The Haves—and the Have Nots

IN MEXICO CITY a few years ago, I had some time between meetings there to explore various parts of the megalopolis. Many areas of the city were slums filled with miserable hovels: “homes” made of cardboard, sheet metal, discarded planks, ragged blankets. Yet other parts of town contained massive, grand mansions.

Even here in America, the contrast between the haves and the have-nots is staggering. Most large cities have their slums, ghettos, and shanty-towns—but also their gated luxury estates. And the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest widens, both in the United States and around the world. Consider these statistics:

  • Nearly half of the world’s people live on less than $2 a day. Of those, 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day.
  • The world’s three richest people are wealthier than the world’s poorest 48 nations (a quarter of the world’s countries).
  • The slice of the world’s total wealth taken by the richest 1 percent is the same size as that handed to the poorest 57 percent.
  • The world’s approximately 500 billionaires have a combined wealth greater than that of the poorest half of humanity.
  • Number of children in the world: 2.2 billion. Number of them living in poverty: 1 billion.
  • The richest 1 percent of adults owns 40 percent of the world’s total assets. The richest 10 percent of adults account for 85 percent of total assets. The bottom half of the world adult population owns 1 percent of global wealth.
  • The top 1 percent of Americans receive more income than the bottom 40 percent.
  • The poorest one-fifth of the U.S. population receives less than 4 percent of the total income. The richest one-fifth receives over 50 percent.

The uneven distribution of wealth in our world is yet another symptom of what happens when selfishness becomes the fundamental driving principle of life here on Earth. To Satan I ask, “Was this how it was in heaven before you rebelled? Is this what happens when you are in charge? Is this the best you have to offer?”

Before sin, everyone was wealthy! There were only haves—and no have-nots. But now, most people of the world live in misery and starvation, while a few live lives of unimaginable wealth and ease.

My thoughts about this tragic reality?

  1. No matter how tough things get for me, if I’m living on more than $2 a day, I’m in the “rich half” of the world’s population.
  2. I can’t right the gross inequities in this world. But maybe I can right a few—or one. The more I let go of “get” and embrace “give,” the happier my life will be.
  3. Railing against the greedy and demanding they share more of their wealth is pointless. Genuine altruism and generosity must come from within.
  4. What can I do to redress this imbalance? Perhaps not much in tangible terms. But I can help point both poor and wealthy to the only One who can provide what they each need.

On my Mexico City trip, the street beggars were everywhere—just as in some American cities, panhandlers seem to be at every freeway offramp stoplight. I’m not one given to filling every outstretched hand. But one evening in the zona rosa of Mexico City, a ragged, weary father stood in the shadows, silent tears sliding down his face, as he held his clearly ill little boy in his arms. Our eyes met. I opened my wallet and found the largest denomination of Mexican currency I had—and slipped it into his hand.

No, we can’t fix it all. And sometimes the overwhelming need around us is heartbreaking. But we can do some small thing.

Tomorrow, perhaps a good check will come to me, and I’ll make a donation or help a friend. For today, I’m writing these words—and inviting you to put something, however small, into the yawning chasm of the world’s need.

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