“The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed,” wrote someone (apparently not Mahatma Gandhi). But it’s still true.
The World Economic Forum has just met in Davos and, in anticipation, Oxfam released a damning report duly ignored by the political and corporate business leaders who took part. Oxfam’s briefing paper “An Economy for the 1%”, asserted that:
“The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest. A global network of tax havens further enables the richest individuals to hide $7.6 trillion. The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.”
Oxfam cited “the global spider’s web of tax havens and the industry of tax avoidance” that has been given “intellectual legitimacy by the dominant market fundamentalist worldview that low taxes for rich individuals and companies are necessary to spur economic growth”. In response to iniquitous inequality between rich and poor, Oxfam is demanding an end to tax havens, which have denied governments the resources needed to eradicate poverty.
Abolition or effective regulation may be easier said than done, but the real heart of the matter lies in political influence and the attendant whiff of corruption. As The Guardian’s senior economics commentator Aditya Chakrabortty pointed out (“We’ve been conned by the rich predators of Davos”, 19 January 2016):
“Massive inequality has allowed the 1% to buy political influence as never before in post-war history. Indeed, the super-rich now practically write their own tax laws – such as the way senior executives of Britain’s biggest businesses were invited by George Osborne to advise on overhauling corporation taxes. They get to ensure that tax havens are treated with due leniency, all the better to hide their trillions in them. They buy their own politicians, as with the shadow-bankers who funded the Conservative election campaign or the billionaire Koch brothers using their fortune to tip the US presidential contest. Indeed, the more ambitious decide to become politicians.”
The World Economic Forum is a super elite club whose members have all kinds of back-scratching relationships and some of whom may well be implicated in the wheeling and dealing of the kind of global banking conspiracies that plagued the past decade. Worse still, they do not actually know what they are doing. In “The failure of Davos”, posted on fusion.net (21 January 2016), financial journalist and blogger Felix Salmon was scathing in his summing up of this year’s event:
“This is the year when it started becoming increasingly obvious that the emperor has very, very few clothes. The bankers and policymakers aren’t even faking it anymore, and are increasingly willing to admit that they have no idea what’s happening and no idea what to do about it… The grandiloquence is as lofty as ever, but the world has not come together; instead, it is fracturing, and the World Economic Forum’s manifold Leaders are reduced to the status of impotent spectators.”
In the famous tale by Hans Christian Andersen, a vain Emperor, who only cares about wearing expensive clothes, hires two tailors who promise him the finest costume made out of a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid”. When the suit is ready, the tailors mime dressing the Emperor, who makes believe all is well. The Emperor’s ministers cannot see the clothes, but pretend that they can for fear of dismissal. The Emperor marches in procession before his subjects and the townsfolk play along, not wishing to appear stupid. Then, a child in the crowd, too young and naive to understand the need for pretence, blurts out that the Emperor has no clothes.
In previous years, the World Economic Forum has been accused of being threadbare. Now, it is naked but unashamed. Time for a change.