It seems the rich have always been with us, at least in civilized times. Think, for example, of ancient Egypt with its ruling families who enslaved entire populations along the Nile, its Pharaohs regarded as gods, ordering fabulous tombs at inconceivable expense. The same hoarding pattern occurred along other great river systems, in Iraq, India, China.
In the more recent Colonial Period from the 16th century forward, based on money and banking, we see the same exploitation of peoples and resources spread over the entire globe.
It will come as no surprise to be told that the same parasitical activity continues today under Finance Capitalism.
Allow me to quote a handful of illuminating facts about the “feral rich.” These “facts,” gleaned from the New Internationalist (January/February 2013) cannot be more than approximate. Nevertheless they are bold enough to serve my purposes.
First, to name a few individuals, the wealthiest man in the world is Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico (where the disparity between rich and poor is the greatest among developed nations) with $69 billion. Bill Gates of the U.S. ranks second (I’m using his Windows to tattle on him) with $61 billion; Warren Buffet from the U.S. squeaks by with $44 billion; Bernard Arnault of France skimps onward with $41 billion. Gina Rineheart of Australia, who suggests that the poor “should spend less time in the pub,” is worth $28 billion.
In 2007 there were 946 billionaires. By 2012, the number of billionaires grew to 1,126. In the minor leagues are 29 multimillionaires and 29 million millionaires. Of the 29 million millionaires in the world, 37 per cent are in the U.S., 37 per cent in Europe, and 20 per cent in Asia-Pacific.
Many of these plutocrats have friends in high places. In the U.S., 47 per cent of the Members of Congress are millionaires. In Britain, 62 per cent of the Cabinet Ministers are millionaires. You wonder how it stands in Canada.
The rich and super rich make up eight per cent of the world’s adult population yet they covet 82 per cent of its wealth. The leftover 92 per cent of the world’s adult population have to make do with 18 per cent.
Most people already know that the crash of 2008 greatly benefited the rich. During the Economic Recovery Period of 2009-10 in the U.S. and Britain, during which the banks were bailed out and public spending was severely cut, 93 per cent of the “free money” went to the top one per cent. In the U.S., 37 per cent of these gains went to .01 per cent, that is, 15,000 Americans with incomes over $23 million.
Isn’t it ironic that the very perpetrators of the disastrous recession of 2008 should have profited so vastly from it?
By contrast, most people in the world are poor. While $2 a day is what 2.6 billion folks have to live on, Gina Rinehart has $52 million. In the U.S., where the middle class is fast joining the poor, a CEO earns in one minute what the average worker earns in one month.
What about Canada? Isn’t it different here? A calculation called the Gini Coefficient measures the inequality in the distribution of a nation’s wealth. Viewed in this framework, out of 17 peer countries, Canada ranks 11th, only a few steps below the U.S. Inequality has increased in Canada over the past 20 years. The Conference Board of Canada states, in fact, that inequality is growing even faster in Canada than in the U.S. The richest one per cent took almost one-third of all income gains from 1997 to 2007.
I hope these facts will alert us, in a general way, to the disposition of that sacred cow, the Economy. Most people are unaware how different things are now than “before.” It’s fair to say that over the past 20 years the distribution of wealth has shifted as much as environmental conditions.
But my point is not so much about the irresponsible rich as about the effect an unjust economy is having on the rest of us, for it is the 99 per cent who are burdened with financing the one percent. Not surprisingly, the current trend is particularly abusive to the poor.
Short of a complete re-doing of the present system of favouritism, the least we can ask for is that the super rich, including giant corporations, carry their weight by paying their fair share of taxes. It is estimated that tax-havens, like off-shore bank accounts, amount to an unbelievable $21 trillion! Think what that money could do if available to housing, education, and health care.
Maybe we could also ask the rich to stop suppressing wage increases, trashing unions, neglecting proper working conditions, financing political biases, subverting scientific findings, and undermining democracy. Just a few suggestions.
But time will tell. You know the old saying: A bad economic system carries the seed of its own destruction.