One of the few economists in the world who dares to speak out about why 80 individuals on this small planet now have the assets, wealth, and total net worth of 3.5 billion people, currently half of the world’s present population, is Christine Lagarde, the former finance minister of France who is now managing director of the International Monetary Fund. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland attended by billionaires, oligarchs, corporate CEOs and other assorted mansion high mucky-mucks, Lagarde warned the participants and sycophants that capitalism is now a real threat to capitalism and might forecast Karl Marx’s warning that capitalism carries the “seeds of its own destruction.”
The 120 multi-national corporations specifically invited to the conference as “strategic partners” pay $680,526 for tickets and may bring five executives each. Individuals are charged $40,000 each. Usually about 40 heads of state and 2,500 business execs attend. Swiss airports are so swamped with 1,700 private jets the Swiss military has to open an air base to take the overload. Of course, a Silicon Valley exec could fly an Etihad Airways Airbus A380 passenger jet operated by the United Arab Emirates from San Francisco to Switzerland in a 125 sq. ft. bed-and-bath suite for $21,000 — one way.
Evidently the two major subjects of this year’s conference is global wealth inequality and climate change. Even Al Gore is a participant. The One Percent is evidently beginning to feel the tines of pissant pitchforks in their fat asses because inequality is becoming an important item on the agenda. Even the Conservative English government is considering taxing homes worth over two million pounds (about $3.8 million) to help fund England’s National Health Service. It’s worthwhile knowing that another Conservative by the name of Winston Churchill started the health service in 1945 because he realized that after the war it was necessary to improve the health of the English people.
The anti-poverty charity group called Oxfam and its dynamic chairwoman Winnie Byanyima, who is one of the six co-chairs of this year’s conference, recommends that the ultra-rich adopt a seven-point plan and sell it to their government: (1) clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals; (2) invest in universal, free public services such as health and education; (3) share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labor and consumption towards capital and wealth; (4) introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers; (5) introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal; (6) ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum-income guarantee; and (7) agree on a global goal to tackle inequality.
This might be a tough sell. The Star Tribune’s cartoonist SACK indicated this in a cartoon last week. Sitting comfortably on a huge pile of gold coins, bars, stocks, bonds and sacks of cash, two top-hatted members of the One Percent are discussing their good fortune. Number One Fatcat: “We did it! We money-grubbed our way to owning half the world’s wealth! Are you thinking what I am thinking?” Number Two Fatcat: “The other half!!!” I think it’s telling that business executives and CEOs do not attend Davos sessions discussing geopolitics, economics, science, culture and inequality. They schedule numerous meetings with customers, suppliers and media during the day and spend their nights at classy dinners and receptions romancing other customers.
Byanyima puts the result of this inequality bluntly to the Davos fatcats: “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1 percent own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.” While Africans living on less than $2 a day have doubled since 1981 the number of billionaires has tsunamied. Forbes magazine now lists 1,645 billionaires, with fully a third of them inheriting some or all of their immense wealth. Over 20 percent of the billionaires deal in the world of finance and insurance. They saw their wealth increase by 11 percent just in the last year. During 2013 billionaires spent $550 million lobbying politicians in Washington and Brussels, the “capital” of Europe. In the 2012 election in the U.S. Wall Street alone spent $571 million buying politicians. Oxfam claims that rising inequality caused the economic crises since 2007, and has been the main factor in mass migrations, political corruption, increasing poverty, ethnic and gender conflicts, and social and climate arguments.
I thought it appropriate to use slang developed by innovative conversationalists during World War II to describe current conditions for the 99 Percent in the United States. Most of these acronyms came from expressive military personnel who often became “disquieted” by customs, traditions and the Code of Military Justice. There are seven acronyms that became a regular part of the English language, but several should not be used in a family newspaper to protect the young and innocent. SNAFU came from the U.S. Army and can be translated generally as “situation normal: all fouled up.” FUBAR is also an Army one, meaning “fouled up beyond all recognition/repair/reason.” SUFUS comes from civilian life and means “situation unchanged: still fouled up.” FUBAR BUNDY comes from the Ambulance Corps, and is translated as: “fouled up beyond recognition but unfortunately not dead yet.” TARFU was used by both Army and Navy personnel, and stands for “totally and royally fouled up.” My Marines had a couple of acronyms — but they are a little too spicy for regular transmission.
In the mid-1960s the American people said they trusted the governments of Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ around 75 percent of the time. From Tricky Dick Nixon to Dubya to Obama that trust is now below 8 percent. Why? The answer is our democracy is no longer functional. One of the leading newspapers in the world, The Economist, has been polling democratic-leaning governments around the world for decades. Their pollsters examine five categories: (1) electoral process and pluralism, (2) civil liberties, (3) the functioning of government, (4) political participation and (5) political culture.
