Wednesday, January 02, 2008

broken Britain

A pair of articles caught my eye and resonated with the angry parts of my brain. The first was the Independent's cover story on personal debt levels in the UK. The second- and far more powerful- story was Johann's latest attempt to draw attention to the soaring inequality of 21st century Britain. Its a subject he returns to again and again- and with good reason, you will agree, when you consider some of the statistics he lists.

I think it is wholly appropriate to past in this article from the Lenin's Tomb blog that I quoted in full earlier this year:

"The world makes no sense. More wealth is produced every year than each preceding year. More goods exist on the planet now than ever before. Bewildering new technologies such as iPhones and Newtons, along with the most advanced medicines, the most sophisticated forms of transport, cheaper and cheaper forms of cultivation and mining and extraction and renewal, and so on. (Of course, in addition to this, there are extremely developed and complex forms of confinement, restraint, protection, weaponry, poisoning, polluting, killing and so on and on. But let's leave all that aside for one second). Did you know that the total world GDP last year was, by the purchasing power parity method of measurement, $65.95 trillion? That's product, that's value-added, that doesn't even take into account the wealth already existing, right? Now, suppose I were to say, pretend last year never happened. You can live on what you had in 2006, can't you? You don't desperately need a new house or something? Okay, so forget your measly interests for a second: what could I do with all that money? I'd spruce up the blog for a start, put an airbrushed picture of myself in the top corner, add polls and paid celebrity endorsements, buy ads in the New York Times. What else? Get a house, maybe some form of transport, buy all the books I've ever wanted. Maybe a bear, and some acreages of wilderness for it to play in. Perhaps engage in a few teenage pursuits like Richard Branson. Shack up with the Osbournes, take Ozzy up the Khyber pass. And I'd still not have spent more than a tiny fraction of it.

You know, with 6 billion people on the planet, $65.95 trillion amounts to $10,099.16 each. (Alright, it's 6.6bn now, so make let's say it would be $9,992.42 each). Did you get that much of a pay rise last year? Did you even get a pay rise, or is the Iron Chancellor trying to cut yours as well? Where the hell is all this money going? Who is doing what with it, and why aren't we told? I mean, I don't know about you, but I figure I did my fair bloody share, and I want a cut of that moolah. Alright, suppose we get over the Politics of Envy (Pinochet knew what to do with those who got too envious). Let us turn to the Politics of Compassion. There are 3bn people on the planet living in absolute poverty: that's half the population of the world. Many of these live in dynamic capitalist economies like India and Indonesia. 80% of Indians live on less than $2 a day according to the World Bank (who are making sure it's kept that way). The same august institution says that half of Indonesians live on less than $2 a day. But these are two countries that have followed orders, privatised, deregulated and liberalised. Of course, Indonesia notoriously had to go through a process of genocide in order to get there. Not to mention centuries of benevolent governance at the hands of colonial powers in both countries, which did admittedly kill a few tens of millions of people. But all of this mass murder was a temporary stop-gap on the way prosperity, and anyway - what are the fascist metaphors people usually use in this circumstance? Eggs and omelettes? Wheat and chaff? Chas and Dave? What can have gone wrong? The highest proportions of such a state of poverty are in Africa. Zambia has 94.1% of its population living in absolute poverty. Nigeria - oil-rich multinational-friendly Nigeria - has 92.4% of its population living in absolute poverty. And, as well as this, there are tens of millions of people living on below $2 a day in Russia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

So, what happened to that $65.95 trillion from last year alone? Did it fall behind the sofa? Has someone wasted it on television phone polls? Well, remember I mentioned the Billionaire's Club last year? That is, aside from the richest 2% of adults in the world (about 83 million people) who owned more than half of the world's wealth, that 500 people who actually own billions? That was last year, and the statistics probably originated from longer ago (I think from 2000). This year, there are 946: 415 in America, 55 in Germany, 53 in Russia, 36 in India, and 29 in the UK. And it occurs to me that those chaps would be in an ideal position, due to their immense social power, to ensure that most of the newly created wealth goes to them, and as little as possible is redistributed (except when it's good for PR and capitalist morale). It's the same pattern in every country: look at the wealth distribution in selected countries. (Isn't it wierd that the bottom 20% of Australians have so little of the national wealth that they don't even register as a significant percentage share? Isn't it weirder still that some actually get a negative share such as in Germany and Sweden?). Now, we were talking about newly created wealth above, but what would the total global wealth look like if divided evenly among the world's inhabitants? I've tried to find some figures for total global wealth. What you can find is the occasional reference to total global household wealth, which isn't the same thing. And I suspect billions of dollars of wealth are concealed in off-shore trickery every year, so how can one reasonably expect to construct such figures? Total global wealth, including public and private wealth, all concealed wealth, and all wealth that is simply disposed of because it can't be sold, must be in the hundreds of trillions. And we aren't seeing more than an atom of it.

Well, I'm sick of it. Every year I get gipped. I get short-changed. I get a nice hot cup of fuck all. I wait for the cheque in the post, and all I get is another war. If this keeps happening, I'm going to start thinking it's being done on purpose."

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