Not accumulate, but circulate
I have written so much about poverty to make people more aware and sensitive to it. While I know that poverty in the Philippines has been a historical legacy, as it has been with almost all countries, I also know that a few have transcended it and, in fact, become world models for social and economic transformation. I refer most especially to Scandanavian countries where poverty is negligible (or non-existent). They make a good motivation for me to push until our own poor can find approximate relief from a poverty they merely inherited.
It is heartening to note, from the comments I have received from my articles and from my continuing engagement with others in the same advocacy of dismantling poverty, that there is indeed, more awareness and sympathy towards the poor, both global and our very own. I realize that historical mindsets from the non-poor make it difficult to just drop all resistance to the liberation of the more and most unfortunate. It will seem like surrendering one’s advantage over others and make the rich, including the newly liberated, very reluctant to level the playing field. All the more, it will seem quite daunting to actually share one’s advantage or profits from one’s labor and allow these to reduce the gap with those left behind.
That 1% own as much, if not more, than the 99% is not shocking, it is historical. My wish and advocacy are to help reverse the trend in a faster manner. It will take more than my lifetime to make this happen despite the fact that so many today are engaged in the same crusade. The shift from centralized rule, whether it be monarchies or dictatorships, to democracy in various forms simply moves in the direction of raising the 99% and, in effect, forcing the 1% to release their traditional stranglehold (it is a stranglehold as long as the poor comprise the majority of humanity).
One does not dismantle historical paradigms in a flash, not in decades, not in generations. One can rant and rave but will not succeed. Even in the few cases where bloody revolution did succeed in overthrowing a traditional power, the new victors hardly managed to trigger meaningful change. From millennia of momentum and habit, societies invariably revert to the only thing the world has known – the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few. That is why the few successful models we have in the world today, unfortunately made up of mostly former colonizers, are of great interest to me. How has democracy or socialism tipped the scales of equity so dramatically in these countries? Yet, many others will not want to follow their sterling example, preferring to keep the severe imbalance on the guise of free enterprise or market forces.
Still, evolution will not be denied, too slow as it is to most advocates of any cause that seeks great change. It is always the younger generations that will introduce something new, just as it is the role of the older ones to fade away. Sometimes, the transition is smooth. At other times, like today, change can be abrupt as far as the fading generations are concerned. Serious and radical advancements in technology have been dizzying, collapsing the dominance of global companies like IBM, Kodak, Xerox and many others. In their places are Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and so many new kids on the block ready to spring from anonymity to greatness. Whether we like it or not, change is moving powerfully and changing the world.
What I would like is to see that change find synergy and its players moving towards clear, common directions. Dismantling poverty should be among its priorities from the beginning where entrepreneurs are driven to grow their enterprises with a commitment to open doors of opportunities and resources to those who need them the most. Philanthropy or traditional charity does not cut it anymore. That way is good but seriously inadequate. Poverty cannot be a by-the-way concern but a central societal focus. And, to me, the younger generations are much more capable of a natural sympathy and empathy for the marginalized. Their way of doing business, too, is much more accommodating and egalitarian. My deepest hopes and unmitigated optimism are anchored on what I have seen among the younger generations, as though the generational idealism has its eye on kindness as well as innovation.
The late Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, was no economist. But she had an intuitive sense of what works for people and what hurts the majority when it comes to financial systems. She had a succinct saying in Italian which I will translate as best I can, in describing the ideal economy, “Not accumulate, but circulate.” She had a simple economic vision, too, She said, “Just give, give, give – a smile, understanding, services, goods – until giving is a culture, until not one is in need.” In its simplicity, however, lies a seeming impossibility. Strange as it may seem, the culture of giving is secondary the culture of competition.
The Dalai Lama has not kept quiet about poverty either, and one of his most optimistic statements go this way, “Provided that societies stay mindful of the challenges that capitalism creates and never forget the paramount importance of inclusion and equal opportunity, we can and should celebrate the miracle of free enterprise – and the billions of souls it has helped free from desperate poverty.”
Pope Francis, though, sees more urgency in liberating ourselves from the idolatry of money. He has asked that we must try to establish new economic systems rather than just reforming the status quo – the pursuit of which necessarily creates victims that forces the same system to later help, or discard.
There are endless issue and controversies that distract societies, including ours, from the awesome obligation of compassion and generosity towards the more unfortunate among us. Never have I been eager to give this world to the new generations.
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