‘The poor getting poorer’


Fr Kennedy Chola says Zambia is slowly being auctioned to those with money and it is no longer a just society.
“In a just society, wealth should be shared equally. But what is happening is that the rich are more powerful and holding on to everything. The poor are getting more poorer. Our people are subjected to be getting handouts at the expense of empowering them. This is not what a just society should be,” says Fr Chola. “The country has been auctioned to those with money. There is no justice for the poor. So what should we do now? We need leaders that will stand and put the interest of the poor first.”
The rich-poor inequality in terms of wealth accumulation has been widening in the country.
The poor’s share in the national income eroded further over the past two decades, with the richer segment of the population having bigger stakes.
The transfer of public wealth to the private sector has left the government without the resources needed to invest enough in education, health and other sectors to help counter inequality.
Economic inequality is widespread and to some extent inevitable under this economic order. It is our belief, however, that if rising inequality is not properly monitored and addressed it can lead to all sorts of political, economic and social catastrophes.
“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a catchphrase and aphorism sometimes invoked, with variations in wording, when discussing economic inequality, implying the perceived inevitability of what Karl Marx called the Law of Increasing Poverty.
Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the U.S. (1829–1837), in his 1832 bank veto, said that
“when the laws undertake… to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society… have a right to complain of the injustice to their Government”.
William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States (1841), said in an October 1, 1840 speech, “It is true democratic feeling, that all the measures of the government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer.”
In 1821, Percy Bysshe Shelley argued, in A Defence of Poetry that in his England, “the promoters of utility” had managed to exasperate at once the extremes of luxury and want. They have exemplified the saying, “To him that hath, more shall be given; and from him that hath not, the little that he hath shall be taken away.
The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the State is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the effects which must ever flow from an unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty.”
The phrase also resembles two Bible verses from the Gospel of Matthew: “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”
And Pope Francis tells us that economic development and growth have never automatically meant a greater gap between the rich and poor, so there is no reason today for people to throw up their hands and simply accept increasing inequality.
Greater inequality and a more rapid destruction of the environment “are not destiny nor even a historic constancy,” says Pope Francis. “There have been periods in which, in some countries, inequalities diminished and the environment was better protected.”
Our household income or consumption by percentage share is: lowest 10 per cent : 1.5 per cent and highest 10 per cent: 47.4 per cent. Zambia today ranks number 7 in the world in terms of inequality.
There’s need for government to intervene with policies to ensure the market economy leads not only to the creation of goods and services, but that it benefits all members of society. Given the widespread and systemic increase of inequality, which is greater than the increase in income and wealth, this becomes a matter requiring a very high sense of urgency.
The process is not automatic. It depends on individual actions and also on the economic regulations that the government imposes such as choices about energy, labour policies, the banking system, taxes, social welfare programmes and education. Depending on how these sectors are programmed, there are different consequences in the way income and wealth are distributed among those who helped produce them.
If profit is allowed to be the only concern, democracy will become a plutocracy, where inequality grows.
Political action must be placed truly at the service of the human person, the common good and respect for nature. Basically, we must aim at civilising the market, working for an ethic that is friendly toward the person and the environment.
Jesus was a prophet of ‘the reign of God’, which was open to all, with no one excluded or marginalised. He made it clear that there was a special place for beggars, hungry people, and the poor in this kingdom of his ‘compassionate’ Father.
Dives is tormented because he failed to respond to – perhaps even to notice? – the poor man Lazarus ‘who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table’ (Lk 16: 19–31), while judgement of fidelity to the kingdom of God will hinge on our treatment of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the naked, the prisoner (Matthew 25: 3–46).
In this overall context, the surprising and provocative parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Mt 20: 1–16), which seems to overturn our conventional ideas about equality and strict justice – equal pay for equal work – is far from being an apologia for the inequality of the rich, but more a striking illustration of the desire of God that even the poorest of the poor should have basic needs met.
This biblical thrust was taken up in many different ways throughout Christian tradition. Within the Catholic Church, since Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Letter, Rerum Novarum (1891), it has matured into a body of teaching known as Catholic social teaching. This teaching starts from the fundamental assertion – shared by secular human rights discourse – of the basic dignity and equality of all human beings.
In Zambia inequality is increasingly evident and while the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.
We need to say ‘no’ to a socioeconomic system of exclusion and inequality which spawns violence. Trickle down economics is not going to help us solve the problem of inequality. It is actually one of the causes of it.
There’s need for serious structural reform as well as cultural transformation.
All Zambians, including the poor, deserve not just nourishment or a dignified sustenance, but also a general temporal welfare and prosperity, which requires education, access to health care and above all employment.
Inequality is the root of social ills.
The problems of the people who are poor need to be resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of the markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.
We all need to recognise the right of each person to be seated at the table of the common banquet, instead of lying outside the door like Lazarus, while the dogs come and lick his sores (Luke 16: 21).
Excessive inequality is both a symptom and a cause of exclusion from this kind of communion. We urge you all, with whatever particular talents you possess, to engage in the struggle for a more just and equal Zambia, which is surely what God dreams of, what the Kingdom of God is about. And let’s do so with a very high sense of urgency and in the spirit of cooperation.
And let’s help those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth.

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