Highlights

Unequal wealth, unequal giving

Apr 2016    

I have never been one for figures. In school, Mathematics was one subject I never could get my head around despite my best efforts. I put it down to being born without a “chip” found in most brains.

However, I do not think that I am alone in having difficulty trying to come to terms with some numbers recently reported by Oxfam. It said that the richest 1 per cent of people in the world has more wealth than the remaining 99 per cent combined, and that the world’s top 62 billionaires own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population or 3.6 billion people. There are one billion persons living on two US dollars a day, the World Bank’s benchmark for defining absolute poverty. These figures reflect the sheer scale of inequality that exists.

This inequality gap is set to grow wider with the rich becoming richer and the poor poorer. Even though mankind has become more developed and productive, the number of poor still remains at what it was 200 years ago!

The other day, I bumped into an old acquaintance who, together with a small number of investors, bought a 25 per cent stake in a company for US$18 million (S$24.8 million) just a few years ago. This company is now estimated to be worth US$40 billion (S$55.17 billion). Just how many zeros are there in 40 billion? What does one do with such a fortune, I naïvely ask?

I dare say that the issue of economic inequality is foreign to most Singaporeans. Who can blame us? In Singapore, the have-nots and the economically disadvantaged are not very visible. They may even be invisible to us. However, being unnoticed does not mean that relative poverty, even in affluent Singapore, does not exist.

There are many in the bottom 20 per cent of our society who cannot make ends meet. The Borgen Project found that 105,000 families in Singapore live in poverty (i.e., household members having less than S$5 per day) and have to get by on assistance in cash, subsidies or in kind from others. Yet is it not an irony that Singapore has the world’s highest concentration of millionaires?

The Bible does not say that it is a sin to be rich and well-endowed, especially when such good fortune comes from hard work.

It is also relatively silent on the issue of social inequality.

The Bible does, however, talk about being charitable to widows, orphans and the less fortunate. And it does talk about being good stewards of what God gives us. The account of the poor widow who gave all she had – a mere two mites – compared to other “more generous” givers is a lesson to look not at the absolute amount given but at the gift as a proportion of the giver’s total wealth.

God is interested not in how much we give but in how much of our disposable income is kept from Him. He is not after our wealth but our hearts. He knows that what is kept from Him may ironically possess us instead of the reverse. Indeed, what we hoard carries the danger of controlling us.

We as individuals may not be able to do much to make for a more equal society. We certainly do not have the wealth of the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, or of Mark Zuckerberg, but our two mites is all our Lord asks of us.

God is interested not in how much we give but in how much of our disposable income is kept from Him. He is not after our wealth but our hearts. He knows that what is kept from Him may ironically possess us instead of the reverse. Indeed, what we hoard carries the danger of controlling us.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

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