Within the current economic system not only are individuals and companies competing against one another, but geographical regions, countries, states, even towns within states/counties, are battling it out. Every group is manipulating their particular ‘business environment’ – including their tax code – to entice the wealthy, lure big business and secure higher levels of ’inward investment’ than their neighbours; investment that is used to develop luxury homes, faceless shopping streets and designer health clubs. Establishing a fair and consistent tax structure in such an adversarial world seems unlikely, despite the public calls for ‘tighter controls’, closing down tax havens and ‘clamping down on tax dodgers’ by western politicians in the wake of Panama.
Injustice by Design
Based on money, the acquisition of material wealth and political power, the current economic model is set up to be undemocratic and is inherently unjust; and there cannot be peace where there is a lack of social justice. Injustice causes division, resentment and anger; division fuels conflict and mistrust, which inevitably results in violence.
It is a system designed by the rich and powerful to maintain control of society and to increase their hold on power, and as such clearly meets Aristotle’s definition of an Oligarchy (in Politics III): ‘rule by the few in their own interest.’ Wealth is now concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of people at unprecedented levels; as Noam Chomsky puts it in Requiem for the American Dream, ‘concentrations of wealth yields concentrations of power,’ which set in motion a spiral of increasing wealth for the few, leading to greater and greater levels of power, feeding even more wealth, and so on. This is evidenced by a report from Oxfam America, which shows that “from 2008 – 2014 the 50 largest US companies collectively received $27 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts for every $1 they paid in federal taxes;” that these companies “spent approximately$2.6 billion on lobbying while receiving nearly $11.2 trillion in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.” Meaning that for every $1 spent on lobbying congress and the President, these “50 companies collectively received $130 in tax breaks and more than $4,000 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.”
Economic policy is designed to serve the interests of the wealthy and keep the majority of the population poor or almost poor, certainly financially insecure and emotionally anxious, disempowered, marginalised and ignored. Democracy is a noble construct in a corrupt world; an ideal chanted by the rulers of mankind to present the illusion of progress and commonality, create hope for the marginalised masses, and add colour and dignity to the shadow play of corporate state politics.
Wealth and income inequality worldwide is greater than ever. According to Oxfam “the richest 1% have accumulated more wealth than the rest of the world put together. Meanwhile, the wealth owned by the bottom half of humanity has fallen by a trillion dollars in the past five years.” The charity goes on to relate that “just 62 individuals now have the same wealth as 3.6 billion people – half of humanity. This figure is down from 388 individuals as recently as 2010,” revealing that the fruits of the world are in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Within the current economic paradigm this is inevitable.
Some argue that inequality and the concentration of wealth is immaterial providing the majority of people are less poor – which in many countries, developing and developed, the US for example, where the Washington Post report, “the poor are still getting poorer”, is untrue. This view allows the rich to fill to overflowing; whilst the rest, who are expected to accept the unjust order with a grateful nod of thanks that at least we’re not starving anymore or living in a workhouse, struggle to pay rent, cannot send their children to university, afford health care, eat well, and are excluded from the world of culture, which is largely unaffordable. It also ignores the fact that not only is inequality morally indefensible, but it feeds a range of social ills from suicide to teenage pregnancy, community violence and mistrust, and drug/alcohol dependency, amongst other destructive issues. All of which are higher in the most unequal countries of the world: America and Britain, for example.
The economic system, call it neo-liberalism or as P. Sainath states, ‘market fundamentalism’, which “Reaganomics and Thatcherism fought many crusades for the new religion in the 1980s“, is designed to encourage selfishness, materialism and greed. And is, he says “inseparable from democracy. It is democracy”, or we could say, it both defines and denies democracy.
It is a model that feeds division, emphasises the trivial and creates the conditions in which corruption, manipulation of the ‘rules’, and dishonesty are inevitable – as the 11 million documents that surfaced from the offices of Mossack Fonseca reveal. Tax avoidance, by those who can afford the corrupt accountants, is but the crudest form of deceit and criminality employed by corporations and wealthy individuals. It costs developed nations $billions every year: the US alone loses an estimated $111 billion to corporate tax dodging, Oxfam reports, but studies show that the cost of tax avoidance impacts poor nations disproportionately. A report by Christian Aid in 2008 stated that $160 billion per year is lost, and states that, “illegal, trade-related tax evasion will likely be responsible for the death of 5.6 million children through 2000 to 2015.” The economic system that encourages such dishonesty, we could therefore say, is literally killing people as well as poisoning the planet.
Inherent human qualities, such as compassion, empathy and kindness are deliberately driven out of people, for such natural tendencies unite and connect individuals; from the perspective of the ruling elite, when people are united they become dangerous, i.e., they begin to demand some of the politically championed democratic principles, albeit universally ignored; participation, social justice and economic fairness/opportunity.
