Can Asia lead the global fight to cure the poverty pandemic as the US lags behind?
- Some leaders in the region are showing signs of a new, collective economic conscience that challenges the Wall Street orthodoxy
- While Fumio Kishida and Xi Jinping head efforts towards a more equal society, Joe Biden’s attempts to do likewise are crumbling in Congress
Just as the 2008 financial meltdown oozed over the world with volcanic heat and the 1997 Asian financial crisis unhinged otherwise stable economies, so the grinding dynamic of widening inequality threatens our humanity, sense of justice and psychic equilibrium.
The culprit is not Asia. Some leaders in the region are surfacing with a sense of collective economic conscience that challenges Wall Street, which is hardly the gold standard in the category of caring about global economic inequality.
To be sure, Japan having a new prime minister is not especially novel. The country has changed leaders 11 times since April 2000.
Whether motivated by mere populism, new-found election campaign nerves or just conscience, Kishida’s recent comments merit a serious look. Measurements of Japan’s wealth gap show the country to be one of Asia’s lesser ethically malformed economies.
Nonetheless, at a news conference last week, Kishida admitted the government’s need to direct more wealth to households rather than corporations. He said: “In order to achieve strong economic growth, it’s not enough to rely just on market competition. That won’t deliver the fruits of growth to the broader population.”
For his part, President Xi Jinping has surely noticed the new guy in Tokyo and, considering his own views on the wealth gap, might well closely watch Japan’s national election results at the end of the month. China’s leader seems as complex as the country he rules and, in terms of social conscience, he deserves to be heard.
Xi also raised another salient political point in that Qiushi article, saying, “China must prevent polarisation, promote common prosperity and achieve social harmony and stability.” Yes, the issue Xi is facing is a destabilising monster, a mushrooming global leviathan.
That is unfortunate as its central conception – that America’s rich need to pay more so its less fortunate can ease their suffering – is the right way for the country to go at a time of rising inequality. In 2018, the top 1 per cent of US earners averaged almost 40 times more income than the bottom 90 per cent.
The best American ethos is that everyone must have a chance. “People often feed the hungry so that nothing may disturb the enjoyment of a good meal,” the late English novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham quipped in his diary. The trick is to solve the problem of wealth disparity without levelling the playing field so much that no one has any money to speak of and not much to eat.
It is possible that Beijing’s centralised political system, for all its central-command authoritarianism, might be no more adept than Washington’s decentralised circus. But the American people might get other ideas if the US does not start doing the right thing while Xi’s China shows progress.
One can almost imagine that, very far east of Eden, insufferable moral infants will find themselves stuck in the mud of indifference and never manage to entertain a progressive thought towards reducing socioeconomic inequality.
LMU Professor Tom Plate is also vice-president of the Pacific Century Institute in Los Angeles