For this week's Common Good Forum, we are featuring Eric LeCompte, the executive director of Jubilee USA Network. Jubilee USA began when Pope John Paul ll and other religious leaders called for a debt Jubilee for the world's poorest countries. Since its founding, Jubilee USA has won critical global financial reforms and more than $130 billion in debt relief to benefit the world's poorest people.
The buzzword fluttering around the globe is inequality. The G20 debates how to solve it, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) defines it and Pope Francis places the term squarely in Catholic Teaching. What needs to happen to change the inequality numbers?
The numbers on inequality: 1 out of 5 human beings live in extreme poverty. The 85 richest individuals in the world hold more wealth than half of the entire world's population or more wealth than 3.5 billion people.
The IMF notes a cause of inequality is unsustainable country debt. This past Spring when my organization, Jubilee USA went to visit Pope Francis, we sat down with the Vatican Secretary of State to discuss why we have inequality and why our world still tolerates extreme poverty. The answers we discussed with Cardinal Parolin have their roots in global debt, tax and trade policies. Simply put, these policies keep an ultra-minority rich beyond belief and more than 20 percent of the worlds population in the worst, extreme, abject - struggling for food - poverty.
Jubilee USA, founded by the Catholic Church, Jewish groups and other Christian denominations, has won over 130 billion dollars in poor country debt relief and continues to win financial reforms that move people out of extreme poverty. In Washington our work is a bipartisan triumph: around the world we see fewer children dying of preventable illnesses, 52 million more African kids attending school and clean drinking water. We're about the sacred business of diminishing inequality by changing the laws that trap people in poverty.
Inequality is linked to a financial crisis that the vulnerable did nothing to cause but who bore the brunt of the consequences. The World Bank estimates that the financial crisis drove between 70 and 100 million people, mostly women and children, into extreme poverty. There's global consensus on the causes of this crisis: high unsustainable country debt, lack of revenue and speculative high-risk investment. Further, in the wake of financial crises from Greece to Argentina, a consensus evolved among world leaders, investors and big banks that some behavior is so extreme, so risky and so disruptive - it should be stopped. This predatory hedge fund behavior of so called "vulture funds," preys on distressed or developing economies.
World leaders agree on these problems and some solutions, but there is much more to do to change the inequality numbers. One of the ways we work to move solutions is by convening the voices of people who can move forward the global conversation.
In this context, Jubilee USA partnered with the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation to host a high-level panel during the Annual IMF and World Bank's October Meetings. The event featured panelists from the Bank of England, Franklin Templeton Investment, IMF and United Nation staff. The panel's general consensus was clear: we must work together to stop extreme behavior and make financial crisis less likely. The event took place weeks after we moved the United Nations General Assembly to begin a process that could end high debt, stop speculative investment and challenge financial crisis - a global bankruptcy process.
Our event and the UN vote shows that policy-makers view addressing debt, revenue, transparency and predatory funds as essential in building an economy that works towards the common good. Our IMF event advanced real solutions to the problems that poor economies grapple with: unsustainable debt, austerity programs and speculative investors.
While we convened decision makers in Washington at the IMF, Catholic communities were praying for Jubilee from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Wichita, Kansas. These Catholic groups joined with 150 Jubilee faith communities across the US to end global poverty and challenge inequality. During this "Jubilee Weekend," religious communities discussed the debt, tax and trade policies that cause inequality. People of faith ask why as Guinea battles the Ebola plague are they paying more on debt payments than on healthcare? We ask why for every 10 dollars in official developing country aid does 150 dollars leave poor countries in corruption, corporate tax avoidance and unjust debt payments?
As people of faith, we must advocate for change in the policies that perpetuate inequality and extreme poverty. We must build Jubilee.