Inequality is high on the international agenda. For instance, at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.
Much attention is given to inequality between countries, “the north and the south”, or within countries such as the U.S. or Britain. What seems to be more neglected is the immense inequality within lesser developed countries.
South-Africa is topping the list; and countries such as Belize and Zambia among the top ten.
One reason why this immense inequality persists, is because the poor and the rich never meet. If they do, then most often in a power-relation, as employer and employee.
International aid programmes in non-western countries mostly focus on the poor, not how to engage the wealthy.
The Rich and the Poor Never Meet
In many countries the poor and the better-offs live separate lives. The son of the CEO or the daughter of a lawyer have never spoken to the sons and daughters of a garbage collector or a shop assistant.
And many do not care about the lives of their domestic staff. A friend of mine worked as an au-pair for a family on Manhattan, and the security guard was much surprised when my friend took an interest in him, and started asking him questions about his life and his family.
It is only when we learn to know each other that we can understand the fact that the destiny of billions is determined by their birth, not by how hard they try.
It is easy to dismiss a whole group as “the poor”, if you do not know a poor person. It is much harder when “the poor” become “my poor friends.” And it might be that some of them are just lazy, or they have made bad decisions. But for the majority of the poor around the world, that is not the case.
The author Charles Dickens described the appalling poverty in 19th century Britain. He, and his literature, had an enormous influence on the middle and upper classes, in shaping their understanding of the consequences of poverty. He also created lively characters the readers could feel sympathy for, find eccentric or just despise. The poor came alive.
A solution to bridging the segregation, is to facilitate opportunities for the better-offs to meet and and socialise with the poor. Reading books may evoke a motivation to do something, like Dickens did; but it can never replace physical meetings.
And we should start with the younger generations, who have a more open mind, and able to make friends easily. Learning that Sarah, or Juan, have much the same dreams and interests as they have, though not the same opportunities to realize them.
Empathy is a good driver for action, but so is observing injustice.
These meetings should of course, not just be some one-time event. But part of an ongoing school or spare-time activity. Will adolescents and children, or more correctly, their parents, be enthusiastic? Probably not, but you could start with those who are.
A society needs to take care of its weakest links. Otherwise it will never prosper.
The poor do not have the resources to lift themselves out of poverty. They need the support of their more fortunate compatriots.
It is about the welfare of all of us:
The narrower the gap between rich and poor in a society, the better off everyone in that country is in terms of elements such as health, compared with societies where the gap is wider.
[Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett – “The Spirit Level”]