New figures published this week on obscene inequality show how the capitalist economic system has become more than ever deeply dysfunctional. Surely, the depraved workings of the system pose the greatest threat to societies and international security. Yet, Western leaders are preoccupied instead with other non-existent threats – like Russia.
Take British prime minister Theresa May who this week was speaking at a posh banquet in London. She told the assembled hobnobs, as they were sipping expensive wines, that “Russia is threatening the international order upon which we depend”. Without providing one scrap of evidence, the British leader went to assert that Russia was interfering in Western democracies to “sow discord”.
May’s grandstanding is a classic case study of what behavioral scientists call “displacement activity” – that is, when animals find themselves in a state of danger they often react by displaying unusual behavior or making strange noises.
For indeed May and other Western political leaders are facing danger to their world order, even if they don’t openly admit it as such. That danger is from the exploding levels of social inequality and poverty within Western societies, leading to anger, resentment, discontent and disillusionment among increasing masses of citizens. In the face of the inherent, imminent collapse of their systems of governance, Western leaders like May seek some relief by prattling on about Russia as a threat.
This week European bank Credit Suisse published figures showing that the wealth gap between rich and poor has reached even more grotesque and absurdist levels. According to the bank, the world’s richest 1% now own as much wealth as half the population of the entire planet.
The United States and Britain are among the top countries for residing multi-millionaires, while these two nations have also emerged as among the most unequal in the world.
The data calling out how dysfunctional the capitalist system has become keeps on coming. It is impossible to ignore the reality of a system in deep disrepair, yet British and American politicians in particular – apart from notable exceptions like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders – have the audacity to block out this reality and to chase after risible phantoms. (The exercise makes perfect sense in a way.)
Last week, a report from the US-based Institute of Policy Studies found that just three of America’s wealthiest men – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett – own the same level of wealth as the poorest half of the entire US population. That is, the combined monetary worth of these three individuals – reckoned to be $250 billion – is equivalent to that possessed by 160 million citizens.
What’s more, the study also estimates that if the Trump administration pushes through its proposed tax plans, the gap between rich elite and the vast majority will widen even further. This and other studies have found that over 80% of the tax benefits from Trump’s budget will go to enrich the top 1% in society.
All Western governments, not just May’s or Trump’s, have over the past decades overseen an historic trend of siphoning wealth from the majority of society to a tiny elite few. The tax burden has relentlessly shifted from the wealthy to the ordinary workers, who in addition have had to contend with decreasing wages, as well as deteriorating public serves and social welfare.
To refer to the United States or Britain as “democracies” is a preposterous misnomer. They are for all practical purposes plutocracies; societies run by and for a top strata of obscenely wealthy.
Intelligent economists, like the authors at the IPS cited above, realize that the state of affairs is unsustainable. Morally, and even from an empirical economics point of view, the distortion of wealth within Western societies and internationally is leading to social and political disaster.
On this observation, we must acknowledge the pioneering work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who more than 150 years ago identified the chief failing of capitalism as being the polarization of wealth between a tiny few and the vast majority. The lack of consumption power among the masses owing to chronic poverty induced by capitalism would result in the system’s eventual collapse.
Surely, we have reached that point in history now, when a handful of individuals own as much wealth as half the planet.
Inequality, poverty and the denial of decent existence to the majority of people stands out as the clarion condemnation of capitalism and its organization of society under private profit. The human suffering, hardships, austerity and crippled potential that flow from this condition represent the crisis of our time.
Yet instead of an earnest public debate and struggle to overcome this crisis, we are forced by our elites to focus on false, even surreal problems.
American politics has become paralyzed by an endless elite squabble over whether Russia meddled in the presidential elections and claims that Russian news media continue to interfere in American democracy. Of course, the US corporate-controlled news media, who are an integral part of the plutocracy, lend credibility to this circus. Ditto European corporate-controlled media.
Then we have President Donald Trump on a world tour berating and bullying other nations to spend more money on buying American goods and to stop cheating supposed American generosity over trade. Trump also is prepared to start a nuclear war with North Korea because the latter is accused of being a threat to global peace – on the basis that the country is building military defenses. The same for Iran. Trump castigates Iran as a threat to Middle East peace and warns of a confrontation.
This is the same quality of ludicrous distraction as Britain’s premier Theresa May this week lambasting Russia for “threatening the world order upon which we all depend”. By “we” she is really referring to the elites, not the mass of suffering workers and their families.
May and Trump are indulging in “perception management” taken to absurdity. Or more crudely, brainwashing.
How can North Korea or Iran be credibly presented as global threats when the American and British are supporting a genocidal blockade and aerial slaughter in Yemen? The complete disconnect in reality is testimony to the pernicious system of thought-control that the vast majority of citizens are enforced to live under.
The biggest disconnect is the obscene inequality of wealth and resources that capitalism has engendered in the 21st century. That monstrous dysfunction is also causally related to why the US and its Western allies like Britain are pushing belligerence and wars around the planet. It is all part of their elitist denial of reality. The reality that capitalism is the biggest threat to humanity’s future.
Do we let these mentally deficient, deceptive political elites and their media dictate the nonsense? Or will the mass of people do the right thing and sweep them aside?
FINIAN CUNNINGHAM | SCF
The 21st Century