Oxfam has just released a report that shows global inequality has escalated rapidly over the last 6 years. The particular measure they used is a very important one. First they calculated the wealth held by the poorest 50% of the planets population, which is about 3.6 billion people. And then they asked how many of the richest people held the same amount of wealth.
When you consider that wealth is power the results are terrifying. In 2010 the same wealth of the poorest 3.6 billion was held by the richest 388. But it’s got worse, much worse every year since so that by last year the same wealth was held by only 62 people ay be the poorest 3.6 billion. Because wealth is power those 62 people will have as much to say about how climate change is tackled as the 3.6 billion.
Yet we already know that it is the poorest 3.6 billion that will be hit hardest by climate change because they will literally starve as crop production is reduced and many of them live in regions that will be most effected by sea level rises and extreme weather events. Moving elsewhere, except as penniless refugees, is not an option for them. The 62 richest people on the other hand won’t even notice hikes in basic food prices and already own luxury homes all over the planet. And as we know it’s wealthy areas that receive flood protection first and most comprehensively.
What’s more the wealth of many of those 62 people is at least in part coming from fossil fuel extraction. Or from the construction industry which requires huge energy inputs. We know that it is the super rich who fund the climate change denial industry whose only role is to delay if not prevent measures that might reduce the rate of climate change. And we know that the control that super rich media barons like Rubert Murdoch have over large segments of the global media is used to deny the threat posed to all of us, but the poorest 3.6 billion in particular.
We are using climate change as an illustration here but similar arguments can be made about almost every area of political decision making. A simple proof that wealth is power is that in every single US presidential election in the last 100 years the winning candidate has been the candidate that received the largest dollar amount of political donations. So even on the terrain of electoral democracy where we might expect the power of the 62 to be weakest the reality is that the pattern shows they will defeat the 3.6 billion at the polls.
One of the most widely read economics books of the last couple of years was ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by French economist Thomas Piketty. In it he demonstrated that growing wealth inequality is a feature of how capitalism works, it is inevitable unless the mass of the population act to prevent it. Unlike us he is not an anarchist, so that means he has all sorts of strange ideas that the electoral system which he super wealthy control can be used to take their power away from them. We say that because they control that system to our resistance has to be organised and sustained outside of their system. But that aside its clear that it is long past time that wealth inequality is ended and we reorganise our lives in a way that ensures we all have power and such inequality is never allowed to develop again.
Alone on the left the anarchist movement has developed an understanding of how wealth and power intersect that ensures any group that manages to concentrate one will soon concentrate the other. That’s why successful politicians and union leaders of the left often end up as wealthy individuals. In the worst cases where parties of the left have monopolised power, as in Russia or China, they created brutal systems that over time saw massive wealth concentrated under the control of the party and eventually in individual hands. Anarchism offers a method of organising for radical transformation that avoids the trap the 20th century left blundered into because it reduces the concentration of power in the hands of ‘good leaders’ and instead insist it must be seized and maintained in the hands of the mass of the people.
WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )