It’s that time of year again: the Davos World Economic Forum is upon us – that annual event when the global business elites come together in a Swiss ski resort to discuss the state of the world economy. Attended by the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett, it doesn’t take a genius to envisage the sorts of conversations which take place there.
In response to this astonishing gathering of the planet’s wealth and power, Oxfam have – over the past few years – timed the release of their annual report on global inequality to coincide with the Forum. While the results have never exactly been uplifting, their most recent report, published this week, has revealed the absurd contradictions of the capitalist system in a way that few other statistics can match.
In 2014 we heard that “almost half of the world’s wealth is owned by the top one percent of the population”, and last year we were told that the richest sixty-two multi-billionaires in the world controlled as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population – approximately 3.6 billion people.
This year, however, in light of new, more accurate, data sets, this already incredibly low figure has been lowered even further – from sixty-two to just eight people! So much for the “trickle-down” economy; it would be far more accurate, it seems, to describe capitalism as “trickle-up”!
The report, as expected, has been extremely divisive – highlighting the class divide in society and the conflict of interests between the bosses and the bankers, on one side, and workers and the poor on the other.
We have Oxfam, on the one hand, stating that the report is proof that we are facing a “global crisis of inequality”, correctly explaining that the recent political earthquakes such as Brexit and Trump’s presidential win are expressions of this deep sense of economic injustice, which is fuelling polarisation across the globe.
On the other hand, we see big business elites and bourgeois economists plugging their ears and insisting that Oxfam has it all wrong! They continue to sit in their ivory towers, debating petty details and attempting to throw dust in our eyes whilst millions across the globe suffer under this unjust system. Some economists have insisted that the focus should be on absolute poverty, not relative inequality. But such hair-splitting distinctions merely serve to highlight the fact that, by refusing to acknowledge the true implications of Oxfam’s report, these venerable ladies and gentlemen are nothing more than apologists for the super-rich and their exploitative system.
We see a similar situation here to that surrounding the NHS in Britain today. On the one hand, we have the Red Cross proclaiming that there is a “humanitarian crisis” in the NHS, with many patients unable to receive adequate healthcare. On the other hand, meanwhile, Mrs May and her cabinet of thieves decry such warnings as “scaremongering” – whilst continuing to starve the NHS in order to pave the way for privatisation!
The absurdity is plain to see. Indeed, even reliable representatives of the Establishment such as outgoing US Vice President, Joe Biden, and head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, have warned their peers at the WEF in Davos this week about the social tensions created by such eye-watering inequality.
It is increasingly clear, however, that the solution to society’s problems does not – indeed, cannot – lie with the elites or the out-of-touch politicians who defend them. At root, capitalism is an inherently unequal system. The wealth of the privileged few is based upon the exploitation and the poverty of the many. The only way to get rid of inequality is to put an end to capitalism and fight for a socialist society, with an economy based, not on the profits of the billionaires, but on the needs of the billions.
By Andrew Williams, Oxford Marxists
Global inequality fuels social unrest
Every few months we are presented with another report on global wealth inequality; and with every new report comes renewed concern about the gap between rich and poor. When deciphering Oxfam’s latest figures on wealth distribution, it’s hard not to gasp at the grotesque levels of inequality that exists within our society. The world’s wealthiest eight men have the same amount wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population combined, a truly terrifying statistic that is understandably met with outrage across the world.
The steady rise in income inequality has been happening since the 1970’s, when wages were being slashed and industries were being privatised for greater profits. These profits never “trickled down”, as the capitalists told us they would, leaving workers with low wages while the CEO’s at the top raked in all the money. Since the 2008 financial crash, the number of billionaires in the world has doubled, while real median incomes for ordinary households has seen a steady decline in wages. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has warned that the UK is experiencing a decade of lost wage growth, the worst in 70 years. Such inequality is becoming increasingly hard to justify, and workers around the world are beginning to fight back.
It has become somewhat of a cliché to describe 2016 as the year that changed everything, but there is much truth in this analysis. The election of Donald Trump in the United States and the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union has upended a global order that has been in place for many decades. The wealthy elites were baffled by these events, bemoaning the fact that their liberal world order was being eroded, while failing to recognise the discontent many voters had with regards to their economic security.
Workers from all corners of the globe are sick and tired of wealthy individuals soaking up all the world’s riches, whilst the poor and the working class are left with meagre pay checks, often struggling to pay rent or put food on the table. Adding insult to injury, governments across the world have continued with their draconian austerity programmes aimed at slashing vital public sectors such as health and education. The cuts in public spending are deliberate attempts to continue privatising key sectors, in order for wealthy elite to make greater profits, whilst making the 99% pay for the crisis of the 1%’s system.
The United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned of increased social unrest across the world, as workers respond to the harsh economic climate with which they are faced. “There is growing uncertainty everywhere it would seem, whether it’s economic or political. This is something we seem to be living with and they are reinforcing one another,” said Steven Tobin, ILO senior economist and lead author of the report.
Global organisations of the Establishment such as the UN are now recognising the threat that wealth and income inequality poses to capitalist society’s continued existence. The social consequences of such stark economic cleavages are quickly dawning on the elite and their political representatives. At the beginning of 2017, the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the world is faced with a very uncertain future.
By Eduard Swanepoel, Reading Marxists