Bridging the Gap
The Richest Man in the World
Following a booming holiday season for Amazon, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of the online shopping giant, became the richest man in the world. According to Forbes magazine, at the close of the stock market Jan 12th, Bezos’ net worth was a staggering $109B1. By contrast, a 2017 Oxfam report2 suggests that the eight wealthiest people in the world possess the same amount of wealth as the 3.6 billion poorest people combined. Closer to home, there was outrage when it was reported that Canada’s 100 highest-paid CEOs made an average of $10.4 million in 2016, or 209 times more than the average Canadian income of $49,738 for the same year3. 2016 was the first year this ratio exceeded 200:1, and the gap continues to grow.
Extreme Wealth Disparity
Looking at these figures, we can’t help but see that our economy is marked by extreme wealth disparity. Even locally, I am confronted by the ever-widening wealth gap. The recent minimum wage increase in my province from $11.60/hr to $14.00/hr has divided many. Some laud it as a necessary and long overdue change while others decry it as a massive mistake.
We are two weeks into 2018, but sometimes the gap between rich and poor feels positively Dickensian. How should one respond to this? What is a faithful response? Do we accept the ‘silent hand of the market’ as beyond our control and outside the realm of matters with which Christians should be concerned? Or perhaps the Christian response is to point out the injustice of an economic system that benefits some while holding others back?
We’re All Called to Generosity
No doubt there are differing opinions about this. Regardless of one’s perspective, I believe the issue goes much deeper than compensation. It’s easy for those of us who aren’t on the Forbes list to judgmentally chastise the rich for having so much and not giving more of their money away, all the while holding tightly to our own because we don’t know when we might need more. The Biblical story of the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44) offers some perspective. No matter where we might sit on the wealth spectrum, or perceive ourselves to sit on the wealth spectrum, we are all called to generosity.
Bridging the Gap
Jesus discouraged the accumulation of material riches, and worried about the spiritual welfare of those who did. He made it abundantly clear that we are all called to be generous, to feed, clothe, and care for the needs of those less fortunate4. Despite being contextualized in first-century Palestine, the wisdom of Scripture is no less true today. We must use our wealth, no matter its measure, to help the least among us.
I’m under no illusion that solving the growing wealth gap in the world is simple. I know that myriad factors influence world economies, that not everyone shares the Christian perspective. I know that avarice and abundance can be powerful idols. But maybe we, as people of faith, can start bridging the gap one personal response at a time. I think it’s worth trying this year. Don’t you?
Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen
3 Canadian Centre for Policy https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2018/01/Climbing%20Up%20and%20Kicking%20Down.pdf
4 Matthew 25: 31-46