As the rich get richer

Poverty is endemic in capitalism. The rigid laws of the free market are daily pushing millions to the fringes of society. From the wealthier states to the poorer, the ranks of the poor are swelling as globalization exacerbates the uneven distribution of wealth. According to World Bank data, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population – mostly residents of Europe and the US – own more than 40 percent of global wealth. The wealthiest 10 percent owns 85 percent of that wealth. The UN has persistently called on governments to take social solidarity measures. In Greece, President Karolos Papoulias has spearheaded the campaign for social justice – at least on a moral level. «No society can really prosper when outrageous economic inequalities threaten social cohesion.» Poverty in Greece affects some 20 percent of the population (in 2004, the poverty line stood at an annual 5,650 euros per head) and the closely knit Greek family tends to sustain the more needy of its members. On Wednesday, the government announced a bill for the establishment of a National Fund for Social Cohesion. The fund’s resources will eventually total around 2 billion euros. But the government’s good intentions risk being undermined by the party scavengers that squander taxpayers’ money earmarked for social welfare. Although Greece’s social spending as a percentage of GDP nearly equals the European average (26 percent against 27.8 percent) only 13 percent of the poor manage to escape the poverty line, compared to 38.5 percent in Europe. Why? Because, as in the health and education sectors, large chunks of taxpayers’ money end up in the pockets of unscrupulous party officials who are supposed to be managing it.