By Gene Brownlie
Earlier this year, Oxfam released a report, An Economy for the 1%, which found that the richest 62 individuals in the world own more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population. Figures cited in the report also showed that wealth inequality has been accelerating rapidly. Just five years ago, 388 billionaires held the same wealth as the poorest 50%, over six times the current number of individuals.
How do the super wealthy minority feel about this situation? The likes of Gina Rinehart – one of Australia’s richest women, mining magnate and inheritor of billions of dollars – suggested poor people need only “spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising”. Failing that, Rinehart’s solution to such gross economic injustice is for “poor people” to simply be sterilised. Shockingly, officers who have previously held parliamentary positions have considered similar solutions, with ex-Labor MP, Gary Johns, insolently raising the prospect of forcing welfare recipients onto birth control.
It’s hardly a surprise that the wealthy will attempt to push the blame for the existence of poverty onto those living in it – this kind of reasoning is constantly used to justify the destruction of social welfare and services for the poor. These attacks come in myriad ways, from slashing public health through increases to fees for diagnostic testing – a proposal which was pushed through parliament late last year – to cuts to unemployment support, shelters for vulnerable women and the homeless.
Meanwhile, a recent investigation carried out by the Australian Taxation Office found more than 500 of Australia’s richest companies paid no tax last year. This list includes fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil, Qantas, General Motors, and Transfield Services, the company responsible for overseeing the appalling refugee death camps on Manus Island and Nauru. The revenue of these companies last year ranged from $2.8 billion to $14.9 billion, according to the ATO 2013-2014 Report of Entity Tax Information.
This story doesn’t even begin to look at the underside of the iceberg, which is corporate tax evasion. Tens of thousands of companies around the world secure their wealth in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, a location favoured by merchant banker turned Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, a fact for which he was publicly criticised in the Sydney Morning Herald last year.
An Economy for the 1% found almost $8 trillion had been placed into similar offshore accounts, however estimates on this figure sit at upwards of $30 trillion. Ironically, 90% of corporate sponsors for the World Economic Forum, the conference at which these findings were presented, have a presence in such tax havens.
What exactly do the super wealthy do with their money when they’re not hiding it away like dragons? Naturally, they use it to make more money and buy more control – that is the name of the game, and nothing can get in the way of that.
This game takes place on the field of unfettered financial speculation, the type that led to the 2008 economic crisis, which The Guardian estimated Wall Street ended up making billions out of. On the other hand, the working class in the United States has saddled the brunt of that crisis. The number of people living in concentrated areas of poverty in the US has risen from 7.2 million (in 2000) to over 14 million today, according to The Atlantic.
It also involves intimate collaboration between investors of all kinds, those with a penchant for industries of destruction, whether it is fossil fuel production or military research and manufacture. The trickle down effect, so heralded by neoliberal economists, occurs mainly in the form of acid rain and bullets.
After decades of research, a George Mason University study found 97% of environmental scientists have concluded that global temperatures are rising, with 84% believing this warming is human induced. ExxonMobil has devoted millions of dollars to denying and obscuring this reality, Lenny Bernstein, climate scientist and former employee of ExxonMobil, revealed last year in The Guardian, and it’s no surprise why. Rolling Stone have estimated that around $27 trillion worth of fossil fuels remain in the ground, money that oil giants and investors have booked in.
The horrifying dystopia that appears to be the future of the planet gets worse though. Numerous researchers and environmentalists, most prominently Norman Myers, have posited that by 2050, up to 250 million people could be made ‘environmental refugees’, fleeing rising sea levels, desertification, growing inaccessibility to clean water, and salination of farmland.
But for millions upon millions the apocalypse has already come. Military adventures, in which governments and the armaments industry work hand in hand to maim and kill, have become a routine feature of the modern world. Such destruction continues today at the hands of the West and domestic dictatorships, forcing millions to seek asylum in the very states that have played a role in their dire situation. It doesn’t help that they are regularly the victims of racism in the form of government policy and outright verbal and physical abuse.
It’s clear there’s a divide – a Grand Canyon of division – between those with power and those without. The power of the elite is reflected by wealth, the ownership and control of almost every pillar of society, industry and the world’s resources.
But against this 0.0001% of the world’s richest stands the incredible bulk of humanity, all people with no interest in upholding this rotten, unjust, horrific system. The mass discontent that exists around the world comes from these people, the working class and popular masses, who have nothing to lose in their struggles against the tyranny of this system, and everything to gain from its overthrow.