The Socialist 28 January 2015 |
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Davos summit: 'The pitchforks are coming!'
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) was held in Davos, Switzerland, last week. A global elite of world leaders, intellectuals, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and representatives of big business gathered to focus their 'talents' on the most pressing issues in the world today. Inequality and poverty were high on the agenda.
On the same day, Global Justice Now released a report titled The Poor Are Getting Richer and other Dangerous Delusions, designed to undermine some of the assumptions that the Forum promotes. One myth that the report set out to bust was that of 'trickle down' economics - we shouldn't envy the filthy rich, as we'll eventually get richer too! In fact the opposite has turned out to be true.
Take a look at the growing inequality in the UK. Wages have fallen since the economic crash in 2008, but they hardly rose during the preceding boom years, with profits going to a tiny elite. Meanwhile consumer debt has tripled over the last 20 years as we've struggled to make ends meet. The proportion of UK income controlled by the super-rich has doubled since 1970, with the top 1% now owning as much as the bottom 55%.
Trickle down hasn't worked, because the super-rich don't use their money in ways that benefit the rest of the population. They spend it on luxury goods, or hoard it in offshore accounts.
Rather than address this widening inequality, the government has hit us with austerity measures that seem endless. Whilst the richest 80 people in the world have doubled their wealth, we've suffered attacks on our wages, pensions and vital public services.
But there are consequences of inequality for the rich too. They're becoming nervous. Anti-capitalist mass-movements have sprung up all over the world in response to the "planned poverty" that has been dished out to the majority. And anti-austerity parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have made electoral breakthroughs.
At a packed Davos session a retired hedge fund manager made an interesting revelation. His former peers are planning their escapes. They've been buying airstrips and farms in remote locations just in case they need to make a quick getaway! Perhaps they're heeding the advice of multi-millionaire Nick Hanauer who warned fellow oligarchs last year that "the pitchforks ARE coming!"
Even Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund pointed out, "excessive inequality is not good for sustainable growth." Indeed, as our wages are driven down it means we can no longer afford to buy the products that the capitalists need to sell us to make their profits.
Oxfam's Winnie Byanyima - who co-chaired the WEF - made suggestions for tackling the problem. These included a clampdown on tax dodging from corporations, investment in public services, a living wage and provision of adequate safety nets for the most vulnerable. All things that socialists would agree with and campaign for.
Ultimately though, capitalism is a system that creates crises and inequality. Worldwide millions of people have fallen into poverty as a result of its failings. It can't be fixed to be 'nicer'. Only a socialist planned economy is capable of delivering a decent standard of living for all of us.
Air traffic controllers in Switzerland must have had a busy time with 1,700 private jets flying in the rich and famous to attend the Davos shindig. Business was also reported to be brisk at the Belvedere Hotel which held 320 parties in five days, with billionaires and world leaders gorging on 1,500 bottles of champagne and prosecco, 1,300 mini pretzels and 1,350 chocolate-covered strawberries.
Membership of the WEF at $50,000 and entry to the summit at $20,000 shouldn't have presented any difficulty to billionaires like Jeff Greene from the USA who left his cramped 53,000 square feet LA mansion and jetted in accompanied by his wife, kids and two nannies. But in fairness to Jeff he does consider that "lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so that we have less things and a smaller better existence."
Having few things is something most of the world's population has already achieved thanks to capitalism!