When we look at the world today one of the unmistakable realities about it is the vast material inequality that exists. Nations like Australia enjoy incredible levels of wealth, comfort and ease but if we look at the Third World there is overwhelming poverty, disease and suffering.
Any compassionate person cannot fail to notice this. Being a Christian and taking Christ's concern for the poor seriously demands an explanation about why it is like this and what the solution is.
It has been a passion of mine for a long time to understand what is going on here. Why is there such a contrast between the developed and the developing world? Why are some people obscenely rich while many more live in absolute destitution?
The simplistic reason for inequality
When I was younger the answer was simple: capitalism and greed.
It seemed pretty self-evident to me, if parts of the world have immense wealth and other parts have nothing then surely some kind of injustice must have been committed to create this state of affairs. Through colonialism and corporate exploitation, the West must have stolen wealth from poorer nations. Or at least the fact there is such inequality meant it was obvious we are greedy and don't care about sharing our wealth with the poor.
The solution also seemed simple: we needed to give our wealth to the poor nations to equal things out. But what was getting in the way of this happening? The conservative white male patriarchy that has no compassion and only cares about money and greed. The western capitalist system created the inequality we see in the world and it was up to progressive minded people to fight the evil capitalists and make it right.
But I eventually discovered that we sometimes have to look a bit deeper than how things seem on the surface. About 10 years ago, I did something that was out of my comfort zone at the time. I listened to what the other side of this debate were saying. What did conservatives and libertarians have to say about wealth inequality? What I learned changed my life.
I realized I knew very little about economics and how wealth and poverty worked. And so, I began a journey of starting to look carefully at the issues more through the eyes of logic and reason than eyes of passion and idealism alone.
As I began to challenge my simplistic understanding I began to see the problems in my thinking. Yes, sometimes Western nations and corporations have done things that have harmed Third World countries but in general the more connection a country has had with the West the richer it is. The poorest parts of the world are the places that have had the least influence by the West.
Poverty in the Third World is not something new. It has always existed. In fact most people who have ever lived have been poor by today's standards, including in the West. Poverty and destitution have been the norm for millenia but it is Western industrial capitalism that is pulling the world out of poverty. Yes, the Third World lags behind but there are very few parts of the world that have not seen an increase in standards of living because of the vast wealth creation that capitalism has produced.
The answer is wealth creation not wealth redistribution
Winston Churchill said 'The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries'.
Poverty is being eliminated at a rapid rate not because of a process of equalising everything out but allowing entrepreneurs to produce wealth. The reason socialism or forced wealth redistribution is destructive is because it penalizes those who are creating wealth, the very thing that eliminates poverty.
We need to understand what wealth fundamentally is. Wealth is making natural resources valuable for human use and consumption. If we allow capitalists and entrepreneurs necessary freedom they will find ways to solve human problems and efficiently meet needs and wants.
There is not a fixed amount of wealth in the world that must be given out equally to everyone by an overseeing bureaucracy. Wealth is something that can continue to be created. Capitalism is the engine of this creativity.
Making the switch to an entrepreneurial mindset
Creating and teaching people how to create wealth is the real way to empower the poor. This includes addressing systemic issues that prevent them from having the opportunity to do so.
It is unproductive to think hating the rich is somehow helping the poor. I have no interest in controlling what other people do with their money. I know at the end of the day I am accountable before God for how I steward my own resources. This includes money, time, talents, creativity and opportunities.
I need to ask myself how I am creatively using what I have to help others in need. Am I using what I have to benefit others and create solutions to human needs and eliminate needless suffering? These are the kinds of questions we should ask ourselves.
Conor is from Adelaide, South Australia. He has a history degree from Tabor College and has a gardening business. Conor has played in Christian heavy metal band Synnove. He is involved in Operation Canaan, a ministry that prays and intercedes for the music scene. He loves God, music, reading, traveling and thinking deeply about philosophy and current events in the world.
Conor Ryan’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/conor-ryan.html