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Eliminating Extremes of Wealth and Poverty
The unity of humankind foreseen by Bahá'u'lláh is one based on justice. One of the most striking examples of injustice in the world today is the grave imbalance in economic and material conditions. A relatively small percentage of humankind has immense wealth, while the majority of the world's population lives in dire poverty and misery. This imbalance exists both within nations and between nations.
A satisfactory solution to the world's present economic crisis lies in a profound change of heart and mind which only religion can produce. From the Bahá'í perspective, the prevailing materialistic assumptions about economic development reflect a profound error of conception about human nature itself. 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote that "The fundamentals of the whole economic condition are divine in nature and are associated with the world of the heart and spirit."1 "The disease which afflicts the body politic is lack of love and absence of altruism."2
Bahá'u'lláh asserts that economic injustice is a moral evil and as such is condemned by God. In particular, Bahá'u'lláh warns:
O YE RICH ONES ON EARTH!
The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.3
O CHILDREN OF DUST!
Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth.4
The human and material resources at our disposal must be used for the long-term good of all, not for the short-term advantage of a few. This can be done only if cooperation becomes the basis of organized economic activity. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that cooperation gives life to society just as the life of an organism is maintained by the cooperation of the various elements of which it is composed:
...the base of life is this mutual aid and helpfulness, and the cause of destruction and non-existence would be the interruption of this mutual assistance. The more the world aspires to civilization the more this important matter of cooperation becomes manifest.5
Within the framework of an economic system based on cooperation, the Bahá'í teachings allow for the private ownership of property and the need for private economic initiative. Moreover, the economic principles taught by Bahá'u'lláh do not imply that all individuals should receive the same income. There are natural differences in human needs and capacities, and some categories of service to society merit greater recompense than others.
However, all strata of income should be established within absolute limits. There must be, on the one hand, a minimum income level that meets the basic needs of human well-being and of which all are assured. If, for whatever reason (either incapacity or some other misfortune), individuals are unable to meet their essential needs, they would be assisted by community institutions. On the other hand, there should be an absolute maximum income level that would prevent extreme accumulations of wealth.
In short, the Bahá'í teachings envision that economic justice and prosperity will come about only when the essential connection between the spiritual and practical aspects of life is recognized.
- 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 2nd ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 238.
- 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 7, pp. 147-8.
- Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985), p. 41.
- Ibid., p. 39.
- Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Divine Art of Living (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1944), p. 108.
* Adapted from Bahá'í Topics, an information resource produced by the Bahá'í International Community.