We live in a world of obscene wealth for a few and insane levels of poverty and desperation for the many. The gap between those who own the wealth and resources of the world – and those who own nothing but their labor to sell – has never been larger. The rich also hide their wealth, so the level of inequality is probably worse than what is publicly known. The concentration of wealth is also paired with the concentration of ever more powerful corporations. These processes have been made possible by governments of all stripes the world over. And there is no end in sight until the capitalist system that is responsible for it is overcome.
Since the public outcry about the 1% versus the 99% during the Occupy movement in 2011, the numbers have skyrocketed. Today, the 1% of the wealthiest people own half of the world’s wealth ($140 TRILLION), and 70% of the world’s working population has only 2.7% of the wealth! While 8 men have as much wealth as 3.6 billion people, here in the U.S. the THREE richest individuals own more than the bottom half of the population – 160 MILLION people. With more at the top there is less for everyone else, making surviving (let alone thriving) more difficult for working people and the poor.
The gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else is huge and growing fast. In 2016 the world’s billionaires increased their wealth by 17% to a total of $6 trillion! But the situation is likely even worse than that. Leaks from the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers show that companies like Mossack Fonseca in Panama help the rich dodge taxes and hide their wealth – and have been for decades. One estimate is that a full 10% of global GDP is completely hidden in secret, offshore bank accounts.
The wealth of the world is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And a smaller number of corporations dominate an increasing percentage of the world’s economy. One study showed that 43,000 transnational corporations control over 80% of the global economy. Within this group, only 147 companies own 40% of that wealth. Politicians and the media often talk about the importance of the free market and economic competition. But they hide that their real concerns lie with the right of these mega-monopolies to expand and control even more than they already do. The largest corporations extract mega-profits and the ruling elites ensure that the system is set-up and run to maintain and protect their cash cows.
The world’s elites wield everything in their power as a weapon against the vast majority of humanity to further their interests. They use their control of the media to rationalize and justify the inequality in their system. With only 5 companies controlling over 90% of media in the U.S., fewer rich people monopolize more of the messages to the public. Just last week Disney bought 21st Century Fox, creating another mega-monopoly in the media if the deal goes through.
The government’s response to massive inequality is to make it worse. The proposed tax plan hands almost $4.5 trillion to the rich over 10 years. Republicans and Democrats alike have presided over policies transferring wealth from working people to the wealthy.
The consequences are visible. There are more people who are homeless on the streets. There is less help for the unemployed and fewer well-paid jobs for young people; less access to affordable healthcare and fewer mental health services; and working people work more and for less money than they used to. This desperation can lead to increased tensions in daily interactions and prejudiced, racist, sexist, and homophobic ideas can find fertile ground.
Over 750 million people in the world lack access to clean water. 805 million do not have enough food to eat. 1.6 billion people have no electricity. Oxfam estimates that it would take $60 billion annually to end extreme global poverty – that’s less than 1/4 the income of the top 100 richest billionaires. Replacing the system that fuels the misery of so many people is long overdue. This holiday season it is time to prepare and give the world a true gift: rid it of the parasitic capitalist system!