Guest Column

OPINION | Davos 2020: The focus should be on poverty, not inequality

2020-01-20 12:00
The World Economic Forum has its annual gathering in Davos this week. (AFP)

The World Economic Forum has its annual gathering in Davos this week. (AFP)

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Sadly, the very much needed dialogue on how to strategically win the fight against poverty and open up opportunities for the millions around the world, is, in many occasions, overshadowed by the obsession over income inequality, writes Phumlani M. Majozi 

The world's elite, heads of states, heads of NGOs, heads of businesses, leading journalists, are in Davos, Switzerland this week, for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

This year's theme, is Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World. In a world divided, chaotic, unsafe, with low levels of economic growth, cooperation to build a cohesive and sustainable world is needed.

We need a leadership well-prepared to confront today's pressing global challenges.

The first step to building a cooperative and cohesive world, will be an objective analysis of the socioeconomic problems we face as mankind.

Among these socioeconomic problems, and perhaps the biggest, are poverty and lack of opportunity.

In my recent piece published in New York’s Sahara Reporters, I argued that post-Cold War, the humanity has made significant strides on the fight against poverty.

But with this remarkable progress, we must not shy away from the fact that millions around the world still live in dire conditions. Lifting these millions out of these deplorable living conditions ought to be a major focus at the WEF, and in other global forums.

Sadly, the very much needed dialogue on how to strategically win the fight against poverty and open up opportunities for the millions around the world, is, in many occasions, overshadowed by the obsession over income inequality.

This obsession over how much money Bill Gates or Johann Rupert earns in comparison to other individuals around the world, seems to be shaping the world's discourse.

I believe this obsession is unnecessary and is a serious distraction to what we must be paying attention to as citizens of the world.

To emphasize this point, there are two very important things that I must remind you about.

Firstly, there's no way we can equalize people's incomes because the differential results from different production skills, opportunities, culture, age, geography, and much more, that differentiates us as human beings.

It is irrational of us to expect the diverse millions of people around the world to have the same production skills to generate equal income and wealth.

Not all of us can be rich, because not all of us are intelligent enough to become neurosurgeons, or play football like Lionel Messi, or be musically talented like Drake, or be innovative like Satya Nadella of Microsoft.

Our production skills are not similar – and that alone means we will never earn the same income. This has been true across human history.

Inequality, income inequality, was always with us and will always be with us. It has always been a part of humanity.

This fact, as studied by one of my favorite economists, Dr. Thomas Sowell, does need to be highlighted in a world encased in false rhetoric by the elite in academia, non –profit organizations, media and politics.

Secondly, people's incomes change over time. I'm confident that the majority of the elite who will be seated in Davos this week, did not make as much money in their lives as they do today.

But over time, through their hard work and different high-paying jobs, their incomes rose.

Today's billionaires were not always billionaires – they were ordinary people like most of us. Because of their brilliant entrepreneurial minds and ambition, they decided to start their businesses.

Those businesses increased their incomes to a point where they are now billionaires. In the process millions of lives around the world were improved and thousands of jobs were created.

In Davos the conversation ought to be about education, job creation and opportunity – with the goal to end poverty. Let's educate and upskill our people so they compete in the market. In that setting some will become billionaires, some will not. Not all of them will become billionaires.

Sustainable jobs need to be created through the private sector. These jobs will be different – some will pay low wages; some will pay higher wages. And evidence shows that the more you are educated, especially in the fields of science, technology, mathematics and business, the more money you will make.

It’s very important that we get our points of discussion in platforms like the WEF right. We must stop the obsession over billionaires and focus on the fight against poverty and opening up opportunities for the talented and ambitious.

 - Phumlani M. Majozi is a politics and international affairs analyst, senior fellow at AfricanLiberty.org, radio talk show host and non-executive at Free Market Foundation South Africa. Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.

Read more on:    wef  |  davos  |  inequality  |  poverty
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