Mukesh Ambani has built a home in Mumbai, India. He needs a staff of 600 to keep things running. His 27-story, billion-dollar home has underground parking for 160 cars, three helicopter pads and a theater that seats 50. The Ambani family occupies all 27 stories, which include a ballroom, several lounges, a health club, a dance studio and an elevated garden large enough to accommodate trees.
This a wealthy man, one of a growing number of billionaires across the globe whose numbers are growing every year. It’s good news if you are already one of the super-rich for whom billion-dollar status is within reach. It’s troubling news if you are one of those whose job has been lost to an economic collapse.
The rich, like the poor, have always been among us. But census continues to reveal the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. What is new to the phenomenon is that the number of those in the “poor” strata is growing, and fast. The so-called middle class is a shrinking portion of the global society, and one which nations can ill-afford to be without: this is the group that fuels our economies, both in terms of consumption as well as provision of labor.
Skeptical? Consider this. In the U.S. alone, the 400 wealthiest Americans have a total combined wealth of $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the U.S. population; to be clear, 400 people now have more wealth than 155 million people combined. The numbers become even gaudier if one considers the entire planet. The gap is growing. And it’s unsustainable.
Again in this country, we heard a great deal of talk during the recent election campaigns from candidates warning us of politicians “who want to redistribute the wealth of this country.” Mostly the warnings came from candidates opposed to the President, often using his own words about such redistribution to fuel their arguments. But the warnings being issued with forecasts of dire circumstances have been made at a time of an unprecedented redistribution of wealth. As tends to be true in most cases of economic disagreement, the acceptability of a current trend depends upon whose ox is being gored. If there are those who feel that our two-party political system has tended to swing the pendulum in both directions over the years, well, it might be time to give the pendulum a shove in that opposite direction. In the U.S. and elsewhere, that pendulum represents a ticking clock.
Rosa Argentina Urbina is the mother of five children living in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua. She keeps her own tiny house running without help, in addition to working whatever jobs she can find for income, all of which is in addition to contributing endless unpaid hours of volunteer labor at Genesis Cooperative, an organic cotton-spinning plant which hopes to be operating soon. She does not own a car, has only seen military-type helicopters and has had the luxury of visiting a theater only rarely. Her seven-person family is “cozy” in a living space smaller than most garages. And the only stories she can live in have to do with the hardships of immense poverty, lack of opportunity and the struggle to survive.
India, the U.S., Nicaragua: the geography is less important than the questions of what we believe to be important in our lives, of human values, and the value of a human being….