Confronting an unequal world - Real action needed on a real crisis

EXPRESSING concern about growing, dangerous inequality has become fashionable. 

Expressing heartfelt concern about the ever narrower concentration of power-bestowing wealth and the reduced circumstances facing millions upon millions of workers in jobs once imagined enviable seems to be the new black.

Unfortunately, as on so many of the issues defining our future, talk is as cheap as migrant labour and remains a pathetic substitute for decisive, field-levelling action.

Pope Francis has expressed concern about the widening chasm between the world’s ever more remote super rich who control an immorally disproportionate ratio of the world’s bounty and the rest of us.

The great and good of capitalism even spoke about it at their annual networking festival at Davos.

Growing, opportunity-denying inequality has reinvigorated left-wing politics in some countries but whether that momentum reaches the point that it can force real change remains an open question — but it raises a question that will eventually be answered one way or another.

Inequality drives protests against water charges, a rational charge symbolic of a world where the tide of a new, uncaring, untouchable capitalism does not lift all boats but rather sweeps away the social advances that were so hard-won by the generations who survived the world wars of the previous century.

Inequality is manifest in the 50m displaced people in today’s world.

It is manifest in the hundreds of thousands of people from Africa and the Middle East risking their lives to reach Europe — despite criminal people-traffickers, razor wire barricades, and societies so over-whelmed that they are frightened and less welcoming than they might or should be.

It is manifest in the growing homelessness crisis in Ireland, one of the richest countries in the world.

It is manifest, too, in the modern bondage of the rent trap — paying more in rent than a mortgage would cost but because of punitive rents an individual can’t save enough to qualify for a mortgage. Like the indentured servants of old, these unfortunate people have been forced to surrender a once-in-lifetime opportunity to everyday pragmatism.

Inequality underlines so many of the constructs we imagine are progressive social policies.

Just yesterday, farm leaders speaking at the Ploughing Championships in Laois spoke about how important farm development grants are to the sector.

Indeed they may be, but what are they for? To build more sheds to produce milk or meat that they will sell at a loss and then ask for another subsidy to support their unprofitable businesses?

That, from a non-farming perspective, seems bizarre.

Farmers are at the mercy of the mega retailers and meat processors who set market prices, and they demand compensation to make up their losses but small retailers and other businesses ravaged by the spread of the internet are offered no such soft landing.

Surely that’s another manifestation of inequality? We face a budget and an election but tragically neither is likely to confront even one of these issues seriously.

We will argue over a euro here and a euro there while all around us inequality exacts its terrible, imprisoning, and life-defining toll. What fools we are.


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