Opinionista Jay Naidoo 21 January 2015

Apartheid 2.0: The Gospel according to the 1% super rich

The inequality gap is not decreasing, it’s becoming more pronounced. And now the super-rich are sitting with an even more dramatic level of control, while the rest of the world languishes in a worsening condition of serfdom. What is to be done, and when will the super-rich have a moral awakening? Will they ever have a moral awakening?

The financial crisis of 2008, largely driven by the scandalous greed of the super-rich conspiring with the Wall Street consiglieri, plunged tens of millions of workers in the jobless queues, sparked a food crisis and brought the world to the brink of an economic meltdown.

Our governments rushed to the rescue, using trillions of dollars of public taxpayers’ money to nationalise the debts incurred by the banking bosses and simultaneously imposing an austerity regime that butchered public services in social protection, education, health to ordinary citizens. The banking bosses and their clients got off without the faintest whiff of dishonour or with a slap on the wrist at most.

Turn the clock forward seven years and, voila!, this class of super-rich is back with a bang of confident arrogance. “Equality is nonsense. Our wealth will drive economic growth,” they proclaim in feigned innocence from their penthouses.

Well, what does the data show?

The Oxfam Report on Inequality says that by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%. The share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the bottom 80% currently own just 5.5%. Oxfam said the wealth of the richest 80 doubled in cash terms between 2009 and 2014.

Even Warren Buffet, the fourth-richest man in the world, alarmed at the growth of inequality and wanting taxes on the rich increased, said in an interview in 2011:

“Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten [sic] our tax rates reduced dramatically.”

What does this mean for the rest of us?

The trickle-down economics of the 1980s became a massive tsunami heading up to the 1%. The rest of us are now the serfs serving new feudal masters. And because they control the media corporations, they are portrayed as our saviours and often as victims of radical and unrealistic expectations of the other 99% of us as citizens. In fact, at the Davos WEF love-fest this week they will, over champagne and caviar, seduce more of our political decision-makers, convincing them that they are the solution to the global economic crisis they themselves created.

Former President Festus Mogae of Botswana, a member of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, speaking at the launch of its seminal report in 2012, raised some red flags on the issue of electoral finance and lobbying.

“Vote buying and bribery of candidates by elites is the obvious problem, but poorly regulated political finance can corrode electoral integrity in more subtle ways. Curbing these practices is difficult, since politicians who benefit from loosely regulated financing are unlikely to push for greater transparency. We should not move towards an American system of financing. We should restrict more severely, enforce more severely, spending limits, so that the well-to-do do not buy elections.”

Quite clearly the nexus of collusion between the economic and political elites in the world is deepening, and the global political and economic system is rapidly losing its legitimacy, especially in the eyes of the next generation, which is increasingly marginalised from any of the pathways to hope and opportunity.

As Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, has said, “The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”

She adds poignantly, “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1% own more than the rest of us combined?”

Her message has been echoed by Seattle IT billionaire, Nick Hanauer, in a brillaint op-ed August 2014 in Politico, titled ‘The pitchforks are coming… for us plutocrats’. In it, Hanauer writes, “If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible—for everybody. But especially for us.”

What can we do?

We need to break the umbilical cord of collusion and corruption between our political and economic elites.

Oxfam said it was calling on governments to adopt a seven-point plan: I support these demands.

  • Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals.
  • Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education.
  • Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth.
  • Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers.
  • Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal.
  • Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum-income guarantee.
  • Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

Our political system cannot service two masters. It is either accountable to the people who elect it or, even in the context of free and fair elections, it becomes a sham and ends up with a variation of electoral authoritarianism that we see creeping in across the world. The attacks on free of speech, curbs on independent journalism, and the growing campaign to strangle NGOs and civil society organisations by cutting or openly preventing funding reaching voices critical of the government are growing more intense.

In fact, the “war on terror” vocabulary and strategy is often used to clamp down on democratic dissent, as securocrats tighten their control of our governments.

This is the moment of truth for social movements, trade unions, progressive forces and NGOs – to break with the conservatism and bureaucracies that have made them bystanders in this grand standoff; a cataclysmic clash between the people and the injustice of a system that has created the horrendous division of poverty, inequality and joblessness for the overwhelming majority in the world with a tiny, insulated class of super-rich we will all end up serving. DM

Read more:

  • ‘Even it up’ at Oxfam
  • ‘There’s been a class warfare for the last 20 years’ at the Washington Post
  • ‘The pitchforks are coming for us plutocrats’ at Politico

In other news...

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government - mission accomplished.

And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.

However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

If you believe in supporting the cause and the work of Daily Maverick then take your position on the battleground and sign up to Maverick Insider today.

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