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DECLARATION ON INCOME INEQUALITY AND THE WIDENING WEALTH GAP

(Note: This statement is intended to be endorsed by a wide consensus of adherents of diverse religious and spiritual traditions and convictions. It deliberately leaves out language that is religiously particular and might not be accepted by all traditions. It reflects two basic documents of the Parliament: the Declaration of Global Ethics, and A Call to Guiding Institutions. These documents are available on the Parliament’s website.)

The exponential widening of income and wealth disparities in recent years, globally and within specific countries, is a great concern to people and communities of faith. We see a world of deep and damaging inequality which we cannot reconcile with what our religious traditions teach us. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report of January 2014, written by some 700 noted scholars, predicted that income and wealth disparity is the risk most likely to cause serious damage around the globe.

In January 2015 Oxfam International issued a report warning that by 2016 the world's wealthiest 1% will control as much of the planet's assets as the other 99%. In the United States, where this Parliament of the World’s Religions meets, over 80% of economic growth since 1980 has gone to the richest 1%. These problems are most acute for the billions of people who live in the poorest nations. According to the World Bank, over one billion people live on less than $1.25 per day and two billion people live on less than two dollars a day. People this poor live at or below the edge of disaster, replete with hunger and other terrible living conditions. The extent and the terms of the debt of developing nations greatly exacerbate income inequality.

Increasing levels of poverty and declining middle classes greatly effect everyone. For most people it means stunted lives because of lack of food, shelter, health, education and opportunity. Even the richest people in highly unequal societies have less health, welfare, and satisfaction than the best-off in more equal societies.

As most religious traditions affirm, accumulating wealth does not bring happiness; rather, increasing inequality erodes the moral fabric of our societies. Religions also remind us to embrace lifestyles of simplicity, compassion, and generosity. They encourage us to engage in strategies of just distribution that uplift the common good and foster human flourishing. Expert studies on happiness and a growing international consensus on human development confirm this age-old wisdom.

Among the many causes for such wide disparities are the economic policies adopted in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1970s that have also influenced other economies. These policies removed centuries-long religious and legal prohibitions on usury and unleashed greed as a positive value. The continuing processes of deregulation in the name of economic freedom have led to expanding exploitations of people and the environment and a rapid deterioration of the sense of shared responsibility for the common-good. The deepening addiction to unbridled greed led to the creation of ever riskier and less sustainable economic products and ventures, which culminated in the crash of the financial markets in 2008.

People and communities of faith recognize unbridled greed as a crisis of the human spirit—a spiritual problem that only religions are competent to address. In fact, many religions identify greed as a problem and prescribe ways to overcome it.

In addition, religions instruct their followers to respect others and to treat them with justice and fairness. Most enjoin their followers to be compassionate toward our fellow human beings, and have a special concern for those who are poor, ensuring that all people have enough to live decently.

A different world is possible. However, it requires all people of faith and goodwill to work together to address the pernicious effects of greed and the exploitative economic policies that they yield.

Religious communities and leaders have significant moral authority, courageous voices, and organized people power. The Parliament also provides a venue for people and communities of faith to convene local and regional multi-faith and mutual collaborations to create action plans to change economic policies toward justice for all.

We recognize and appreciate the good work by faith and interfaith communities . We call upon the interfaith movement to engage the guiding institutions, and we call on the guiding  institutions to heed this call.

In the name of the principles of our faith and spiritual traditions, let us pledge to do so.

 

© 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions


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