inferior and possibly even morally and/or intellectually deficient. Thus class prejudices play a major role in maintaining the system.
“Interestingly, many lower and middle class Americans often willingly support such an iniquitous [characterized by iniquity] economic model because they subscribe to the capitalist inspired notion that someday they too can climb to the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy. However, the current deep economic recession involving major job losses, the collapse of the housing market, and the massive loss of personal investments and savings has caused some Americans to realize that they are indeed vulnerable to the iniquities of the free market system. Moreover, with banks and credit card companies being increasingly tight on loans and credit, the recession has stoked serious concerns among average Americans who have become accustomed to living counterfeit “middle class” lifestyles based on staggering levels of debt. Meanwhile, due to the high surplus of desperate unemployed Americans, companies now have the capability to fire well-paid employees and to easily replace them with “cheaper” workers. The current job market situation in the United States is radically different in comparison to the job marked of the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s when U.S. industrial firms were manufacturing about half of all the world’s products. As noted above, over the past few decades, the U.S. economy has lost huge numbers of well-paid manufacturing jobs due to capitalist “free trade” policies that have allowed American multinational corporations to simply close entire factories and ship them off to the Third World where they can easily exploit entire populations.
“Additionally, many American families in the past could make an adequate living on only one income. This is no longer the case. In today’s families, both parents typically have to work to make ends meet [my note: author makes no mention of single parenthood] In light of all of this, many Americans are starting to realize that they are potentially only a few paychecks away from poverty and potentially even homelessness. Thus, increasing numbers of Americans are coming to the painful recognition that the so-called American dream of never-ending upward mobility is coming to an abrupt end. Of course, for some Americans, the thought of upward mobility has always been nothing more than a fleeting fantasy, especially for inner-city minorities living in blighted urban centers with high unemployment rates, eroded tax bases, and a lack of social infrastructure (poor medical care, substandard housing, and indeed, even a lack of grocery stores). (pages 178-179)”
The author’s next section: