Saturday, December 07, 2013

The gap that just keeps growing

     Something about being in the capital of Honduras in the runup to Christmas has really brought the income disparity issue home to me. I was in one of the big malls this week looking for books to take back to the Angelitos Felices kids as a gift, and seeing all those shiny $25 children's books that rich Hondurans are buying for their own kids just made me really sad.
   The gap between the rich and the poor exists everywhere, of course. In Canada, the average income for the top 20 per cent of the population is 5.5 times as much as the bottom 20 per cent. But in Honduras, the top fifth earn almost 30 times as much as the bottom fifth. (In the U.S. in 2012, incomes for the top 1 per cent grew by 20 per cent compared to a 1 per cent growth for everybody else, creating the biggest income gap since the 1920s.)
    Just how much wealth Honduras actually has is never clearer than when you're in Tegucigalpa, where the malls just keep getting bigger and the prices in the high-end designer stores are the same as what you'd find in the same store in New York City.
    The contrast is disconcerting. In the capital, you could be dining at a super-flash Thai restaurant in Tegucigalpa listening to a fine jazz trio (see my little video above) even while the 14 kids at Angelitos back in Copan Ruinas are scratching by on the simplest diet imaginable in a children's home that regularly has neither electricity nor water because the woman who runs it can't afford to pay the bills.
    I really hope the campesinos that my organization works with never have to see just how rich Tegus is, because the one saving grace about being poor in Honduras is knowing that so many others are poor too that it's almost a normal state. I fear it just might break their hearts to see for themselves how unbelievably wealthy some of their countrymen are, including their political leaders.
   Wealth distribution ought to be a subject that consumes all of us. The gap between the rich and poor is tied to every health indicator out there, and is a significant determinant of the future of a country. If Honduras just took two per cent of the earnings of the top fifth and redistributed that money to the poorest fifth - as education scholarships, for instance - it would effectively increase their income by 40 per cent.
    So much positive change at the bottom of the income scale, so little impact on those with the big money. But the rich and powerful in the country just keep on pocketing that wealth and leaving it to international development organizations to bail out Honduras' poor. Makes a person want to pack up the development tent and go home.


La Gringa said...

You write such insightful articles.

It's even more disheartening to know that many of those very rich and their companies don't pay their taxes, don't pay for their electric usage (huge for some companies), cheat the government with abusive contracts (with help, of course, from corrupt officials), cheat their employees, get their products imported without paying duties, and on and on and on. That's just the way it is in Honduras.

On the other hand, if they did pay their fair share of everything, would corrupt politicians just steal it all anyway? It does seem hopeless sometimes.

Owen Gray said...

Thirty-five years ago, my wife and I visited Haiti, Jody. You cannot close your eyes to that kind of inequality. It is there every time you open them.