Target, the American mega-chain retailer, failed in its expansion plans in Canada and recently announced that they are closing all of its 133 Canadian stores and laying off about 17,600 employees. But Target’s Canadian liquidation is not the news I want to write about, rather it’s something more shocking than a mere business flop.
It seems the fallen CEO of Target’s Canadian subsidiary will get a total severance and benefits exit package from the home office worth about the same as the total amount being offered to all 17,600 of the chain’s Canadians employees. Now that’s a golden parachute!
But Target’s policy of massive compensation disparity between executive class and worker class isn’t just a Canadian phenomenon. Target’s former American CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, who stepped down after the massive credit card privacy breach of May 2014, received as his golden handshake a retirement plan valued at more than $47 million, or about 1,044 times what the average retiring Target employee usually receives.
This just illustrates with a few Developed World examples the global predicament that the British NGO Oxfam starkly described in a recently released paper detailing the world’s rapidly increasing state of inequality. The highlight of the Oxfam report was what could only be called a “statistical obscenity”: the world’s 80 wealthiest persons–many of whom are big shareholders in the finance, pharmaceutical, and health industries– now have more money and assets than the bottom half of the entire world’s population–some 3.5 billion people!
It should be obvious to all that this world’s economic system is not designed to benefit your average Joe and Jane. And it’s not just the working poor living in developing nations who are steadily losing their meager share of the world’s riches. It’s also happening to the middle and working classes in the developed world as well. The present global economic system is unfair and rigged to benefit an extremely small elite of mega-oligarchs.
The problem is clear. Can the situation be remedied in a fair, equitable, and peaceful way? Or is the only solution a 21st Century repeat of the war cry of the violent French or Russian revolutions. “Off with their heads!”
Recently, I read various proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy, such as income and inheritance taxes. There is talk about increasing the minimum wage to what’s called a “living” wage. Or, increasing subsidized educational opportunities such as was proposed by the U.S. president recently in his State of the Union address: two years free tuition at community colleges throughout the U.S.A.
But all of the above suggestions are just nibbling around the edges of the inequality issue. Even if all the above measures were passed by the politicians and enacted into law–which is doubtful considering the oversized effect concentrated wealth can have on donation-seeking politicos… when money talks you know who listens–the effect of such proposed “reforms” would only be temporary and mostly ineffective at resolving the growing inequality.
All such reform attempts would be mere “shows” put on by the politicians to try and convince the public that they are really trying to do something to address a system that at its core is rigged and unfair. And such “reforms” will eventually fail because the super rich know how to hide their wealth, how to influence the appropriate people, and how to manipulate the financial and economic systems in order to protect the status quo that benefits them.
Of course, the problem of the wealthy defrauding the poor by means of a corrupt world order is nothing new. The Bible specifically addresses the issue:
[But] look! [Here are] the wages that you have withheld by fraud from the laborers who have reaped your fields, crying out [for vengeance]; and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of hosts,” James 5:4 Amplified Bible
An older commentary on this verse in the Bible observed that great inequality among men and women has most often been accomplished throughout history by some form of slavery.
“The very essence of slavery is, that the slave shall produce by his labor so much more than he receives for his own maintenance as to support the master and his family in indolence. The slave is to do the work which the master would otherwise be obliged to do; the advantage of the system is supposed to be that the master is not under a necessity of laboring at all. The amount which the slave receives is not presumed to be what is a fair equivalent for what he does,” Barnes Notes of the Bible for James 5:4.
Of course, not everyone who has become wealthy has practiced some form of slavery by not paying his workers fair wages. But if one does achieve financial success through some appropriate creativity and hard work or even just by chance, the Scriptures would still encourage such a person to be generous with others and to practice philanthropy. In other words, loving one’s neighbour as one’s own self. As the writer of Proverbs puts it:
Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed,” Proverbs 11:24-25 New Living Translation.
A lot more can and will be said about how to remedy this world’s growing inequity and injustice. But for the moment a simple exhortation to practice brotherly love is a good first step and it would only do good and certainly no evil. The people in the boardrooms should take this Judeo-Christian principle very, very seriously while there still is time to change their fate.