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Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor

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I have been following with great interest developments in the world economy and their corresponding impact on us, now and in the future. This week for instance, the European Union, the largest provider of development assistance to the Eastern Caribbean, has virtually arrived at crunch time, needing clear solutions to the crisis facing the Eurozone area. The very future of the European Union itself is at stake and, given the close inter-relations in the world economy, it has grave repercussions for the rest of the world, our country included.{{more}}

Throughout Europe, country after country, Greece yesterday, Italy today, Spain the next, and so forth and so on, are one by one succumbing to the pressures and on the verge of collapse, if rescue does not come soon. Yet, in spite of the signs of economic chaos, there is no let-up in the actions of the very rich to extract maximum benefit for themselves, while pushing the governments they control to make life harder for the working people.

Whilst in the UK recently, I was intrigued by some startling facts published in the mainstream media. These indicate that the gap between the super-rich and the rest of the population, the working people in particular, was growing ever wider. A Report by the High Pay Commission revealed that over the past 30 years, top company executives have awarded themselves pay increases of, (take a deep breath), more than 4,000 per cent. The pay packet of the boss of Barclays Bank skyrocketed by 4,899 per cent over the period. The Barclays boss is now paid the equivalent of over EC$18 million per year. That is 75 times the average pay of a Barclays’ employee and fully 169 times the pay of an average British worker.

Several books have been published on this gross inequality, not only in Britain, mind you, but in all the major capitalist centres. They focus a lot on the income gap. In the United States, for instance, between 1979 and 2009, the income of the poorest 20 per cent of the population fell by four per cent while that of the richest 1 per cent, ROSE by 270 per cent. In the UK, the money earned by the poorest 10 per cent dropped by 12 per cent over the same period, while the wealthiest 10 per cent made sure that their income INCREASED by 37 per cent. The gap between rich and poor in Britain is now said to be resembling that of the brutal times of Queen Victoria.

The rich are living it up, even as they complain about any proposed pay rises for workers. An American writer, Robert Frank, has labelled this tiny elite (one-tenth of one per cent of the population) as “Richistan”, the title of a book on their excesses. A graphic example was given recently in London’s FINANCIAL TIMES, which published a”Christmas Unwrapped” supplement. In it, there are gifts advertised, such as a Graff-diamond and emerald watch with prices starting at over HALF A MILLION EC dollars. While the workers of Greece and Italy are being laid off or having wages and pensions cut, Greek and Italian billionaires have been lavishing money in London, spending nearly EC$2 billion there, on such “necessities” as $40 million mansions.

And, since we are talking luxury, the daughter of billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, of international F1 car-racing fame, takes the cake. She has an EC$190 million home in London, complete with a $5 million bathtub, an elevator for her Ferrari car and a massage parlour for her 5 dogs, so that she would not have to take them to Harrods to get their coats nicely sprayed or their nails painted!

She can do this because the policies pursued by most governments favour the rich at the expense of the poor. Her father benefits by using tax havens to avoid paying his fair share of taxes, saving an estimated EC$ 8 billion, according to some calculations. He also benefits from massive state subsidies, such as those granted by the state of Anhdra Pradesh in India, where millions are dirt poor, while the government spends over EC$200 million to subsidize F1 car-racing. Similarly, the British government spent tax-payers money to build a dual carriageway to Eccleston’s Silverstone racetrack.

This pandering to the wants of the super-rich is taking place on an unprecedented scale in the world today. The European Union has a ridiculous Common Agricultural Policy, worth billions, most of which goes to big aristocrats and land-owning rich, including members of the British Royal family. A major class war seems to be brewing in the UK over the invitation by the current British government to big business to challenge hard-won workers’ rights,including the national minimum wage and sick pay benefits. The right to strike is being legislated against in some US states and pensions, pay and other benefits, achieved at great sacrifice by workers, are under siege in most capitalist countries. The poor are coming more and more under attack, while the rich are being pampered, subsidised and protected by the state.

One columnist in the GUARDIAN newspaper, George Monibot, has caustically called it “SOCIALISM FOR THE RICH, CAPITALISM FOR THE POOR!”

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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