“I don’t think billionaires should exist,” said Bernie Sanders last year. Bernie, a prominent American senator, earned himself a solid following for his left-wing views that espoused taxing the rich in order to benefit the poor.
Everywhere we look around the globe, there is a clear and growing divide between the haves and have-nots. There are people on our planet that have such unimaginable amounts of wealth that it would be virtually impossible to spend it all, even in our materialistic world where we’re bombarded daily with messages about product X or service Y will make us happy if we just buy it. And then there are the countless poor who struggle to eke out a living, to put food on the table, to put their kids through school, and to have a roof over their heads.
Whatever your view on poverty, it’s an undeniable fact that our world’s wealth distribution is pretty uneven, and that disparity is only increasing. We need to ask ourselves, how did things come to this?
In the past, people were born into their social class. Whether you were a noble or a commoner, social class determined everything – whether you received a proper education, what sort of lifestyle you led and of course, how much wealth you had.
More recently, education has served as a great social leveler, and with that has emerged the idea that everyone is equal and deserves an equal shot at succeeding in life. While this idea has taken root in many democracies around the world, which may appear to suggest that Mankind has come a long way in terms of egalitarianism, sociologists know better: That the culprit for the increasing social divide between the rich and poor in the world today is something known as social reproduction.
What is social reproduction? In biology, reproduction is how species propagate themselves, ensuring their genes and their broader existence carries on from generation to generation. Social reproduction is no different, except that instead of inheriting genes, successive generations inherit a plethora of social traits which can either act as a launchpad for boosting one’s socioeconomic status into the stratosphere, or lead weights dragging it down into the murky depths.
What do I mean by this? Consider that some families have strong ties to powerful people in big business or government, while others have a history of drug addiction or criminal activity. Maybe one family lives in a neighborhood where everyone lives in a big house with garden lawns and swimming pools, while another lives in a cramped old tenement block with a hundred other people. And of course, consider that some children inherit millions of dollars when relatives pass away, while others inherit damning amounts of debt.
The point of this article isn’t to argue for whether the current state of affairs is fair or not. No, the point of this article is to raise awareness that this social divide is broadening, slowly but steadily. A select few are getting richer and richer, while the bulk of people are getting relatively poorer in comparison. You could almost say that a new aristocracy has arisen, borne not out of nobility but out of social advantage.
The royalty of ancient times understood that while they lorded over the common folk, they had to ensure that the taxes they levied and the laws they instituted weren’t unfair to the point that the masses could not afford to make a living for an honest day’s work. That line that rulers dared not cross still holds true today: From the French Revolution in the 18th century to the Arab Spring in the 21st, it is a tried-and-tested rule of human civilization that the common folk will rise up and overthrow the existing political system of the day if those in power are not able to meet their basic needs.
So in case my point isn’t clear enough, here it is: If this trend of a growing social divide continues between those who are rich and those who are poor, eventually we will reach a stage where there will be enough disenchanted poor people to revolt, because those that have jobs don’t earn enough to put food on the table and the rest don’t even have jobs at all. That would result in the collapse of modern society as we know it, and the resulting anarchy and chaos will benefit no one.
It is the government’s job to enact policies that ensure that its citizens are able to fulfil their basic needs. Housing, education, employment, healthcare, safety. A government that enacts fair and effective policies can go some way to stemming the growth of the rich-poor rift, but it’s not enough to overturn the widening effect that social reproduction has on successive generations of people.
No, to stop the divide in its tracks or even reverse it, there has to be an awakening amongst the general populace with respect to financial literacy. Everyone goes to school, but precious few are schooled in the basics of managing their own finances. Only those who are fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that supports becoming financially literate, and those who actively seek it out and learn it for themselves will be able to overcome the systemic bias that capitalism bears towards those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
In this article, I hoped to highlight the growing social divide between the haves and have nots of this world, and that we can’t just trust in our governments to enact fair and just policies that benefit all of us equally. No, we need to educate ourselves with financial literacy, and I’ll be covering the basics of that in my next article. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and if you did, please leave a comment! It’ll mean a lot to me to read it 😀