Income Inequality in Society
A good friend of mine and I were recently discussing the wealth gap and he showed me this video. For those who didn’t bother to click the link, I don’t really blame you, so I’ll summarize it here. Kevin O’leary, an entrepreneur who you may remember as “the really unnecessarily rude guy from Dragon’s Den”, is presented with a statistic that I, personally, found surprising and horrifying. According to Oxfam, it turns out that the 85 richest people in the world have the same amount of money as the 3.5 billion poorest people.
Most human beings who recognize that global poverty is a serious issue, would find this statistic rather upsetting I think, and maybe even feel a slight twinge of shame for the economic privilege and luxuries we take for granted every single day. Mr. O’Leary, however, is not “most human beings”. This man literally responded to learning that statistic by exclaiming “It’s fantastic”. That would be appropriate if, say, your grandma asked you how her banana bread was and you didn’t want to let her know you found it a bit dry, but it feels a little misplaced in this conversation. When discussing the fact that 3 million children die of starvation annually while such a small number of people control the global wealth, the phrase “it’s fantastic” really seems to undermine the seriousness of the issue.
O’Leary goes on to explain that this statistic and the larger problem of income inequality provide the poor with “motivation” to “work hard”, which is a statement I take personal offence to as somebody who grew up in a low income household. Does he genuinely believe that the poorest 50% of the population are lazy? That the children working in sweatshops for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, making the same amount of money in a month that Kevin O’Leary spends on a single meal, aren’t working as hard as him? I don’t think he does believe that. In fact, I think he knows exactly how ludicrous his statement is, but is too filled with guilt to accept it. O’Leary is a smart man, and as a smart man he must know the privilege and opportunity that he was born into is offered to only a small, small fraction of people on Earth. He must know that being born smart, in Canada, as a white man, are all massive advantages, and I would argue that had he been born in say, Somalia, with a relatively low IQ, as a black woman, we would never have heard of him. He’s smart enough to know these things, so I refuse to accept that he believes his statements.
I would like to personally address Kevin O’Leary right now. You talk as if we were all born into equal opportunity and that you deserve the money you have because you worked hard. By saying that though, you’re also saying that those who live in abject poverty, those who starve and die every single day because of their poverty, are there by choice. That they chose not to work hard. That’s your opinion, and you’re completely entitled to it, but if you truly believe that, there’s somebody I’d like you to meet. Remember the sweatshop worker I talked about earlier, the one working 12 hours a day, every day, and living in extreme poverty? That’s not just a prototypical sweatshop worker, I was talking about a real human being. Meet Meem, a 9 year old Bangladeshi girl who lives in poverty, the kind of person you claim to “motivate” with your luxurious lifestyle. I’m not saying Meem is your responsibility, nor that you should particularly care about her plight.
What I ask, Mr. O’Leary, is that you meet this girl. I ask that you meet her face to face, in her home, surrounded by her family, in the heinous conditions they are accustomed to. I want you to see how they live, and I want you to look this 9 year old girl in the eyes and tell her that the reason you have it all and she has nothing is because you worked harder. It’s an easy (albeit terribly misguided) claim to make from a comfy chair on a TV set, but let’s see if you’re as bold and confident in your opinion when you get to see how the people you’re talking about live. I don’t think you will, because I don’t think you believe the things that you said at all. If you do though, and I was wrong, you genuinely have the delusional opinion that you deserve the absurd amount of money you have and Meem doesn’t because she hasn’t tried hard enough, then let Meem know.
Let her know that she should stop being the lazy, poor person she is and just work hard until she owns a private jet. Let her know that that’s how the world works, hard work equals accomplishment, end of story. Let her know, Kevin, that you’re better than all of us poor people. Just let her know and then she can work harder, and succeed, right?