Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning from #occupy

This follows on from my previous post where I said that I suspect that the church is contributing to the economic divide between the wealthy and the poor. Because the church tends to see everyone as rich, it encourages sharing and distribution of wealth amongst its poorer constituency without challenging those who are in real terms financially wealthy. This means that the better off (middle class I suppose) becomes poorer as they support the very poor and the divide grows.

I'm not an economist, but perhaps the structure of society in South Africa looks like this (very simply!):
Top 1% - Company directors, highly paid professionals eg doctors
Comfortably off - senior managers, small business owners
Doing ok - teachers, middle managers, supervisors
Just ahead of poverty - manual workers, clerks

Instead of allowing limited wealth to cycle amongst the lower four levels it would be better to raise the 'Comfortably off' level into the 'Divide'. It makes sense that each level should focus on raising the level beneath them. So the top 1% needs to make opportunities for the 'Comfortably off' to rise.  The 'Comfortably off' should make opportunities for the 'Doing ok' and so on. What we have at the moment in the sense that the 1% should be raising the 'Unemployed'. This is good because wealth flows into the lower section of the economy, but it does not close the divide. It could even mean that the 'Unemployed' are raised to the next level without any provision made for that level to also rise - thus there is a greater demand for jobs at this level, but the jobs are not there and so people drop down to 'Unemployed' again.
So what #occupy is saying is that if we don't deal with the divide we are never going to break the cycle.
It is totally unintuitive, but job creation and empowerment needs to happen for the 'Comfortably off' in order to lift the whole economy.
So as a church minister - do I assist those with nothing, or those who are working their way up the economic strata?


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Practically, every year we tend to assist financially those people in our Church who are hardworking but struggling to get by. That's just the way it turns out. We emphasise that all of us owe -- the rich owe the poor, and the poor owe the rich. Otherwise I feel that an unhealthy dynamic develops.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Thanks for that. I am wondering what dynamic I will find at Mitchell's Plain next year.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, thank you. It's a perspective I haven't come across. There is a sense in which the poor cannot be helped unless 'space' is somehow made at the next level.