2007年5月12日 星期六

The rich and the poor

The real trouble of the world is not poverty. The real trouble of the world is the GAP between the rich and the poor. Just think of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution - they have all been fundamentally fuelled by the gap between the rich and the poor. Indeed, the whole of Marxism which gave rise to Communism is about balancing that gap of wealth. Even any form of socialism is about closing the gap between the rich and the poor. Yet in the modern world, that gap is getting wider and wider - not just between wealthy nations and poor nations, but even within wealthy nations themselves.No wonder a lot of people are beginning to think about doing something before another revolution comes around. The G-8 countries have come to recognise that world poverty must be plugged. These wealthiest nations in the world have been spurred on by pop stars like Bob Geldof and Bono. And ostensibly at least, there is a resolve to end world poverty. But in reality, there is a long way to go. Meanwhile, the rich are getting even richer and the poorer either remaining poor or getting poorer. So there is a danger in which the poor will never ever catch up. And even amongst the civilized countries, there is a danger of a substantial gap between the rich and the poor opening up.Remember the Shah of Iran? His wealth was so overwhelming relative to his countrymen that a revolution overthrew him. Osama Bin Laden was also disturbed by the wealth gap in Saudi Arabia and saw with anger the intrusion of western ostentations. Half of Africa is strewn with desperately corrupt leaders living a life of luxury themselves whilst letting the people wallow in abject poverty. All these are unsavoury examples of greed which does absolutely nothing towards narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor.Yet we know how to improve poor conditions. We know how to lift the destitute from the bottom of their misery. We know how to supply better water, better energy, better healthcare and better education to those who seemingly do not have a chance. US$40 billion a year will dramatically improve the livelihood of millions of poor people. Put in the context of the Iraqi war, America has already spent US$500 billion (with much more to come) which means that if they did not go to war, tens of millions of the people in the world would have lifted themselves out of their poverty holes.
Take China herself. With her thundering economic developments, we know the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider. We know 80% of those living in the hinterland are generally worse off than the 20% living along the coast, which happen to include most of the most prosperous cities in the country. This widening gap is going to be the single most important issue with which the Chinese Government will have to deal. The Tiananmen Square incident was mostly about poor working conditions and how the corrupt officials were getting richer at the expense of the poor. I doubt that Hu Jintao would like to see another incident such as June 4. Yet there are times bombs all over China waiting to explode in dissenting demonstrations. Curiously, the Chinese Public Security Department was authorised (presumably by President Hu himself) to publish the fact that in 2005, there were over 86,000 major incidents of unrest (defined as those which involved more than 50 people).This figure is alarming indeed and I shouldn't imagine if it has not risen since 2005. Why had someone like President Hu authorised the publication of these figures might seen puzzling at first, but I suspect he wanted to record the fact that that was the kind of legacy he inherited from his predecessor Jiang Zemin who presided over a particularly corrupt period. Be that as it may, I cannot imagine that this widening gap between the rising urban middle class and the static rural class is not perhaps the most important problem that China needs to solve. Isn't it paradoxical that although the Communist Revolution was started precisely to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, yet nearly 70 years on, that has remained the most challenging problem.

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