By Yako and Krystal

January 22, 2014, 9:54 am

 

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I read something shocking in a Dutch newspaper this week: the 85 richest people in the world possess just as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest people combined (De Volkskrant January 20, 2014). I mean we already knew that income is distributed unevenly, but 85 versus 3.5 billion?

Just to get some perspective on this: three point five billion is 3,500,000,000, that is half the world population, about 11 times the population of the United States, or 1400 times the population of Brooklyn. The newspaper article is referencing a new study by Oxfam Novib presented on the World Economic Forum in Davos. The study further states that the richest 1% owns $110 trillion which is 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world owns.

Oxfam Novib believes that this inequity will eventually lead to political instability and further raises social issues, which in turn will lead to other inequalities, such as those between men and women.

If nothing is done, the impact will be irreversible and an “opportunity take-over” will take place where only the children of the richest can benefit from the best education and healthcare and who in turn will perpetuate this for the generations following them.

When I first came to New York from Europe, I was taken aback by the poverty that I witnessed here compared to what I was used to. There is poverty in The Netherlands too, but the rich are less rich and the poor are less poor. This is partly because of the advanced social welfare and tax systems.

Here in Brooklyn, through my work, I come in contact with those that do not have enough money to feed their children, let alone themselves. According to the American Community Survey close to 1 out of every 4 individuals living in Brooklyn live below the poverty line, meaning that they make less that $11,500 per year for an individual or $23,500 for a family.

How can anyone even start living off $11,500 per year in New York? And how is it even possible that this situation exists in a developed country like the United States, where so many great writers, artists, scientific discoveries, etc. come from?

Well, it is possible because the minimum wage is New York is $8 and workers earning at that level don’t even make $15,000 per year. It is also possible because in the United States the wealthiest one percent captured 95% of the economic growth since 2009 while the bottom 90% became poorer.

This shows that this country is ruled by the rich few, who are operating out of self interest (and for good measure participate in charity work) and they keep the poor at the economic bottom. I do not believe in conspiracy theories however.

It is not literally a group of let’s say 85 people that come together once a month and discuss the best way to keep the poor away from life’s opportunities. It is something that has evolved over time through systems that were put into effect and that now run as well oiled machines.

Examples include taxes, government funding allocations, elections, and district rezoning. You can argue that government is a mess, but a mess for whom? Not for the rich I would say.

Not all is lost though. There are examples of success. For example both Europe and the United States have decreased inequality over the past 30 years while growing prosperous. Latin America has significantly reduced inequality in the last decades through the institution of progressive taxation, public services, and workforce programs.

In Quebec anti-poverty legislation lead to a 25% reduction in poverty over a 10 year period. And in Marinaleda (Spain, Europe) the poverty problem has been solved altogether with unemployment at 0% through a set of income redistribution programs that include land appropriations and equal wages policies.

I have another idea. Why don’t the 85 wealthiest people of this world come together at some luxurious resort on some tropical island and while enjoying cocktails, cigars, and caviar, agree on giving up some of their wealth. Not all of it — they can still have enough to be filthy rich. Only just enough to solve poverty. Is that too much to ask?

Yako


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About The Author

Yako: Born on a farm in The Netherlands, Europe, I was always on quest for adventure. As a small boy, I was already interested in learning about other cultures and pretended I was fluent in American (I later learned that Americans speak English). At the age of 23, I traveled to South Africa where I lived for seven months to finalize my thesis for my master's in Business Administration. After that, I worked for eight years for a bank in Amsterdam, but I became restless and decided to quit my job and make the big leap across the ocean to New York. Studying arts and culture management at Pratt Institute helped me eradicate some of the prejudices I had of Americans. I never thought I would stay this long. But now eight years later, I'm still here. I live in Central Brooklyn and work for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation with great satisfaction. So far, my life feels as if I’m on one big adventure. | Krystal: As a native of Michigan, I moved to New York with a limited perspective of the depth and importance of social differences. Having a passion for creativity, I accepted the various ideas behind expression and equality that poured out from this beautiful, diverse place called Brooklyn. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2006 with a degree in Communications Design and barely surviving the effects of forced independence, I started an open relationship with the nonprofit world and began to willingly become my own person. Since then, I have been employed and freelance as a graphic designer, with tons of exposure to the things that fascinated me as a child. Living in two culturally different environments has granted me a faceted understanding of social norms and injustices that I feel compelled to speak on. Though visual art and design have been my concentrations since grade school, writing and sharing thoughts socially has been my core calling. In keeping my promise to my parents, I have finally decided to write for social impact. Standing up for my truth while seeking and discovering the truths of others is the way in which I've chosen to take that on. So far, I've discovered that the most direct route to societal improvements begins with the coupling of self-awareness and humility.

Yako: Born on a farm in The Netherlands, Europe, I was always on quest for adventure. As a small boy, I was already interested in learning about other cultures and pretended I was fluent in American (I later learned that Americans speak English). At the age of 23, I traveled to South Africa where I lived for seven months to finalize my thesis for my master's in Business Administration. After that, I worked for eight years for a bank in Amsterdam, but I became restless and decided to quit my job and make the big leap across the ocean to New York. Studying arts and culture management at Pratt Institute helped me eradicate some of the prejudices I had of Americans. I never thought I would stay this long. But now eight years later, I'm still here. I live in Central Brooklyn and work for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation with great satisfaction. So far, my life feels as if I’m on one big adventure. | Krystal: As a native of Michigan, I moved to New York with a limited perspective of the depth and importance of social differences. Having a passion for creativity, I accepted the various ideas behind expression and equality that poured out from this beautiful, diverse place called Brooklyn. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2006 with a degree in Communications Design and barely surviving the effects of forced independence, I started an open relationship with the nonprofit world and began to willingly become my own person. Since then, I have been employed and freelance as a graphic designer, with tons of exposure to the things that fascinated me as a child. Living in two culturally different environments has granted me a faceted understanding of social norms and injustices that I feel compelled to speak on. Though visual art and design have been my concentrations since grade school, writing and sharing thoughts socially has been my core calling. In keeping my promise to my parents, I have finally decided to write for social impact. Standing up for my truth while seeking and discovering the truths of others is the way in which I've chosen to take that on. So far, I've discovered that the most direct route to societal improvements begins with the coupling of self-awareness and humility.

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