Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Politics of Inequality

Dublin.

Stop the presses! Inequality is still getting worse. Last year, prior to the start of the Davos World Economic Forum, Oxfam came out with its briefing paper, Working for the Few: Political Capture and Economic Inequality, stating that “Economic inequality is rapidly increasing in the majority of countries.” We all remember the chilliest of soundbites: 85 people equal 3.5 billion, an almost unimaginable see-saw of inequality, indifference, and greed. Well, this year Oxfam stated that only 80 people equal 3.5 billion. Not exactly the progress most people were calling for.

In this year’s briefing paper Wealth: Having It All And Wanting More, Oxfam added that “Global wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small wealthy elite. These wealthy individuals have generated and sustained their vast riches through their interests and activities in a few important economic sectors, including finance and pharmaceuticals/healthcare.” It’s as if we’re playing a real-life game of Monopoly.

What is more, one billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day, while the wealth of the richest 80 has doubled since 2009 and now equals almost $2 trillion. That’s correct, 80 people now have a collective wealth of almost $2 trillion, including such household business names as Bill Gates at $80.6 billion, Warren Buffet at $72.7 billion, Christy Walton and family at $41.6, and the Koch brothers at $41 billion each. The ascent of money is paralleled by the descent of man.

The Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima aptly noted: “Do we really want to live in a world where the one percent own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”

So what can be done? I mean really? In Davos, business leaders, members of governments, academics, and Nobel laureates, have been getting together for their annual meeting since 1971 to discuss such important global issues as the economy. It’s like a state-of-the-world address or a heads-up to the business-minded on what’s coming round the corner.

A record number are attending this year to talk about “Economic Growth and Social Inclusion,” in between the celebrity wine fests. According to one journalist (“Davos uncovered: What really goes on at the Alpine power-fest, The Independent, January 24, 2007), Davos is in fact “the greatest talking shop on earth” with “parties and dinners, not to mention the opportunity to work off the night before with a morning on the slopes.” This year, José Manuel Barroso, Christine Lagarde, Katie Couric, Melinda Gates, Charlie Rose, Ban Ki-moon, Kenneth Rogoff, George Soros, and Mark J. Carney among others are there to talk about new ideas in a “global village that is both moving closer together and drifting further apart” as are Angela Merkel, François Hollande, and Matteo Renzi in special sessions throughout the 4-day forum.

Not to be outdone by all the good talking at Davos, Barack Obama gave his seventh State-of-the Union address to Congress, with no more messin’ around. Clearly Obama doesn’t want to be remembered for “Yes we can,” “Yes we could have,” or “No, unh, I’m sorry, we never did.” This time the kid gloves came off as he proposed a plan to Congress to resuscitate a flat-lining middle class. His deficit-neutral math will in no uncertain terms force the trickle-down from the ultra-high earners to the ultra-low earners, redistributing $320 billion in taxes and fees. Or will it?

His planned changes to the tax code include increasing capital gains tax from 23.8% to 28% for couples earning more than $500,000, taxing inherited securities, and charging a fee to companies with assets of more than $50 billion, while expanding the tax credit to children, giving a $500 tax credit to two-working-parent families, and providing a $60 billion kitty to make community college free. As Obama said to great applause throughout, “Tonight, we turn the page.”

Of course, none of this is likely to happen, but it’s nice talk at the end of the day when all is said and done from a president who is at odds with Congress. The Sloganeer-in-Chief is now the Posturer-in-Chief. Still, it’s nice to see that someone is at least thinking about how to transfer $320 billion from the rich to the poor.

So, do we have a name yet for this new way? How about “neo-soc” as in neo-socialism, a rejigging of the socialism for the rich of the last 20 years? The not-rich will finally get their dues from the not-poor to counter economic stagnation and address runaway inequality.

During his presidency, Ronald Reagan liked to popularize the phrase “trickle-down economy,” where the stalwarts of business created employment for others through their massive wealth, with a little help from their tax-slashing friends in high places and the not-so-funny Laffer curve. Alas, the spoils never quite trickled down to anyone other than those with their hands on the tap, not to mention an unprecedented post-war increase in the national debt under his tenure. In the heat of the Cold War, Reagan’s trickle-down economics was more like the Politburo with a smile. Obama has planned to undo all of the madness with a wink.

What really is the difference between the Left and the Right anymore in modern politics? The Right wants as much as possible for itself deemed mine by right. The Left wants to share with their friends, because life is better with friends. Okay, that’s too simplistic, especially since neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism is all the same now. Let’s call it neo-usury.

Once considered a mortal sin by the Church, usury is now an established way of life. Aristotle wrote, “The most hated sort [of money-making], and with the greatest reason, is usury. … For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase in interest.” More than 1,500 years later, Saint Thomas of Aquinas wrote that usury was “money for money or of things for money, not to meet the needs of life, but to acquire gain. … justly condemned. Today, one has only to turn on the television to hear the moralists of our time shouting at the top of their lungs for us to keep the economy going.

We have become enslaved by the money makers ($10 trillion more now in digital dollars since the advent of the Federal Reserve QE policy) subject to the control of today’s Medicis, Rothschilds, and Rockefellers. Credit card ripoffs, e-banking, payday loan companies using the smallest of margins to take more from those with less. Business schemers all working on ways to make us all spend more to add to their wealth. Go forth, son, and forever be indebted.

Of course, on top of all this talk of change came a statement by the IMF that growth is not expected to be as great as forecast (when is it ever?), this time because of declining oil prices. Indeed, growth is not growth for all, but the rich will now be more interested in keeping their money tanks topped up than thinking about implementing any plans to make a better world for all.

Nothing will really get done to change the state of the world, and this time next year 75 people will have as much wealth as 3.5 billion. Talk doesn’t mean much to the now over 50% impoverished school children in the United States. It doesn’t mean much to the one billion people living on $1.25 a day.

But no one wants to be a negative Nelly all the time. Oxfam also lists 7 excellent ways to help take the world back from those who wish to own more, including clamping down on tax dodgers, a fair tax burden to all, living wages, and a global plan to tackle inequality.

But if you’re worried that business leaders in Davos or government leaders in Washington don’t really have your best interests at heart, we could all try to do with less. We can’t really expect the ultra-rich to care that much. Other people’s wishes for a better world shouldn’t be as good as it gets.

JOHN K. WHITE, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Physics, University College Dublin, and author of Do The Math!: On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013). Do The Math! is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at: john.white@ucd.ie.

More articles by:

John K. White, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Physics, University College Dublin, and author of Do The Math!: On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013). Do The Math! is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at: john.white@ucd.ie.

October 18, 2018
Dean Baker
How Big is Big? Trump, the NYT and Foreign Aid
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail