Let’s Disrupt Income Inequality

Vancouver, Canada can be an expensive Paradise.

Our family is lucky to live in a diverse neighborhood, with cottages that sell for $2 million, condos that sell for $500,000, basement suites that rent for $1500 a month, cooperative apartments that rent for $750 a month, and buses to nearby homeless shelters.

Here, you can’t turn away from economic inequality. You see its results in high suicide rates among marginalized groups, poor health among the underemployed, vulnerability of people living on the street.

We’re a family of educators. Through our work, we provide access to educational services, social networks, and empowering ideologies for marginalized groups. We raise awareness about discrimination in hiring, social services and health care allocations. We spread an inclusive social vision.

And yet. Most days we feel we make little difference. Because we’re part of a system that keeps generating inequality.

We support the social democratic vision of Canada’s New Democratic Party. We gladly pay high income taxes that fund a large (though inadequate) social services net. We donate to private organizations that provide additional services. We give cash and food gift certificates to beggars.

And yet. It seems a mere drop in a deep, empty bucket. But what bucket should we be filling? The “system” isn’t monolithic; it’s a set of overlapping attitudes, processes, and laws. If we want to work for change, where should we put our energy?

Maybe Torah’s social ethics can help. The Book of Deuteronomy, chapters 14-15, describes three causes of inequality, and appropriate responses to each: (1) episodic causes; (2) systematic discrimination; and (3) systemic greed.

(1) Episodic causes: Illness, family disruption, and natural disasters happen, leaving people without work or assets. Others can and should respond, Torah says, offering food, clothing, and interest-free loans.

(2) Systematic discrimination: Many groups are typically targeted, including women, foreigners, and people who don’t own property. End this discrimination, Torah says, by developing empathy. Remember that people migrate. At some point in history, members of your group, too, have been landless foreigners.

(3) Systemic greed. If you already have money, it’s easier to invest and make more money. If you are forced to live on borrowed money, repayment can erode the solid foundation you try to build. Laws often favor those who have and lend money; lawmakers rarely question their favorites’ need to be richer. Overturn that legal favoritism once in a while, Torah says. Try something radical like canceling loan repayment every seven years.

Where should we direct our energy? Into three projects, Torah says. (1) Improve your personal actions: donate more time, services and money. (2) Improve your inner thoughts and feelings: deepen empathy; erase discrimination from your heart. (3) Improve your country’s laws: work hard for visionary change.

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