Worldwide Discussion:

Should there be a Mimimum Wage, set in each country, for workers across the planet? Is the solving of economic inequality around the world an economic issue or a spiritual issue?

Virtually the entire world sees these questions as economic issues. Pope Francis, on the other hand, has now set the planet’s people to thinking: Might this, in fact, be a spiritual issue?

In a written statement to the world’s billions of Catholics late last month, the Pope asked a searing question: How could it be that it’s not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?

U.S. President Barack Obama has likewise recently brought the issue to widespread attention, calling the combating of growing inequality and lack of upward mobility the “defining challenge of our time.”

Perhaps it is time to look at economic inequality as a spiritual, and not merely an economic, matter.

First, let us look at a few facts.

Let us examine the U.S. economy (picked because it is one of the largest economies n the world, in a country that freely and often boasts that its citizens have “equal opportunity”). Since 1979 the economy in the United States has more than doubled in size. That’s the good news (presumably). Yet most of that good fortune has been experienced by those who already have a fortune.

Second in a series of articles on economic inequality and spirituality, at the crossroads of the two

In the U.S., statistics show that the top 10 percent of the population in terms of wealth no longer takes in one-third of the country’s income. It now takes half. The average Chief Executive Officer of a major company made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker in the past. Today the CEO makes 273 times more.

This, proponents of the capitalist system say, is perfectly okay. Because it is the big companies and their owners and leaders that create jobs for the rest of us. Yet, in fact, fewer jobs are being created by the Big Corporate Machine, thanks in various parts to automation, consolidation, and the sending of many jobs out of the country — where wages are even lower.

This is perfectly okay, proponents of the capitalist system say. It’s only “good business” — and it brings economic opportunity to people in poorer nations around the world. Except that people in some of those poorer nations have to work 50, 60, and sometimes 70 hours a week to make productivity goals set by their employers, and, as well, to earn a living wage.

There is been a huge disconnect between productivity and worker income in the past 25 years — and the disparity is growing.  Statistics from the International Labor Organization show that between 1999 and 2011 average labor productivity in developed economies increased more than twice as much as average wages.

In the United States, the ILO says, real hourly labor productivity in the non-farm business sector increased by about 85 per cent since 1980, while real hourly compensation increased by only around 35 per cent.

In Germany, labor productivity surged by almost a quarter over the past two decades, while real monthly wages remained flat.

This is perfectly okay, proponents of the capitalist system say. Productivity will increase as technology makes it possible for fewer workers and fewer hours per employee to produce the same or a greater amount of goods and services than ever before. This, too, is only “good business,” they say.

But is it good for people? That becomes the central question. That becomes the spiritual issue.

Your comments, observations, and insights are invited below.

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