Oxfam, a global, non-government organization (NGO) working to end poverty, recently completed a detailed report on the state of the world economy. The primary conclusion of their report is that the world economy "is broken, with hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty while huge rewards go to those at the very top."
Oxfam points out that while poverty remains a problem for nearly half of the world's population, the number of billionaires has doubled in the past decade with the super-rich and corporations paying taxes at steadily declining rates. According to Oxfam's analysis, there are 26 billionaires who own the same wealth as humanity's poorest 3.8 billion, who live on less than $5.50 per day.
A major result of the increasing concentration of wealth among a select few is a lack of essential public services across large portions of the world's population. Education and healthcare are examples of the services unavailable in many areas that people need to live basic, meaningful lives. Children are particularly impacted. Child deaths from disease, starvation and conflicts have been increasing. Starvation alone kills an estimated 20,000 children a day around the world.
The underlying principle upon which most national economies operate is capitalism. While those countries that have industrialized under a capitalist system have generally achieved higher standards of living, a severe negative aspect of capitalism is that it exacerbates income inequality, tending to concentrate wealth among a relatively small percentage of the population. Capitalism also fails to factor in what are called 'negative externalities'. For example, pollution is a negative externality that is generally not figured into the cost of production, thereby leading to more pollution than if the costs associated with the harm done by pollution had to be paid by corporations or businesses in the same manner as other resources used to produce a good or service. Climate change, in fact, is a direct result of the failure of capitalism to account for such negative externalities.
Another problem is the way we measure economic prosperity. The most common model currently in use by economists is the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. GDP is the total value of all of the goods and services made within a country within a given period. GDP is not, however, a measure of well-being. For example, it includes all of the expenditures that contribute to pollution and the money spent on jails or conducting warfare. Not measured are such things as life expectancy, infant mortality, crime or poverty.
So, if we're going to improve people's well-being, we need a better way of measuring our economies. A prime example of a better indicator is the Human Development Index, or HDI, sponsored by the United Nations. The HDI measures a country's standing in areas of health, education and income, providing a much better estimate of a population's well-being than GDP. An example of how the two measures differ is that while the United States, China and Japan occupy the top GDP rankings, their HDI rankings are 13th, 86th and 19th respectively, i.e., the populations of the United States, China and Japan are not as well off as their GDP numbers would indicate.
While there is no panacea for fixing income inequality and lifting the poorest half of the world out of poverty, a good starting point is to ensure that everyone pays their fair share of their income in taxes, particularly those at the top of the income ladder. The increased revenue could then be used to ensure that everyone has access to the basic set of services they need to succeed, such as healthcare, education, electricity, clean water and proper sanitation.
The Secular Community believes that greater democracy, coupled with secularism, would lead to greater overall happiness and prosperity across the globe. But that's not just a belief, it is born out by the facts, data compiled on nations across our planet.
The most democratic countries that also rank among the least religious are Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom. Here is how those countries rank on key indicators from among nearly 200 existing nations:
|Nation||Happiness Index||Prosperity Index||Global Peace Index||Healthcare Access|
By contrast, the most religious nations are Niger, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Burundi, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia and Afghanistan. Their key rankings are:
|Nation||Form of Government||Happiness Index||Prosperity Index||Global Peace Index||Healthcare Access|
|Sri Lanka||Flawed Democracy||116||53||67||71|
Even the great religious leaders have doubts about the efficacy of their religion's beliefs and practices. In early 2017 it was the Pope, who lashed out at the large numbers of Catholics who were leading what he called a double life, calling themselves Catholics but not following Christian values, exploiting people for their own selfish gains. He was quoted as saying "but to be a Catholic like that, it's better to be an atheist."
Next it was the Dali Lama who, in February 2018 tweeted "Although I am a Buddhist monk, I am skeptical that prayers alone will achieve world peace. We need instead to be enthusiastic and self-confident in taking action."
The lessons are clear. Religion doesn't have a corner on morality. It is often a facade. It's not what you call yourself, it's what you do. Just claiming to believe in a supernatural being and joining a group of professed believers doesn't cut it. It's the moral code that you believe in and follow that counts. And prayers won't solve the world's problems. It takes concerned people, rolling up their sleeves to do the work that needs to be done to make the world a better place.
Donald Trump is likeliest the most dishonest President in U.S. history. The Washington Post has been tracking his lies since he took office and in Trump's first year, he has made more than 2000 false or misleading claims, unprecedented for a politician, let alone the President of the United States. To date, more than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Although he denies the allegations, when it's this many women, the man is obviously a serial abuser. In addition, there's more than sufficient evidence to conclude that Trump is a racist and a bully. The man is morally bankrupt.
So who elected such a poor excuse for a human being?
The Pew Research Center has broken down the 2016 election results by religious affiliation. It was Protestants and White Catholics that put Trump in the White House. Those listed as religiously unaffiliated tallied only 26% for Trump. With the overwhelming majority of Americans calling themselves Christian, so much for the argument that we need religion to be moral.
Even in the 21st century, there are a significant number of people who believe that prayer and religious faith can cure disease and heal physical ailments. Before modern science and our understanding of what causes various diseases and afflictions, it was perhaps understandable that people would grasp at any possibility, plausible or otherwise, to bring about healing. Religion, whose origins were fueled by ignorance in how the real world worked, was there to offer up the false hope for a cure through faith and prayer.
Today, however, faith healing is panned as pseudoscience by virtually all of today's scientists and doctors. And yet it persists, to the detriment of many, including children, who have fallen victim to its consequences.
Five thousand years ago, human life expectancy was estimated to have been about 26 years. Only marginal improvements were realized in life expectancy until the dawn of modern medicine in the early 19th century. Although there are a number of contributing factors, it is safe to say that advancements in science and medicine are largely responsible for today's average life expectancy being more than 67 years, with many countries far exceeding that number.
Science and medicine do not yet provide all of the answers to the diseases that affect us. But each year there are more and more breakthroughs. It's the ongoing application of science to the field of medicine that is realizing those breakthroughs. Thanks to the invention of the vaccine, smallpox, once a global scourge, has been eradicated. The incidences of polio and measles have been significantly diminished, and progress has also been made on fighting many other diseases. Faith and religion can only be an impediment to such progress. In his recent book Faith Versus Fact, author Jerry Coyne makes a strong case that science and religion are incompatible and that we must choose between them as a way forward.
One has to acknowledge that scientific advancements have frequently been a mixed blessing. Improvements applied to agriculture fueled the rise of the industrial revolution, which has driven climate change. Advancements in the weapons of war have enabled greater levels of carnage on the battlefield and have more than once brought us to the brink of nuclear annihilation.
But without science, we would still be dying of diseases that have long since been cured and the overwhelming majority of humans would still be living in abject poverty. Science and reason, properly leveraged, can help us solve the major problems still before us. Religion can only continue to dilute our efforts at progress and divide us.