That Pesky Gap Between Rich and Poor

  • Written by  Marco Cáceres

One of my favorite sayings by Confucius is, "When a country is well governed, poverty and corruption are things to be ashamed of. When a country is poorly governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of." The words surface occasionally when I think about Honduras and the extreme income inequality that exists within its society. I thought about it, for example, when the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) came out in November with a report on how income inequality in the country has increased dramatically since 2010. I think about it each year when the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) publishes its Human Development Report and consistently lists Honduras among the 15 countries in the world with the greatest levels of income inequality. 

I think about it whenever I see World Bank data listing Honduras alongside countries like Angola, the Central African Republic, Haiti, and Namibia in terms of income inequality.

 

In Honduras, the wealthiest 20 percent of the population accounts for 60 percent of the income earned, while the poorest 20 percent of the population account for only 2.2 percent of the income. Three-quarters of the people in Honduras live on three dollars or less per day, while half of these live on one dollar or less daily.

 

In lay terms, the relatively few possess an awful lot of wealth, while the sizable many are left to make due with, well... mostly crumbs. This is a serious problem in developing countries like Honduras because it is akin to a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Eventually, the masses become so frustrated, enraged, and filled with desperation and hopelessness that they feel they have nothing to lose by rising up and creating chaos in order to shake up the powers that be into realizing that the status quo cannot continue, and that if it does then there will be a high price to pay by all. As John Shelby Spong correctly observed, "You can't have a world where 50 percent of the people are dieting and 50 percent of the people are starving if you want stability."

 

So the question is, "When will the ruling class in Honduras awake from its cozy slumber?" The political crisis provoked by President Manuel Zelaya in 2008-2009 and escalated by those who overthrew him on June 28, 2009 were symptoms of a deep sickness in Honduras that cannot be cured by exercises such as a new presidential election and calls to national reconciliation alone. Without addressing the core problem of extreme inequality, and thus injustice, in Honduras, the illness is bound to grow more severe.

 

Of course, everyone tends to agree about the need for more equality and justice in Honduras, but it's hard to arrive at a consensus on what exactly this means or how to go about attaining it. This is the eternal dilemma in countries where there is so much of an imbalance of power, because those who have the bulk of the power feel no urgency to be generous and act boldly, and those who have almost none sense they do not have the luxury to remain patient, rational, and simply continue talking.

 

The few in Honduras with so much will never have true peace if they chose to remain blind to the suffering of the many with so little. And it is not so much a matter of having compassion or doing the right thing. It really has to do with self interest, because ultimately the wealthy and powerful will be so surrounded by the poor and powerless that they will, in effect, become hostages in their gated homes and communities. Their freedom of mobility will grow increasingly limited and guarded. That is no way to live. (1/5/14) (image courtesy Internet)

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Note: The author is the editor and cofounder of Honduras Weekly. He is an aerospace market analyst by profession. He was born in Tegucigalpa. He is the author of "The Good Coup: The Overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras".

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