This is the slightly paraphrased title of a booklet the Dutch journalist Jurriaan Kamp wrote back in the year 2000. (Because People Matter, Jurriaan Kamp, Lemniscaat 2000). After all these years I still consider it a good read. Or perhaps: especially now, given the turmoil our economies find themselves in. Somehow it all seems to be about the money.
Of course, this thing about people matter is not really new. For instance, from a speech by Robert F. Kennedy on March 18th, 1968 at the University of Kansas (http://bit.ly/h8iqzH) it can be read:
” But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of
carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
So he speaks of the poverty of satisfaction. Interesting! That doesn’t seem to have lost any of its relevance today. It’s all about money. Money, which according to Carl Johan Calleman are only numbers behind someone’s name on a computer at a bank (http://bit.ly/qMu4VF), has become ultimately abstract and yet dominates our thinking, well our entire existence, all of the time. And we get proof of the reality of that all of the time. As the volatility of stock markets has risen sharply one can read every other day that billions of euros of value have been destroyed. Or created. Where in actual fact only some number on some kind of information bearer has changed. But as we all believe that money exists and that we all need to try to get as much of it as we possibly can, e.g. to ensure we can retire from working at a chosen age or we can pay money to doctors to cure us from whatever disease I would like to point to a potentially destabilising effect on our societies. For that I would like to look at the distribution of income among a population, using the Lorenz curve.
The diagram is pretty much self-explanatory. On the X-axis is depicted the cumulative percentage of a population; on the Y-axis the cumulative percentage of income. Any point on one of the two lines reads: X percent of the population has Y percent of the income. In the case of the 45 deg line the distribution is completely even. Every single individual has exactly as much income as every other individual. When the curve starts bending, the distribution starts becoming more and more uneven. Right away there are a few interesting questions that spring to mind. E.g.: what level of inequality are we willing to have? Do we feel that all are equal and hence should have an equal share of the pie? Or are we OK with some – for whatever reason – having a bigger slice? It is clear that no country around the world has a perfect 45 deg Lorenz curve and that seems to be just fine. In any case it keeps the political and economic systems, as we know them, working. But what would happen if the curve bends further down? What would happen if, let’s say 90% of a population would have 10% of the income and 10% would have 90%? How sustainable would that be? How long would those in the 90% of the population support those having the big chunk? How long would they be OK with not being able to afford medical assistance? How long would they cheer about not being able to afford adequate housing? What about nourishment? Education for their children? How long would they go along playing a game according to rules that increasingly bring them poverty, that increasingly exclude them from the party, that no longer tell them they matter just because they are people too. A game that makes them lose. A while ago John Renesh wrote about how growing income inequality might spark off our own Tarhir Squares around the “civilised” world (http://bit.ly/fSzMs5) Have a look at this story, it’s a good read!
So what is the way forward here? It’s clearly not sticking exclusively to the money game. That’s an obvious dead-end street. First of all by the growing gap between haves and have-nots (“even” in the “civilised” western world) and secondly because the planet won’t be able to provide enough matter to satisfy the endless material needs as a substitute for real happiness. In my view the way out of this destructive dead-end street is to start to become open to a global consciousness, which opens up the possibility for all of us to actually start having the lives we are called to. Referring to my earlier blog (The Very Reason): how would that feel for you? How would you see yourself being and acting in a world in which all know they’re connected. In which all know they contribute to an expanded consciousness. In which each and everyone knows we all matter.
Leaving behind a paradigm, this complex set of beliefs in which we have been living for decades for sure is not be an easy thing, as much as it is needed. It calls for transformation into something which is radically new and for which no single person holds the key to success. But together, we do. Each and every one of us. Because we really matter.
Give it a thought share your insights!