Jesus said the poor would always be with us. But he also said we would be judged by how we treated them.
Right now, anti-poverty organisation Oxfam has found that the super rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. Those who need it most are getting less while those who need it least are getting more.
The inequality is killing the poor. And the solution is easy.
Those of us who follow Jesus have no choice but to support the poor in getting justice. Read on to see how.
Did you know?
Here are some global facts about wealth and inequality (from Oxfam):
- Since 2020, the richest 1% have captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth – nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population. For every dollar of new global wealth gained by someone in the bottom 90%, one of the world’s billionaires has gained $1.7m.
- Billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7bn a day, even as inflation outpaces the wages of at least 1.7 billion workers, meaning they are less able to pay for food and shelter.
- Food and energy companies more than doubled their profits in 2022, paying out $257bn to wealthy shareholders, while over 800 million people went to bed hungry.
- Only 4 cents in every dollar of tax revenue comes from wealth taxes. Large tax cuts for the rich over the past few decades have led to the richest 1% of the world significantly increasing their wealth.
- The poorest countries are spending four times more repaying debts than on healthcare.
The face of inequality
Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest men, paid a ‘true tax rate’ of just over 3% from 2014 to 2018. Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, pays 1% tax.
Meanwhile, Aber Christine, a market trader in Northern Uganda who earns $80 a month selling rice, flour and soya, pays a tax rate of 40%.
Does God care? Should we care?
Jesus was critical of the wealthy who ignored the plight of the poor. We can see this in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and his statement “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).
And he said we would be judged by how we treated the poor and suffering: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).
His brother James is even stronger in calling for justice for the poor (James 5:1-5):
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. …… The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”
Diverting our attention
Some of the rich and powerful have perfected the art of diverting our attention away from the way unjust tax and other economic laws have increased their wealth at our expense.
Raise these issues and you’ll likely be told that these are Marxist ideas (when they are actually Jesus’ ideas). Christians can easily be led to ignore this inequality and the Bible’s teachings, and focus instead on gender, patriotism, individual freedoms, or something else.
We can change this
Oxfam says the answer is simple, and it doesn’t require most of us to give up much at all. Taxes on the super rich have been reduced significantly over recent decades. All the world has to do is increase them just part way back to where they were a few decades ago.
A wealth tax of 2% on the world’s millionaires, 3% on those with wealth above $50m, and 5% on the world’s billionaires would raise $1.7 trillion dollars annually. This would be enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty, Oxfam says. There’d even be enough to address global emergencies and climate action.
It’s a popular idea
Studies show that increasing taxes for the super rich is popular – in many countries 70%-90% support it. Surprisingly, and encouragingly, some billionaires support it too. Warren Buffett, the world’s fourth richest man, has long supported it (once famously pointing out he was taxed at a lower rate than his secretary). A year ago, over 100 millionaires signed a letter calling for higher taxes.
Economists have found that less equal societies are less stable – more likely to experience economic instability, financial crisis, debt and inflation. Unequal societies are also less harmonious, with higher levels of crime and poorer health.
What you and I can do
- Read the Oxfam report – the summary is only 8 pages long.
- Vote for politicians and parties who will work towards a fairer tax rate for all.
- Support businesses that are equitable, sustainable and just.
- Pray for justice in the global economic systems.
- Survival of the Richest. Oxfam, 2023.
- Impacts. The Equality Trust.
- This cartoon explains how the rich got rich and the poor got poor. Vox, 2016.