On one of my business trips to the US a couple of years ago, I had the misfortune of travelling to Miami, Florida, on my way to a conference in Puerto Rico. I say misfortune, because of the banal nature of Miami -- highlighted in the boorish displays of wealth, the flaunting of flesh and the amazing ignorance of so many of the people I spoke to. Others were charming.
We are all victims of greed-driven inequality
My purpose in this article is not to criticise Miami, or even highlight how it is a perfect location for a tasteless President to play golf while pretending to work. My purpose is to reflect on one of my experiences in Miami, one that has been repeated many times – leading to a clear picture forming in my head.
Read more from DJC: Equality of opportunity is a value I hold dear
On my first morning there, having seen and been revolted by the strip along the beach, I had to journey into the outer suburbs. In doing so, I drove past some of the largest houses I had ever seen. While bereft of any design or class, these residences to the likes of Madonna, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro were huge and clearly worth many tens of millions of dollars. They were ultimate displays of conspicuous consumption, as were the Ferraris and Bugattis cruising the streets.
Less than 2km further on our drive, I saw poverty that was best associated with third world countries. Houses were in disrepair, signs of impoverished despair were all around and evidence of the enormous number of desperate ex-servicemen was plain to see. This was poverty on a scale and depth that I had never seen in Australia, and rarely seen outside of Africa.
It reminded me of the picture painted by Bob Hawke in his first biography, when he spoke of his first trip to India as an altar boy with the Congregational Church. Hawke talked of his first night on Bombay (now Mumbai) at the home of the region's Archbishop. He said that in that home he saw wealth on a scale he had never seen before and rarely since. He went on to talk of a walk the next evening in to the suburbs of Bombay, where he saw poverty worse than he had ever seen before and as bad as anything he has seen since.
Hawke claims that it was at this point, having seen this disparity first hand, that he became a socialist and an atheist.
I know how he feels, and freely attest to being a socialist and a non-believer myself. It was out-of-control capitalism and greed that caused this disparity and, while I see free enterprise as part of the solution, rampant self-serving capitalism is not. Secondly, if there were a God and he was all powerful and loving, such a disparity would not exist.
On my most recent trip overseas, to Malaysia, I saw the same thing. While sitting in a comfortable lounge at the airport, I was given to reflect on why this disparity is wrong, and how it is never in the best interests of anyone other than the top one percent who control 50 percent of the world's wealth, most of them never having worked any harder or smarter that the average mine or factory worker.
The effects on the individuals, the communities they live in and the world at large are profound.
Many of the individuals struggle all their lives to feed themselves and their families; they cannot get ahead no matter how hard they work or look for it; and if there is a period of unemployment, they fall backwards quickly.
The poor have a lower life expectancy, higher risk of children dying at birth or young, lower access to education, a greater likelihood of being victims of crime, and more often than not, an inability to help their children rise out of this disadvantage.
And we should all remember the famous quote: ''When people lose faith, they fly planes into buildings.''
The middle classes also suffer when there is poverty.
They are more often than not the victims of crime perpetrated by the poor (the wealthy are untouchable); as business people, they miss out on the benefits of the spending that poor people would do if they were not poor (low income earners spend everything they earn); there is more social unrest and union activity; the streets have more old vehicles pumping out poisonous gasses; heath costs and insurance rates rise because of the cost of providing care to the poor, who are sick more often; and there is the preponderance of homeless people and beggars confronting them in the streets.
In a troubled world we are all, with the possible exception of the wealthy, affected by the impact of poverty and the hopelessness it causes. For the most part, middle-class people do not join terrorist groups or strap bombs to themselves before blowing themselves up in hotels. People with enough money are less likely to join international crime syndicates and peddle drugs, and few people with enough money take the risk to rob tourists in the streets,
Of course, there are exceptions, but they are rare,
The wealthy, while not completely protected from terrorism, can afford to employ security, build high fences, fly in private jets, drive in bullet-proofed cars and generally steer clear of the problem that they could fix, if they knew it was there or cared. Their wealth separates them from many issues associated with poverty.
These people will tell you that articles like this are about envy, or a war between the haves and have nots. But I would suggest that the poor are envious of people who work no harder than they do, but live so much better.
There is every reason why the not-so-wealthy should be bitter about the problems this disparity causes for everyone else. I, for one, argue that it is about time for some class warfare.