First, we must recognize that only 12.5 percent of the world’s population live in a full democracy, and more than one-third, about 2.6 million, live under dictators. The U.S. now ranks 19th out of the 24 countries that are “democratic.” We rank below Mauritius (ever heard of it?) and Uruguay. Northern European countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, etc.) rank at the top while Canada is seventh. The least democratic regions are in the Middle East and North Africa. The worst democratic are North Korea, the Central African Republic and Chad. The Economist researchers commented on their findings: “The US remains at the bottom end of the full democracy category because it has been adversely affected by a deepening polarization of the political scene, political brinkmanship and paralysis and popular discontent with the workings of democracy.”
Republican Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois was a moderate politician who often reached across the aisle to work with Democrats on meaningful legislation about a half century ago. He had a mellifluous voice, a marvelous sense of humor and was a thinking conservative for the common good. His great line about budgeting is often repeated today: “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we’ll be talking real money.” He also was often credited with describing the two major political parties operating in Washington: “We have the Evil Party and the Stupid Party. Sometimes both of them just exchange those qualities.”
A 2014 survey of 14 developed countries by a British marketing firm called Ipsos MORI. The survey was designed to evaluate the degree of disconnect between the perceived reality in those countries and the actual reality. Italy is the most ignorant of the facts, the U.S. is in second place and Poland comes in third place. Americans tend to overestimate the “bad,” “scary” or “threatening” things, and underestimate the good things. The study seems to prove that our media is devoted to lying and spreading disinformation. Americans, as an example, overestimate the number of illegal immigrants by 2.5-to-1, the unemployed by 5-to-1, teen pregnancies by 6-to-1, and the number of Muslims in this country by 15-to-1. (We are being invaded by hordes of Muslim immigrants!) At the same time we underestimate the number of Christians in the country by 1/3rd and the number of voters by 10%. U.S. Christians believe they outnumber U.S. Muslims by 4-to-1. Actually, they outnumber Muslims by 78-to-1. Are we really in “GODLESS AMERICA?” Christians outnumber agnostics by 6-to-1, atheists by 20-to-1 and Jews by 43-to-1. If you are interested in those countries which have the most accurate “reality” and are the least ignorant about their condition, here are the top five in order: Sweden, Germany, Japan, Spain and Great Britain.
There are over six million Americans living and working overseas in almost every corner of the world — and this is not counting U.S. military and government workers stationed overseas. Ann Jones is the writer of an essay called “Is The US Crazy? Inquiring Minds From Around The World Want To Know.” Ann is also one of the six million. Ann introduces her essay this way: “In my long nomadic life, I’ve had the good fortune to live, work, or travel in all but a handful of countries on this planet. I’ve been to both poles and a great many places in between, and nosy as I am, I’ve talked with people all along the way. I still remember a time when an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world. That’s changed.” Ann says the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004 was the tipping point. He had started the Iraq War, which generally was opposed by most of the world, but a majority of Americans still supported him. That’s when foreigners started to ask her tough questions.
Ann learned quickly that they were much better informed than the average American. We did not have any idea just how strange we had become. She writes: “The American media is so parochial and so limited in its views both of how we act and how other countries think.” (Look at Fox News, which is one of the world’s greatest ignorance creators. I now read The Guardian every day because it covers U.S. news much better than the New York Times. For radio I turn to National Public and BBC Radio.) There are 1.6 million Americans living in Europe during the Obama years. The question Europeans always ask: “Why would anyone oppose national health care?”
Other industrialized countries, particularly in Europe, have had universal health care since the 1930s and ‘40s. Germany has had it since Otto von Bismarck was chancellor in 1880. Even rich and privileged Europeans do not object to paying high taxes to cover health care costs for their fellow citizens. Ann presently lives in Norway, a part of the Scandinavian cabal of countries rated to be the best — and happiest — places in the world to live. These countries guarantee each citizen an equal right to an education, state-subsidized preschool from age 1 and free schools from age 6 through specialty training or a complete university education. They also provide unemployment benefits, job-placement and retraining services, paid parental leave, old age pension and other safety nets. Yes, the residents do pay more in taxes than we do, but these governments say these benefits encourage social harmony and domestic tranquility. Hmmm … domestic tranquility. Where have I seen that phrase before? I wonder what Europeans would think of our Arizona cardiologist who refuses to get his child vaccinated for childhood diseases because his child is “pure.” He said: “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting other children.” I guess he missed the day his medical school discussed the Hippocratic Oath about do no harm.
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