Our planet is entering the new century with fully 1.3 billion people living on less than one dollar a day. Three billion people, or half the population of the world, live on less than two dollars a day. Yet this same planet is experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The statistics that describe the accumulation of wealth in the world are mind-boggling. From where we sit, the most staggering statistics of all are those that reflect the polarization of this wealth. In 1960 the richest 20 percent of the world’s population had 70 percent of the world’s wealth, today they have 86 percent of the wealth. In 1960 the poorest 20 percent of the world’s population had just 2.3 percent of the wealth of the world. Today this has shrunk to just barely 1 percent.
Imagine that the five fingers of your hand represent the world’s population. The hand has $100 to share. Today the thumb, representing the richest 20 percent of the world’s population, has $86 for itself. The little finger has just $1. The thumb is accumulating
wealth with breath-taking speed and never looking back. The little finger is sinking deeper into economic misery. The distance between them grows larger every day.
Behind this crisis of dollars there is a human crisis: among the poor, immeasurable human suffering; among the others, the powerful, the policy makers, a poverty of spirit which has made a religion of the market and its invisible hand. A crisis of imagination so profound that the only measure of value is profit, the only measure of human progress is economic growth.
We have not reached the consensus that to eat is a basic human right. This is an ethical crisis. This is a crisis of faith.
Global capitalism becomes a machine devouring our planet. The little finger, the men and women of the poorest 20 percent, are reduced to cogs in this machine, the bottom rung in global production, valued only as cheap labor, otherwise altogether disposable. The machine cannot and does not measure their suffering. The machine also does not measure the suffering of our planet. Every second an area the size of a soccer field is deforested. This fact alone should be mobilizing men and women to protect their most basic interest – oxygen. But the machine overwhelms us. The distance between the thumb and the little finger stretches to the breaking point.
“A Crisis of Faith” is Chapter One of Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization, by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, published by Common Courage Press (www.commoncouragepress.com) and reprinted with permission. The book includes photos by Jennifer Cheek PantalÃ©on and Observer staff photographer Alan Pogue.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president of Haiti in 1990, and forced into exile in 1991. In 1994 he returned to Haiti with the help of the United Nations, to complete the remaining sixteen months of his presidential term. Aristide remains committed to helping poor people in Haiti and around the world, continuing the work he began in the Eighties through the Aristide Foundation and Lafanmi Selavi, the center for street children he founded in 1986. Proceeds from the sale of Eyes of the Heart benefit The Aristide Foundation for Democracy. For more information, see the website at www.FonAristide.org.
To learn more about Haiti or to order the book, visit the website at www.eyesoftheheart.org.