The Age of Inequality

by Russell Mokhiber And Robert Weissman

Here’s the latest evidence of the startling growth of income and wealth inequality, in the United States and around the world:

The Washington Post’s Ceci Connolly reports this week on the development of a new innovation in healthcare delivery: "boutique" or "concierge" coverage for the world’s super-elite.

Leading medical providers like the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore are establishing special programs to give platinum service to the well-heeled. Depending on the program, the super-rich customers may receive massages and sauna time along with their physical, housecalls, and step-to-the-front-of-the-line service in testing facilities.

Using these services are a worldwide elite class of business executives and royalty — the "winners" in a system of corporate globalization that is generating morally repugnant economic disparities.

Here are some other measures of the gains of the wealthy:

* Executive pay at top U.S. corporations climbed 571 percent from 1990 to 2000.

* There are presently nearly 500 billionaires worldwide.

* U.S. corporate tax payments are slated to drop to historic lows as a result of the tax bill enacted into law earlier this year. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, corporate taxes will plummet to only 1.3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product this year, the lowest since fiscal 1983, and the second lowest level in the last 60 years.

* More than half of the tax cuts enacted last year that are scheduled to take effect after 2002 will go to the best-off 1 percent of all U.S. taxpayers.

Even in the United States — the nation that is supposed to be the biggest winner from globalization — the average person has watched skyrocketing executive compensation and wealth accumulation, but has not been able to climb even a few steps up the economic ladder. Average real wages in the United States are at or below the wage rate of 1973.

Meanwhile, poverty remains pervasive in both the United States and around the world.

* One in six children in the United States live in poverty.

* In 2000, a full quarter of the U.S. population was earning poverty-level wages, according to the Economics Policy Institute.

* Around the world, 1.2 billion persons live on a dollar a day, or less.

* Tens of millions of children worldwide are locked out of school because their parents are unable to afford school fees.

* More than a million children die a year form diarrhea, because their families lack access to clean drinking water.

The Institute for Policy Studies has sought to put these disparities into perspective. The 497 billionaires in 2001 registered a combined wealth of $1.54 trillion, according to IPS, well over the combined gross national products of all the nations of sub-Saharan Africa ($929.3 billion) or those of the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and North Africa ($1.34 trillion). "This collective wealth of the 497 is also greater than the combined incomes of the poorest half of humanity," IPS concludes.

It’s not very easy to wrap one’s mind around the inhumanity of these numbers.

That is why it is so important to highlight anecdotes that put the problem in focus: the juxtaposition of concierge healthcare with the more than 40 million people in the United States who have no health insurance coverage at all, the contrast between the boutique care and the more than a million children dying each year because they don’t have clean water to drink.

Sometimes, we need to recognize obscene social arrangements for what they are, and demand something different.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.)

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman


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