One of the more bizarre rituals of western capitalism is the group of people who burst into applause as a bell rings to start trading at the NYSE. They aren’t looking at anything in particular-there’s no curtain call-just a group of traders on the NYSE floor beginning their day to trade stocks, shares, commodities and lots of bad debt. Few things better symbolize narcissism than people standing around clapping and celebrating the excesses of advanced capitalism in an age when the syndicated capital of the wealthiest 1% of the world will see their portion rise up to 50% in 2016. The average human being shares in only 1/700th of the fortunes of the world’s grotesquely rich. In addition 1 in 9 people go hungry, while 1/7th of the world’s population live on less than $1.25 dollars a day. (Byanyima, 2015).
Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Co., Apple, Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Pfizer Inc. are among a number of US companies who collectively hold in excess of $1.95 trillion in nontaxed off shore profits; while at home, in the United States, the minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour.
The disparity between the super-rich and the rest is staggering and is unlikely to swing in favor of the 99% anytime soon. The chasm which exits between the rich and poor is also evident in the developing world. India is home to 156,000 millionaires and it is estimated that by 2018 the number of extremely wealthy people will double. (Barhat, 2015). India has sent a mission to Mars and holds the elite Formulae One motor racing event annually, yet 70% of India’s population live in the rural areas of the country and are poor. There are limited health facilities (the government spends as little 1% of its GDP on health care services) and 50% of Indians don’t have proper shelter; 70% don’t have access to decent toilets; 35% of households don’t have a nearby water source; 85% of villages don’t have a secondary school and over 40% of these same villages don’t have proper roads connecting them (Poverties.Org, 2013).
Like so many accounts of glamorized wealth, Barhat’s report (2105) understates the plight of the poor and disenfranchised in India in preference for a voyeuristic account of the narcissistic over consumption of the super-rich. In doing so he unwittingly affirms Marx’s claim that:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” (Marx, 1976)
As a system advanced capitalism subordinates people to profit, and of course I realize that I’m not the first to make that claim. Big business has long asserted it owns its customers and through the practice of extending credit to consumers and keeping them in debt, they not only own them, but enslave them through all kinds of small print agreements. People are born into debt and die in debt. The concept of a mortgage translated from the French literally means debt until death.
There’s no dignity afforded to a global population co-dependent on the credit-debt cycle as a means to survival in their day-today lives. Nor is there any dignity through subordinating free thought to the advertising gurus who manipulate our minds to buy more stuff. This view is supported through Apple Inc.’s recently recorded profit of $18bn, the largest recorded profit of any company in the post-industrialist age. This was made possible for two reasons. Firstly, through outsourcing-that somewhat shady and unethical idea that labor is cheaper in the developing world. Apple’s off shore operations (esp. in China) mass produces its products in factories akin to the industrial houses and sweat shops of the 19th century. And secondly, by millions of consumers who clamored for its latest iPhone. The specifications of its new product weren’t dissimilar to its previous ones-yet through slick advertising designed to subtlety manipulate the mind, and a globalized consumerist culture which brands all of as human capital-people thought they needed it either as an essential tool for communication or as a status accessory.
It seems we are all in love with money and stuff, and the acquisition of more of it is at the expense of our human dignity. And we know that the course of true love never did run smooth. Recently the daughter of the CEO of Korean Air had one of its commercial jets return to the departure gate after a flight attendants served her nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. The accounts of her rant and how she made the flight attendant kneel in front of her to apologize have been widely reported in the media. More recently it has been reported that Conrad Hilton, the not so great grandson son of the heirs to the Hilton hotel chain caused mayhem on an international flight, assaulting flight attendants and calling passengers in economy class peasants. If we take time to think and reflect on their behaviors and the course of human history, the economic and social future for all of us, looks very bleak indeed.
Barhat, V. (2015, January 27). BBC World: Capital. Retrieved from BBC World News: http://www.bbc/capital
Byanyima, W. (2015, January 19). Oxfam: The Power of People Against Poverty. Retrieved from Oxfam International: http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016
Marx, K. (1976). Capital, Vol. 1. London: Penguin.
Poverties.Org. (2013, June). Effects of Poverty in India:Between Injustice and Exclusion. Retrieved from Poverties.Org: Reasearch for Social & Economic Development: http://www.poverties.org/poverty-in-india.html