My house mate and I were in the kitchen chatting openly about the challenges left by racial segregation in South Africa. A conversation that many would find uncomfortable. She remarked how she was sad Apartheid happened. With the greater awareness I am cultivating, those simple words really stood out. I took a moment to reflect on my emotions about the subject, it happened, yes, it was evil, yes. Had I taken the time to be sad about it, not really no. I challenged myself how “matter-of-fact” I have been about Apartheid.
This realisation was reinforced on two more occasions. The first was when I read Born A Crime, the story about Trevor Noah’s childhood and the second, closer to home, was after reading an insight piece about a friend of mine I grew up with. A friend, who I assumed, had a childhood similar to mine, other than a few cultural differences. To learn that he had spent holidays selling fruit on the side of the road was admirable, to learn that I did not know this, was not admirable. Ten years together at school, day in, day out. Someone I considered myself close to and I did not know this very relevant aspect of his life.
Indoctrinated a Capitalist
Mention words like “Capitalism” and “Competition” and my mind wants to complete the sentence like a well known song lyric “..is good”.
I travelled to Aalborg in Denmark to visit a love refugee mate of mine. He is a post-Keynesian economist doing his doctorate. He had been living there for over a year when I came to visit. I remarked how high the tax rates were, he replied simply.
“Why do rich people need more money?”
I started a reflex answer, then stopped, I didn’t have a satisfactory answer.
Yes, I had the default answers of they work hard for it. There are many who work hard, there are many who work hard and do not get rewarded. Talent, effort and sacrifice should be rewarded according to contribution to society…proportionately rewarded. On the other side, sure there are those that take advantage of the benefit and welfare system, but there are far more marginalised and excluded than are allowed to abuse the system, where is the greater abuse happening? It is of course expensive to give a reasonably equal education opportunity to everyone, so that an individual’s success is more aligned to their abilities and efforts.
Another aspect, often unconsidered, is that overcoming obstacles to success, for example coming from a poorer background, helps develop traits that are highly valued such as grit and determination, hard work and obstacles are a great filter. The key is that the obstacles need to be surmountable (even if with some difficulty). Sure some might have an easier route than others, but those with a less clear path need access to the equipment needed and a route, if not an easy one.
Born a Crime – Well…born benefiting from the proceeds of a crime
I was conflicted as I listen to a friend who has just bought a four bedroom, three garage mansion for R4 million (£228k), he was complaining about the amount of tax he pays that is going to corrupt officials. Tax being squandered. It is a fair and valid gripe in isolation and I certainly understand how frustrating it is. Then I speak to another friend, someone who is battling to motivate his staff and reduce theft, the staff are earning R36,000 a year (£2k). It would take 111 years, 3 working life-times to buy the mansion.
The gripe is not only having to pay the tax, it’s how it is used. We should all want to live in a society where our future is not determined by fluke and if we are fortunate to earn enough, we should consider it a privilege to pay tax, with that tax then utilised effectively. We need a system where we are rewarded for our efforts. Not rewarded by the ovarian lottery. At the same time, we cannot discount one of the greatest motivations for working hard and overcoming apathy, which his provide a better life for our kids. If we truly want a world that is better for our (future) children, then, is that a world where they are relatively better, or a world that is better?
I have benefited from a system of privilege and exploitation. First in South Africa, as a white person which gave me an inherent privilege and then as British citizen, living off the wealth and infrastructure established in colonial era. It is unfair. Life is unfair. Saying it’s unfair isn’t going to help anyone. Complaining that it is unfair isn’t going to help anyone.
Doing Good Better – 10% Better
Doing Good Better makes my top five list* of books that have truly changed the way I view the world. It illustrated practical ways in how we can positively improve our impact, which are often contrarian to common thinking. It challenged my inherent beliefs.
With this in mind, taking a moment to reflect, I realise that I am not in control of the version of capitalism deployed, I am not in control of the tax system, I am not in a position where I can solve virtually any of the problems referenced above, I certainly cannot change the past. So what can I do?
I believe the world would be a vastly better place if everyone committed 10% of their time and/or money (one being a proxy for the other) making the world a better place. Perhaps this is making themselves better, to then be in a better position to help others, or perhaps in direct services of others.
There are plenty proponents of wealth redistribution. Unfortunately I believe the mechanism of the loudest, would generally result in a race to equality in poverty. The scale of the problem is just too prohibitive to overcome with one grand action, something more sustainable is needed.
I think a simpler, a less dramatic, perhaps more powerful idea, is for the fortunate and privileged (most people reading this?) to commit to contributing 10% towards making the world a better place. This 10% will compound and grow in impact through more people doing it and through the passage of time. Besides the direct impact, the greater awareness created will have amazing indirect effects as we consider our impact on others more. Think of the 10% as a tip for good service at the restaurant buffet of life.
Sure, perhaps we should give more or even all of it away (perhaps someone would like to have my debt too?), but I feel a bit like Warren Buffett (without the billions), in that I believe that I can grow what I have, so that I have more to give later.
10% of income (post tax) is a reference point, big enough to make an impact, not so restrictive that apathy wins. It is not a definitive amount, perhaps if cash is too big a constraint, how about 4hrs a week? – So 10% of a typical working week.
For the past few years, in my privilege, I have given at least 10% of my income and time to help others. This is a small repayment of my privilege and my challenge for you is to do the same.
To suddenly find 10% can be tricky, so perhaps people can start with:
- Consider a smaller amount, like 2%-5% and increase the amount with any increase in income.
- Donate time or even better, expertise.
- When putting your Will together, why not add 10% of your estate to charity. This is normally tax friendly and when I set up my will with Farewill (in about 10-15minutes), I included 10% to one of my favourite initiatives – Bulungula. It is also worth looking at Bees Abroad and Cool Earth.
- Perhaps it is time to evaluate your career trajectory? – Anyone Can Make a Difference