While You Count Hours, They Count Billions

How the Super Rich Owns Twice of the Rest of the World Put Together

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The richest 1% of the world now owns nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world put together, finds Survival of the Richest, an Oxfam International (OI) study released on the first day of the World Economic Forum (WEF), January 16, 2023, being held in Davos, Switzerland. These so-called ‘elite’ super-rich accumulated, or to be more precise, looted, nearly two-thirds of all new wealth worth $42 trillion created since 2020. The amount is almost twice as much money owned by the bottom 99% of the world’s population. (“Richest 1% Bag Nearly Twice As Much Wealth As The Rest Of The World Put Together Over The Past Two Years, Finds Oxfam Study”, Countercurrents Collective, COUNTERCURRENTS.ORG, 16 January, 2023)

While these facts of extreme inequality are themselves horrific, these also directly relate to the existing capitalist system’s major inherent systemic contradictions giving rise to crises that culminate to extreme poverty, loss of humane values and destruction of ecology. The system, which many ‘liberal’ and bourgeoisie pundits like to think of as ‘has developed in a more poor-friendly way’, has in fact now reached its most destructive, feral, predatory phase of all times. The facts from the Oxfam report stands true to that.

The cycle of plundering, appropriation, and accumulation of the system is now at its extreme, ensuring control of wealth and resources in the hands of a few.  “Billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7 billion a day even as at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages” (ibid.) the Oxfam report finds.

To put this fact into perspective, a tax of just 5% on the world’s super-rich could raise $1.7 trillion a year, enough to lift 2 billion people (about 25% of the world population) out of poverty.

“[…] While the richest 1% captured 54% of new global wealth over the past decade, this has accelerated to 63% in the past two years. $42 trillion of new wealth was created between December 2019 and December 2021. $26 trillion (63%) was captured by the richest 1%, while $16 trillion (37%) went to the bottom 99%.” (ibid.)

“In the US, the UK and Australia, studies have found that 54%, 59% and 60% of inflation, respectively, was driven by increased corporate profits. In Spain, the CCOO (one of the country’s largest trade unions) found that corporate profits are responsible for 83.4% of price increases during the first quarter of 2022.” (ibid.)

The system, its controlling capitalist bourgeoisie class grows fat even more, trampling upon workers, systematically downgrading their wages and quality of life, by more intensive expropriation of surplus labor. The process of surplus labor being converted to profit that in turn converts to wealth and capital in the system, according to these facts, has become more destructive.

In fact, even the World Bank, one of the global proponents of imperialist and capitalist agenda, announced that “the world has almost certainly lost its goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and that “global progress in reducing extreme poverty has grind[ed] to a halt” amid what the Bank says was likely to be the largest increase in global inequality and the largest setback in global poverty since WW2. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $2.15 per day.” (ibid.)

The facts paint an even more pathetic picture of the system as one takes into account the disproportion of tax implied on the rich and the poor. “Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest men, paid a “true tax rate” of about 3 percent between 2014 and 2018. Aber Christine, a flour vendor in Uganda, makes $80 a month and pays a tax rate of 40 percent… Making a case for taxing the rich, the report said that taxing India’s ten richest at 5% can fetch entire money to bring children back to school.” (ibid.)

This system, run and owned by the rich, does not just stop at expropriating surplus labor from the poor, from the proletariat, but continues to expropriate from their wages essential for them to just keep on living. The wealth of the 1% is taxed at minimum amounts, on average at only 18%, the Oxfam report finds. This tax is actually on unearned income of this 1% rich, on only the returns from their assets. While just wages paid to laborers around the world who own no assets or wealth are taxed at half the percentage, according to the report — an extreme case of inequality.

The existing capitalist system essentially thrives on subjugation of human dignity and labor force and all the while expropriating global resources and the ecology itself. This is its one of the basic characteristics that also leads to the crises it subsequently creates wreaking havoc upon the planet and its species, while degrading the state of human dignity and values. This specific characteristic of the system is even more starkly evident as “OI’s research shows that the ultra-rich are the biggest individual contributors to the climate crisis. The richest billionaires, through their polluting investments, are emitting a million times more carbon than the average person. The wealthiest 1% of humanity are responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50 percent and by 2030, their carbon footprints are set to be 30 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement.” (ibid.)

Yet contradictions are there. Contradictions borne out of the system’s inherent systemic structural conditions. “Excess corporate profits have driven at least half of inflation in Australia, the U.S. and the UK.” While the system’s propagandist section of lackey ‘development economists’ consider inflation as a problem only to be controlled by raising tax, the tax raise ultimately hits the poor, the rest 99%. While inflation increases around the world, even amount of windfall profit increases for the rich. This becomes evident as “[t]he report shows that 95 food and energy corporations have more than doubled their profits in 2022. They made $306 billion in windfall profits, and paid out $257 billion (84%) of that to rich shareholders.” (ibid.)

According to the capitalist economic science even, this is an anomaly. Windfall profiteering, which is a type of profiteering from crisis, is one of the outcomes of the system’s basic contradictions, essentially expropriating on human suffering and basic needs.

This specific characteristic of capitalism is laid bare by the system’s ‘herald’ of capitalist agenda, the World Bank, as it says, “we are likely seeing the biggest increase in global inequality and poverty since WW2. Entire countries are facing bankruptcy, with the poorest countries now spending four times more repaying debts to rich creditors than on healthcare. Three-quarters of the world’s governments are planning austerity-driven public sector spending cuts — including on healthcare and education — by $7.8 trillion over the next five years.” (ibid.)

The current state of absolute, abject deterioration of healthcare, food, education for the majority is in fact a crisis created by this system of expropriation, in its basic drive to ensure wealth accumulation in the hands of a few super-rich. This also necessarily relates to the system’s plundering of global resources, unsustainable practices of said ‘development’, and in the process putting the ecological balance itself in jeopardy.

The Bengali poet Sukanta Bhattacharja (1926 -1947) said in his poem Bodhon (The Awakening), ‘While you count hours, they are counting crores’ (Tumi to prohor gono, tara mudra goney koti koti). No, the rich do not count in crores today, they count in billions, in trillions, while the poor keep on counting minutes. The rich count by the amount of surplus labor they have expropriated from the proletariat, the wretched of the earth. The bourgeoisie class running the system keeps on profiteering at the expense of human lives and dignity. It is knowingly inconsiderate, oblivious and impervious to the suffering of the majority, the 99%. The system’s predatory instincts are more prevalent now than ever, while its contradictions are evident in the crises that it has created. To mitigate these crises and to essentially recognize the value of human labor in its most dignified form, to rise above the desolation and alienation that permeates existing human society, to ensure a society where human endeavors are symbiotic with ecological balance, the existing system needs to be replaced. To overthrow the system, progressive forces of the proletariat must unite, based upon principles of excellence of humane values.

Omar Rashid Chowdhury is a Civil Engineer hailing from Dhaka, Bangladesh

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