‘Boats Do Not Rise Equally With The Tide’

It seems to me that one of the major problems of our age is growing inequality of income in most parts of the world. This creates both relative and absolute poverty. It also produces divided societies where a super-rich minority live at an increasing remove from their humbler brothers and sisters. There is a growing appreciation of this problem including amongst the super-rich themselves. For example Bill Gross, managing director of Pimco, the world’s biggest bond fund said a few years ago that

When the fruits of society’s labour become maldistributed, when the rich get richer and the middle- and lower-classes struggle to keep their heads above water as is clearly the case today, then the system ultimately breaks down; boats do not rise equally with the tide; the centre cannot hold’.

Abdu’l-Bahá said of the inequality He witnessed in the early 20th Century that-

‘One of the most important principles of the Teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is: The right of every human being to the daily bread whereby they exist, or the equalization of the means of livelihood.

The arrangements of the circumstances of the people must be such that poverty shall disappear, that everyone, as far as possible, according to his rank and position, shall share in comfort and well-being.

We see amongst us men who are overburdened with riches on the one hand, and on the other those unfortunate ones who starve with nothing; those who possess several stately palaces, and those who have not where to lay their head. Some we find with numerous courses of costly and dainty food; whilst others can scarce find sufficient crusts to keep them alive. Whilst some are clothed in velvets, furs and fine linen, others have insufficient, poor and thin garments with which to protect them from the cold. 

This condition of affairs is wrong, and must be remedied. Now the remedy must be carefully undertaken. It cannot be done by bringing to pass absolute equality between men…

… Certainly, some being enormously rich and others lamentably poor, an organization is necessary to control and improve this state of affairs. It is important to limit riches, as it is also of importance to limit poverty. Either extreme is not good. To be seated in the mean is most desirable. If it be right for a capitalist to possess a large fortune, it is equally just that his workman should have a sufficient means of existence. 

A financier with colossal wealth should not exist whilst near him is a poor man in dire necessity. When we see poverty allowed to reach a condition of starvation it is a sure sign that somewhere we shall find tyranny. Men must bestir themselves in this matter, and no longer delay in altering conditions which bring the misery of grinding poverty to a very large number of the people. The rich must give of their abundance, they must soften their hearts and cultivate a compassionate intelligence, taking thought for those sad ones who are suffering from lack of the very necessities of life… 

…There must be special laws made, dealing with these extremes of riches and of want…’

Paris Talks: ‘: UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1972 eleventh edition reprint

 

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