Market fundamentalism is purposely designed to be socially unjust and to perpetuate and intensify the status quo. This suppressive blanket has been purposely set up to strengthen certain human traits: it promotes the idea that mankind is born competitive and selfish, that greed and desire are part of the fabric of our being, and should be encouraged; and that self-interest flowing from the instinctive urge for self-preservation is by extension perfectly natural, and cannot be challenged, let alone changed. Life and mankind are defined in simplistic materialistic terms, which has enabled a system to be consciously constructed which maintains discontent amongst the majority by constantly agitating desire for material possessions and sensory gratification, and has led to competition and division being at the heart of many, if not all areas of life. The personality, self or ego, with all its conflicts and violent tendencies, is constantly fed, decisions are made from this noisy, contradictory, self-centred position, and inevitably disharmony follows, individually and collectively.
Such so-called ‘values’, which to many of us are not values at all, have created a largely hedonistic, deeply divided materialistic civilisation, in which the individual is all that matters; conformity is virtually insisted upon and individuality curtailed. It is a civilisation in crisis, with a dysfunctional economic system sitting at the poisonous heart of the manifold issues facing humanity; a civilisation in transition, from an out-dated unjust paradigm to, many of us believe, a new, fair and equitable model. Pragmatic creative ideas are increasing ly being discussed, new ways of re-organising society that respond both to the collective need and the changes in working and living patterns – largely brought about by technology – show there is a way out of the present economic quagmire.
Many are responding to the mood of the time and calling for change. Strong is the resistance of the ruling elite and the reactionary, conservative forces, who cynically declare that there is no alternative to the existing economic model. As writer and thinker Benjamin Crème explains “the world is divided into two groups: those who are holding on to the old greedy and selfish nationalistic systems and who thus represent the reactionary forces of the world; and those…who are looking for a way of brotherhood and co-operation, a realization of the interdependence that results from the fact that we are one humanity.”
Cooperation: a sign of the times
Although it is held by devotees of market fundamentalism to be a driving force for innovation and ‘development’, competition, which is inherently divisive and denies humanity’s essential unity, is something to be overcome – replaced by cooperation. In an encouraging sign of the times, groups of people are increasingly coming together – whether it be regarding the environment, political campaigns or local community issues, and working cooperatively.
In last year’s Financing and Development talks the ‘group of 77 countries and China’, made clear their view, that “international cooperation [is required] to address the need to strengthen tax systems as well as gaps in areas such as illicit financial flows, capital flight and tax evasion, which undermine development efforts and can only be tackled collectively.” It is estimated that developing countries lose “$1 trillion a year in illicit financial flows, far more than they receive in aid,” which, The Guardian reports, “at its all-time high in 2013 was about $135 billion a year.” The call from G77 countries for ‘international cooperation’ and ‘a global intergovernmental tax body at the United Nations’ has been universally supported by civil society organisations, including Christian Aid, Oxfam and the Global Alliance for Tax Justice amongst others.
Cooperation is one of the keynotes of the time. Sharing, tolerance, understanding and, underlying all such perennial principles, unity, a recognition of the eternal oneness of humanity, are others. Such ideals should fashion the systems and institutions that govern our lives, specifically the economic system that needs to be re-designed to take the material anxiety out of living, by addressing – irrespective of financial circumstances – the basic needs of all people: food, shelter, health care and education, which, despite being enshrined as human rights (article 25 UNDHR), are currently only available to those who can afford them.
In a move that seems in keeping with the ideals of the time which recognises that everyone has a right to the essentials of life, as well as the potential large-scale change in employment resulting from the ability of robots to undertake many of the mundane, physical tasks that human beings have previously done, various countries in Europe as well as Ontario in Canada, where a pilot scheme is said to be imminent, are looking at a scheme of statutory state payments. The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), paid to every citizen, whether in or out of work is under discussion in Switzerland (where a recent referendum voted against introducing it), Finland, Holland and Britain, where the Labour party are looking closely at it. The proposed Finnish scheme incorporates voluntary work components, recognising that collective action and social responsibility are necessary ingredients in any major shift in economic policy. Such responsibility grows out of and fosters the realisation of humanity’s essential unity.
A common-sense approach to the current unjust economic model, as suggested by Benjamin Crème, would be to make an inventory of what each nation produces as well as what every country requires to meet the needs of its population. Such data will make clear the produce of the world, as well as humanity’s collective requirements, enabling the natural resources, as well as the knowledge, skills and conveniences of modern life to be shared from this common pool as necessary; so that everyone, no matter their place of birth, is adequately fed and housed, has access to good health care and decent education. Such a straightforward worldwide framework, with sharing at its heart is a simple and just alternative to the existing model and would bring an end to food insecurity and acute poverty, neither of which should anymore be present in our world. Humanity is one; let unity in diversity be the anthem of the times, and let sharing be the principle that creates justice, engenders trust and facilitates peace.