Power and privilege: how the wealthy, church and global capitalism hold sway

To glean an understanding of poverty, we have an obligation to analyse wealth

There is a strong correlation between wealth and power. Wealth allows individuals and groups to make donations to political parties, payments to lobbyists and grants to “experts” who can support their goals. Photograph: Getty Images

There is a strong correlation between wealth and power. Wealth allows individuals and groups to make donations to political parties, payments to lobbyists and grants to “experts” who can support their goals. Photograph: Getty Images

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 12:01

Billionaire Wilbur Ross invested €290 million in Bank of Ireland shares in 2011. He sold his shares this year, making a profit of €500 million. That is just how the system works.

In Dublin, entire families have to live in a hotel room and more and more people are forced to sleep on the street because they are too poor to be able to pay for accommodation. That is just how the system works. The same system.

The 85 richest people on the planet own as much wealth as the poorest 3,500,000,000. That is what happens when the system works.

There is something radically wrong with the system. No doubt some will call me naive. Maybe I am. But I suspect that most of those who call me naive enjoy a very comfortable income. I cannot expect someone to accept that the system is fundamentally unjust when their income and quality of life depend on maintaining that system. And that includes almost all the decision makers in Ireland and globally, both the economically developed and developing world.

To try to understand poverty, the poor have been analysed to death. Volumes have been written on their backgrounds, education and every minute detail of their lives.

Concentrated wealth But to understand poverty, we have to analyse wealth. It is difficult to analys

e wealth in Ireland, as little information is available. However, there is no reason to believe that Ireland is very different to other developed countries such as the US or Canada, where research findings are much more extensive. Research there shows wealth, over the past few decades, becoming increasingly concentrated among the already wealthy. For example: nIn US in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, 94 per cent of the wealth created went to the top 20 per cent, while only 6 per cent went to bottom 80 per cent.

nIn 1976, the top 1 per cent of US income earners took home 9 per cent of all income generated in the US; in 2012, they took home 19.6 per cent.

nIn the years 2009 – 2011, incomes for the bottom 99 per cent of US households increased by 0.4 per cent, while the incomes of the top 1 per cent increased by 31.4 per cent.

nIn 1982, the average chief executive’s pay was 42 times that of the average factory worker; in 2012, it was 354.

Most of the wealth being created today is sucked up into bank accounts of the already wealthy. The outrage expressed at the pay, bonuses, golden handshakes and pensions of bankers, corporate executives and senior civil servants suggests that Ireland is little different.

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