Do rich people take more than their fair share?

Rich people are getting some bad stick in the media at the minute. Turns out quite a few of them don’t like to pay taxes. Unfortunately, I am not going to be helping their cause here. But before we get out our flaming torches and lynch the nearest rich person we may need to pause to take a quick look in the mirror. What if you and I are considered rich too?

With all these revelations of tax dodging in the papers it got me thinking about people taking more than their fair share. I was enraged to see so many people making excessive amounts of money and not giving back to the system. One thing I have learnt through Permaculture is that the key to a sustainable community is for people to only take their fair share of resources. The First Nations communities of Canada have a philosophy for this called the Seventh Generation Principle whereby any decision they make must consider the impact it will have on people in seven generations time. It’s a beautifully simple way to look to the future and not just the present. It’s fair to say this is not a philosophy shared by those implicated in the Panama Papers.

But tax avoidance aside, I started looking more into the principle of fair share. While it is easy to look at someone with a bigger house, larger car that burns more fuel, larger amount of waste, etc and assume they have a bigger footprint and are therefore taking more than their fair share it isn’t easily quantifiable.  Perhaps the best way is to look at how much money someone has. As I thought about it further, I realised that their seems to be a direct correlation between money and the world’s resources. The more money someone has the more of the world’s resources they have used. Now I should make it very clear, I am not an economic expert, so someone with more knowledge on this might be able to explain that I have no clue what I am talking about. But I have thought about this a lot and I can only see this as holding true. Even if you did extremely ethical work that benefited the planet, if you charge money for your service and make lots of it, then you have very little control of how that money is generated. For you to have lots of that money, resources would need to have been used along the way. If you imagine the world’s economy as one big piece of pie, having more money means you have a bigger slice.

With this in mind I set out to find out what the average slice would be. Thankfully someone else had done the math’s for me here and concluded that the average salary in the world in 2012 was US$18,000/£11,291 a year. This amount takes into account exchange rates and gives an indication of how much people across the planet would have to spend if they lived and worked in the US or UK. I was shocked to realised that even though I earn a below average salary where I live in Canada, I was still taking well over my share of the world’s pie. I also realised I didn’t know anyone who lives off such a low salary, nearly everyone I know is also taking more than their share too.

But this isn’t all doom and gloom. My aim here isn’t to make us all feel guilty about having money. I certainly don’t plan to ever live off such a low amount, I think it would be incredibly difficult to do. While I am willing to make sacrifices in the name of sustainability that is not one I am comfortable to accept. However, I do think it is important to realise that by living in the “developed world” we are all taking more than our fair share of the world’s resources and so it is our responsibility to act on this. While it might not seem like we have a lot, the majority of us can afford to pay someone to make us a coffee each morning and on a world scale that makes us rich. So while having security for ourselves and our family is important we shouldn’t simply chase more and more money because it is what society expects of us without understanding the implications.  If we wasted less money on consumerism we would reach that level of security much sooner and perhaps we could use our time to do things that aren’t motivated by money and benefit both ourselves and the planet. If you take money out of the equation we are also much more likely to spend our time doing things that interest us. If everyone focused on this rather than making more money I think the world would be a much more beautiful place.

Anyway, just a thought…


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