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Issue #1626      February 12, 2014

Culture & Life

Poverty and wealth

Did you see the report last month from Britain’s Joseph Rowntree Foundation that for the first time, the number of people in working families in that country who are living in poverty (a whopping 6.7 million people) is greater than the number of people in workless and retired families who are living in poverty (only slightly less at 6.3 million).

The number of people in developed capitalist countries living in poverty, homeless or dependent on welfare payments to buy food is growing all the time. The exponential growth in the gap between rich and poor was highlighted in another report issued in January, this time by Oxfam, which found that seven out of every ten people live in countries where income inequality has increased since the 1980s.

Oxfam’s executive director Winne Byanyima made the telling comment: “It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world’s population – that’s 3.5 billion people – own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.”

Oxfam’s researchers said it was likely the full concentration of wealth was in fact even more skewed, with estimates claiming that more than £11 trillion is held “unrecorded and off shore”.

Britain’s government, like Australia’s, continues to deny that there is any kind of systemic crisis. Instead, they blame everything on the apparently extravagant and “unsustainable” lifestyle of the ordinary people, who expect high wages now and pensions when they retire as well as other extraordinary handouts (like dole payments when they’re unemployed). Both governments are demanding cuts to government spending (especially to welfare), a move that will simply increase poverty.

And yet, surely few would deny that a social system that condemns ever-greater numbers of its citizens to a descent into poverty, must have outlived its usefulness. But of course, there are always one or two who are bereft of any concern for the well-being of the majority. One such would have to be Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London. Commenting on the country’s growing income disparity, Boris made the profound comment that “the biggest cornflakes always rise to the top of the box”. So that’s all right then.

Well, actually Boris, it’s not. The idea that the rich must also be “the best and brightest” has been around as long as there have been rich people to promote it. However, the rich have usually established their empires through ruthless greed and ambition, backed up by the hiring of muscle to beat up and silence critics or opponents. Henry Ford, industrialist and financial supporter of rising young German agitator Adolf Hitler, had an actual army of club-wielding thugs on his payroll to keep his auto-workers in line.

According to the High Pay Centre, an independent non-party think-tank established to monitor pay at the top of the salary pyramid, Britain’s top bosses had made more money by January 8 than the average UK worker will make in the whole of the year.

FTSE 100 CEOs are paid an average of £4.3 million, or more than £1,000 an hour. But the fat cats who run the capitalist system are not content with being paid so much more than the mass of the people. Executive pay in the UK has increased by 74 percent over the last decade, while wages for ordinary workers have remained flat.

Mind you, to be fair, some of Britain’s biggest corporations are conscious of the need to try to help the less fortunate in society. First Utility, the country’s biggest private energy firm, has been advising its 120,000 customers on how to reduce their soaring bills, by “taking showers together” and “drinking less tea”.

Said First Utility: “Showering together can save £34 a year, while turning off the telly and turning out the lights can knock another £18 off your bill.” While First Utility’s customers sat in the dark and wondered what was playing on the TV in rich people’s houses, they were probably also wondering about the effrontery of a company lecturing its customers on how to keep their costs down when it had just raised its prices by a whopping 18 percent!

Meanwhile, Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been doing his best to promote the idea of getting rid of public housing. A very large percentage of homes in Britain are owned by the local Council or Housing Authority. They are scattered throughout the community, not gathered together in low-wage ghettos, and their rents are fixed and low. Cameron, like Abbott out here, thinks that public housing is anathema, an affront to private enterprise and an unnatural restraint upon market forces.

If there were no public sector, rents would be free to climb as high as private landlords could push them. And that would be fine and right with Cameron and Abbott. For them, housing is a privilege that comes to you only when you have scrounged together enough money.

Cameron has been pushing a “HelpToBuy” scheme (a bit like our “First Home Buyer’s Grant”). He posted on-line a video in which “Sharon and Maisie show me their lovely new home – just one of the families helped onto the housing ladder by HelpToBuy.” Only one problem: Sharon was recognised as the very well-off sales director at Endfields Property Services, Southampton estate agents, and the property she has bought is from the books of her own company – without any help from Cameron.

Just one more case confirming – as if it needed confirming – that the rich and their politician mates have the identical ethics and morals as the criminal classes, whose methods they emulate assiduously. The sooner these parasites are driven from our midst – and off our backs – the better off the people of the world will be.

For a start, let’s reverse the trend of the last few decades and instead push for the implementation of the slogan: “Tax The Rich!” Put wealth tax and corporate tax back where it should be, at the top of the taxation ladder, providing its proper share of government funding.

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