There have always been plenty of opponents to the idea of a real democracy: royalty, wealthy, plutocrats, oligarchs and of course most corporations. But today, there seems to be a key component that empowers the “haves”: plane old apathy of the majority. Too many in the developed countries, like the US, are just too busy with their lives, working, raising families, consuming everything they can and looking for whatever enjoyment is within their reach. Go for it today, after all, that seems to be what capitalism teaches us and capitalism has become the indubitable religion in the world.
How can a democracy (a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives) continue to produce governments that are so far out of economic balance or equality? It would seem that using the word “democracy” means very little in actuality. As we continue to silently allow the few to rape and pillage while using that small “d” label, what we more accurately have are plutocracies, oligarchies and often out and out kleptocracies (Russia). We supposedly know all this, but we just don’t seem to pay any attention, except the wealthy of course. So many say “I don’t like to talk politics”. And these people are not yet really struggling.
“US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, ‘We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’ Our leaders know this, but rather than act to reduce wealth concentration and inequality, they are instead choosing to suppress democracy and the freedom to demand a fairer society.”
The recent Oxfam report titled Reward Work Not Wealth, linked below, is long (about 76 pages in pdf format), but provides a great deal of information on our increasing race to more and more inequality, what could / should be done. To tickle your interest, here is part of the executive summary of this report summarized things well saying:
“Last year saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, with one more billionaire every two days. There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires worldwide. Nine out of 10 are men. Billionaires also saw a huge increase in their wealth. This increase was enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all of the growth in global wealth in the last year went to the top 1%, whereas the bottom 50% saw no increase at all.”
Some other points that jumped out at me were:
- For this paper, Oxfam surveyed over 70,000 people in 10 countries, representing one-quarter of the world’s population
- It is hard to find a political or business leader these days who is not saying they are worried about inequality. Yet actions, not words, are what count, and here most of our leaders are lacking. Indeed, many are actively promoting policies that can increase inequality.
- In country after country where Oxfam works, the space for citizens to speak out is being closed, and freedom of speech suppressed. CIVICUS, an alliance dedicated to strengthening citizens, has found that serious threats to civic freedoms now exist in more than 100 countries.
- The mainstream economic justification of inequality is that it provides incentives for innovation and investment. We are told that billionaires are the ultimate demonstration of the benefits of talent, hard work and innovation, and that this benefits us all … Yet there is growing evidence that the current levels of extreme inequality far exceed what can be justified by talent, effort and risk-taking. Instead they are more often the product of inheritance, monopoly or crony connections to government.
- Looking to the future, the World Bank has been clear that unless we close the gap between rich and poor, we will miss the goal of eliminating extreme poverty by a wide margin.
- Temporary, precarious work is the norm in developing countries, and is on the rise in rich nations. Temporary employees have lower wages, fewer rights and less access to social protection. Women and young people are more likely to be in these jobs. … For many, their work is dangerous and harmful to their health. According to the ILO, more than 2.78 million workers die every year because of occupational accidents or work-related diseases – one every 11 seconds.
- A perfect storm of related factors is combining to simultaneously drive up the bargaining power of those at the top, and drive down the bargaining power of those at the bottom. … At the bottom, workers have seen rights eroded, and trade unions undermined, reducing their bargaining power. Corporations are consolidating more and more, and are under huge pressure to deliver ever greater returns to wealthy shareholders. These returns often come at the cost of workers and offer a major incentive to engage in industrial levels of tax dodging. Corporations use the mobility of their investments to force the race to the bottom between countries on tax and on wages. The threat of greater automation also puts more power in the hands of wealthy owners, and more pressure on workers.
There is so much more and the only thing that makes sense it to read this article. Find a particular topic to explore and do just that. When done I hope you absorbed as much as possible and allow it to become part of your subconscious, provoking you to act and become vigilant, for the battle for democracy is a most fragile one while the plague of inequality is both ever present and incessantly aggressive.
The main sections / sub-sections in the article are listed here:
- EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (pg 08)
- STOP TALKING AND GIVE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT: A MORE EQUAL WORLD (pg 08)
- CLAMP DOWN ON INEQUALITY, NOT ON DEMOCRACY (pg 09)
- THE VIEW FROM THE TOP (pg 10)
- THE VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM (pg 12)
- WHAT IS CAUSING THIS? (pg 15)
- RECOMMENDATIONS (pg 16)
- FOR GOVERNMENTS (pg 16)
- THE INEQUALITY CRISIS (pg 19)
- BILLIONAIRE BONANZA (pg 19)
- INCOME INEQUALITY UNDERESTIMATED (pg 20)
- WHY INEQUALITY MATTERS (pg 24)
- PUBLIC CONCERN OVER INEQUALITY (pg 25)
- EXTREME POVERTY AND EXTREME WEALTH (pg 30)
- REDUCTIONS IN POVERTY (pg 30)
- DOES EXTREME WEALTH DEMONSTRATE ECONOMIC SUCCESS? (pg 32)
- WEALTH VERSUS WORKERS (pg 35)
- THE IMPORTANCE OF WORK AND WORKERS’ RIGHTS TO FIGHTING INEQUALITY (pg 35)
- WHO IS LOSING OUT? (pg 36)
- WHO IS WINNING? (pg 46)
- HOW WORKERS ARE LOSING OUT TO WEALTHY OWNERS (pg 49)
- DESIGNING A HUMAN ECONOMY THAT WORKS FOR ALL (pg 51)
- PRE-DISTRIBUTION: GREATER EQUALITY BY DESIGN (pg 51)
- REDISTRIBUTION IN A HUMAN ECONOMY (pg 54)
- RECOMMENDATIONS (pg 55)