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Growth for whom?

No political system has succeeded in eradicating inequality at any time in the history of humankind. Whether it is the many monarchies of the past couple of millennia, dictatorships of the past and present centuries, various shades of communism and governments driven by socialist ideologies or even unbridled capitalism – none have managed to get rid of the scourge of inequality among human beings. The concept of egalitarianism – equality for all human beings – seems no more than a chimera that governments have been chasing for decades. Earlier this year in January, just before the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland global non-government organisation Oxfam released a report that took the world media by storm. It said the richest 85 people in the world were worth more than the poorest 3.5 billion. “Our estimates suggest that the lower half of the global population possesses barely 1 per cent of global wealth, while the richest 10 per cent of adults own 86 per cent of all wealth, and the top 1 per cent account for 46 per cent of the total,” the report pointed out. While the cornerstone of economic success continues to be growth and all efforts at all levels of human activity are directed at achieving growth, the fruits of this so-called growth do not appear to be spread evenly to all strata of society. Rather, the fruits tend to get bunched or lumped in favour of a select few who get to enjoy them disproportionately at the cost of the multitude of others who do not. The old term ‘the haves and the have-nots’ is as valid in these modern times as it has always been in history.

Economists have been unsuccessful in coming up with any alternative model of measuring success other than growth, even if intuitively we all know that all resources are ultimately finite. More recently, the concept of sustainability has been brought in and this has been moderately successful in certain areas of human entrepreneurial endeavour. But the forces that drive the necessity for unbridled growth far outstrip any initiatives directed at sustainability and ‘growth at any cost’ remains the sole mantra of success for businesses and countries all over the world.

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