By Frei Betto

The UN released a shocking portrait of the world we live in: the document "The crossroads of inequality." Barely a billion of them, citizens of developed countries, account for 80% of the world's wealth.

The UN released a shocking portrait of the world we live in: the document "The inequality predicament" (The crossroads of inequality). Barely a billion of them, citizens of developed countries, account for 80% of the world's wealth.

In the last four decades, the per capita income of the richest countries has almost tripled. Among the poorest it only grew 25.94%. Out of 73 countries with reliable statistics, between 1950 and 1990 inequality grew in 46 countries, in 16 it remained stable, and only decreased in 9.

Imagine all the consumer goods in the world. Now think that 86% of them remain in the hands of only 20% of the world's population. And 20% of the poorest in the world share only 1.3% of these assets.

The world is divided into more or less 240 nations. See the difference between the 20 richest countries and the 20 poorest. The former use 74% of the telephone lines, while the others only 1.5%. The richest 20 consume 45% of the meat and fish offered by the market, and the poorest 20 only 5%. In terms of energy, the 20 richest countries consume 58%, while the 20 poorest only 4%. Regarding paper, 87% of production is in the 20 richest countries, and 1% in the 20 poorest.

In four decades the income of the 20 richest countries almost tripled: in 2002 it reached the level of US $ 32,339 per person. In the 20 poorest countries it grew only 26%, to reach US $ 267.

In Latin America, poverty was frozen in the last two decades of the 20th century, but inequality increased. At the beginning of the 90s, the 10% of the richest of the continent had up to 45% of the national income. In Brazil, the poorest 10% have an income 32 times higher than that of the poorest 40%. We are one of the champions of inequality, despite the fact that our social indices have improved under the Lula government.

The report confirms that it is not enough to fight poverty, but that the causes of inequality must also be addressed. In other words, without income distribution there is no way to promote social inclusion. And the class difference does not happen only between rich and poor countries. Within the rich there are also serious social differences. The portion of the richest 1% of the United States has in their hands 17% of the national income.

Two factors have contributed to widening the chasm between rich and poor: technological advance on the one hand and the disregard for labor on the other. The more advanced the technology, the fewer jobs there are. A computer on an architecture desk, for example, is capable of throwing a good number of people into unemployment. In their quest for excessive profit, companies are trying to find all over the world who can work more and earn less.

According to the American union organization AFL-CIO, in the next ten years the United States will export some 14 million jobs. That means that they will stop offering jobs inside the home to exploit cheap foreign labor without job and social security.

Worldwide, half of the people who work - about 1.39 billion - live on less than US $ a day; and a quarter receive a maximum of US $ 1 a day. In Brazil, half of the workers depend on informal employment, which is often synonymous with poverty.

This gloomy panorama cannot be reversed, according to Brazilian Roberto Guimarães, coordinator of the UN report, but with more schooling and a minimum income policy. "We have to review the structure of the world economy," he said. He added: “If we want a less asymmetric globalization, when it comes to work, we should have an international employment framework. This was the case with the environment a few decades ago, when industries settled where there were fewer environmental laws. Today there is an ISO (international certification) and that perverse discussion no longer occurs ”.

The report shows that, in Brazil, (lack of) education is responsible for 50% of inequality. The average difference in salary between a person with a higher degree and one without studies is 814%. The tuition rate at the university is 16%; in Argentina and Chile 40%.

Without changing the current national and international economic model, focused on the concentration of income, there is nothing to indicate that in the next report we will have better indices. Although there is always hope.

Frei Betto is a writer, author of the detective novel “Hotel Brasil”, among other books. Translation by J.L. Burguet. December 12, 2005

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