“Imam Hussein Ibn Ali al-Shaheed was once asked: what is affluence? He said: ‘Decreasing your wishes, and being satisfied with what is enough for you”―Allama Majlisi Biharol Anwar Vol. 78 P. 102
Wishes are endless and usually the more these are fulfilled, the more they pile up. A famous story of yester years is that of the poor henpecked husband and a fish that granted the wishes of his greedy wife who kept on demanding more until she desired to become god after which the fish reverted them to their original poor state. Life has its own ups and downs. We all desire the best. While some are born with a golden spoon in their mouth, there are others who actively pursue their dreams and convert them into reality, many just lie back hoping for someone to turn around their destiny without them having to put in any efforts while some just enviously watch in awe as people rush past them to attain high ends. In short, all are participating in the marathon of life with either alacrity or lethargy. Some are rewarded at lightning speed, some after a short while and some have to really toil hard to make their dreams come true. This is something over which none of us has any control and perhaps, this is what we call destiny.
Humans have a tremendous potential to both adapt and survive. They manage to sustain in the bleakest situations and most of the times succeed in overcoming their ordeals. This does not mean that they must not aspire for a better, more comfortable and secure life. In fact, poverty is nothing more than a curse from which the poor should endeavor to free themselves. Simultaneously, both the government and the affluent should not abstain from their duty to take care of those who are unable to provide for themselves for whatever reason. If everyone took on the responsibility of at least one poor family, starting from own kith and kin, then logically there will not be anyone, at least below the poverty line if not above. The concept is not to spoon feed but to empower well enough so that the deprived can manage their lives in a respectable manner because reliance on begging is something that demeans a human being.
Be that as it may, one cannot deny the truth that not all are blessed with altruism. Majority of the members of humankind firmly believe that if they are wealthy it is on account of their own efforts and hard work. That they deserve what they own and also have the exclusive right to spend it howsoever way they like. They are also viciously possessive about their treasures disliking the idea of sharing with others, sometimes not even with their own close family with the result that they keep on hording wealth till their last day on earth and when they die, either the government confiscates it or their legal heirs end up fighting each other over it. Compared to these scrooges, the ones that freely partake of their possessions with others spend a much happier life, gathering their beneficiaries’ good wishes and blessings.
The million dollar question that arises is how much do we actually need to live a reasonable life? This is totally dependent on the way individuals and their families live but still there are certain limitations. For example how much can we eat, how many sets of clothes can we wear, how much space do we need to sleep, how large a house is required by an average family, how much for education, health, travelling and entertainment and of course how much for the rainy day. After meeting these necessities, the surplus would remain surplus. What is to be done with it other than reinvesting in stocks or purchasing property or buying gold and acquiring foreign exchange etc. This means that more money would be generated from these activities that would merely increase the worth of the original holding, adding to one’s proud status of a millionaire or even billionaire.
But what if, this surplus is directed towards bettering the lives of the downtrodden? This can be done in multiple ways. One is, by taking on the responsibility of financing and empowering a family. Another is donating to a common pool from where many can be supported in different ways in terms of food, education and health. Yet another method is to establish industries to provide employment and if the employees are also included in profit sharing there can be enhanced benefits for the truly needy besides improving economic activity. Yet another is to pay taxes honestly and allow the government to do the needful. It must be remembered that when more money exchanges hands, there is more advantage for everyone involved and the more it remains static, there is greater tendency to run into depression—this could relate to mental and/or economic depression.
According to World Social Report 2020 published by United Nations: “Income disparities and a lack of opportunities are creating a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration and discontent across generations.”
‘The one per cent’ winners take (almost) all
The real problem with the world today is that a thimbleful of the population has managed to amass wealth that is extraordinarily disproportionate to its immediate needs. This richest 1% comprises the actual big winners in the changing economic landscape of the world as their shares have been on a steep incline between 1990 and 2015 whereas the bottom 40% are earning less than a quarter of income.
This is that inequality which springs from surpluses being left to rot in vaults tucked away in safe havens and properties which are hardly ever enjoyed by the owners. These merely raise the nuisance value of the rich along with increase in their level of arrogance and bloating egos with massive inequalities in society because of retarded economic growth. This in turn causes disparities in crucial areas of education and health wherein people are prone to remaining discontent and ensnared in poverty.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).