It’s been almost a month since flames destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but the heat of the fundraising discussions lingers on. In less than 48 hours, the Notre Dame restoration fund received more than 300 million USD in donations from French billionaires. Listing all of the issues that would benefit from such a huge financial input would take up all the pages of this month’s Herald volume, and that would still not be enough. Humanitarian crises continue in Syria, Myanmar, and South Sudan to name just a few — civil wars and many other adverse situations that could be mitigated with such funding.
I do not deny the historical significance of Notre Dame. I acknowledge that it is an important historical symbol of France. I was also upset to hear the news of this magnificent building being destroyed by fire. Therefore, it is not Notre Dame’s restoration, nor the amount of money pledged to restore the cathedral, but rather the rate at which this money was collected that caused my frustration.
The Notre Dame fire showed that the rich are able to donate enormous amounts of money towards a “common goal”. While no one doubts the historical significance of the monumental cathedral where Napoleon once proclaimed himself the emperor, there are other undoubtedly more urgent and important problems around the world that also need significant donations.
While talking about the Notre Dame funding case, we have to keep in mind that this is a single instance of a larger issue. The wealth gap and wealth redistribution have been relevant societal problems since capitalism emerged as the dominant system determining the socio-economic relations in our world. Of course there have been attempts to solve these problems, but the communist Bolsheviks, who tried to create an equal society without the poverty, became a terrifying warning rather than an inspiring example.
But the failure of one group should not stop future attempts to ensure a proper redistribution of the global wealth. The richest, top-one-percent of the people on Earth possess as much as half of all the world’s riches. In the span of the last fifteen years, the net wealth of all billionaires in the world has increased by six trillion USD. Meanwhile, the World Bank has estimated that providing everyone on the planet with safe drinking water would cost 150 billion USD a year, which only equals the net worth of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk combined.
One could say that this is still a huge amount of money that no billionaire would be willing to give away. But even then, the cost of eliminating polio, according to the World Economic Forum, is estimated at 1.5 billion USD. Of all the billionaires on Forbes list, perhaps Bill Gates is the only man who has contributed significantly towards the eradication of infectious diseases. Imagine the global effect if the world had more than one altruistic billionaire.
Yanis Varoufakis, a former minister of economics in Greece, estimated that in 2015, financial institutions had 5.1 trillion USD remaining in bank accounts. This enormous mountain of money was doing nothing but contributing to stagnant wages and global recessions.
While scientists have been developing sustainable technologies that would improve the quality of life on Earth, the rest of the world is barely benefiting from them, simply because these discoveries need large donations of money to be distributed to places of need. It is not happening, not because we don’t have enough money to solve major problems on our planet. It is not happening because we do have enough money, but in the hands of those who are not interested in improving the world for everyone.