2000s >> 2007 >> no-1237-september-2007

From each according to their ability

“I don’t want to take £1 billion pounds to the grave with me.”  (Sir Tom Hunter, Daily Telegraph, 18 July 18).

Andrew Carnegie, Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof et al would no doubt agree that there can be only a small percentage of financial, business, sport or artistic successes in any one generation. There just isn’t space at the top of any profession or vocation for the majority of the population. The system doesn’t work like that. A pyramid requires a very broad, solid base made up of multitudinous blocks rising in successively smaller layers to the apex. The financial structure of the world is the same; the many enabling the few to amass their fortunes. In sport or art, whether through talent or promotion, a similar structure exists.

Whilst the super-rich can afford to give away much of their monetary wealth without hardship or set up trusts, charities, concerts and the like to alleviate some of the world’s worst conditions (and the rest of us can donate much smaller amounts according to our individual situation and whim), the plain facts are that each year, year in, year out, millions more around the world find themselves in abject poverty. Whatever is given in aid, grants or donations is never, and will never be, sufficient to “make poverty history”.

Sir Tom Hunter appears not at all gloomy about the world situation and claims “he gets a bigger buzz from a successful philanthropic venture than from his businesses”. There is an obvious satisfaction to be gained from personally being able to bring positive solutions to problems of those less fortunate than oneself; however, even supposing all the world’s billionaires were to prove as altruistic in ministering to the world’s needy, it would only result in a partial cure of humanity’s sores rather than total elimination of the disease.

The Daily Telegraph article ends with Carnegie’s assertion that “all personal wealth beyond that required to supply the needs of one’s family should be regarded as a trust fund to be administered for the benefit of the community.” Which is not all that different from Karl Marx’s dictum “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. However, the poor of the world don’t need a hand-out. They simply need to be a part of a world system that doesn’t exploit them and with the universal right to nutritious food and clean water, shelter, responsibility for self-determination, all long recognized as prerequisites for a fulfilling life.

With “from each according to ability, to each according to need” applied globally it will not only be possible but achievable in the foreseeable future to eliminate poverty, malnutrition and the other ills inherent in global capitalism.

When doctors, teachers, musicians, scientists, technicians, farmers, entrepreneurs use their expertise solely for the benefit of the (world) community; when the Earth’s rich resources are used for people, not profit; when all citizens of the world are seen to have equal, intrinsic worth regardless of background, intelligence or class; when our collective aims are truly altruistic rather than accumulative then there would be no worries about taking money to the grave. Wealth would be real, not virtual; the Earth’s resources would belong to all, not to be pillaged for profit for the minority; talent, skills and human endeavour would be the wealth to be spent by all for the benefit of all.

How satisfying to go to the grave fully used up with absolutely nothing going to waste.


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