September 23, 2007

Share the Wealth

A comparison of societies with a static economy and societies with a growth-oriented economy reveals that significant accumulations of wealth by individuals, families, or groups are tolerated for long periods only in the latter. The prevailing outlook in these [growth-oriented] societies - whether conscious or subconscious - is that such wealth is not gained at the expense of others, but originates from one huge, inexhaustible source, from which every person, with sufficient effort, can and may withdraw as much as he desires. The situation is perceived quite differently in those societies in which the ... sources of livelihood [are believed to] yield approximately the same amount every year. Here it is generally felt that since the total amount available to society remains constant, any enrichment of one person, family, or group inevitably occurs at the expense of all remaining persons, families, or groups. All known societies in this situation have, as a result, developed social mechanisms that in some way ensure the orderly distribution of the total product among members.

That paragraph, which I found in Paul Unschuld's "Medicine in China" contains an idea peotent enough to move mountains. It directly correlates a fundamental and seemingly fairminded precept of modern society, the belief in growth and progress, with the widespread acceptance of inequality. The implications of such a connection are vast in scope and number. I hope to discuss some of them in future posts.

No comments: