It has been prominently reported in the news over the last month that, by next year, the richest 1 percent in the world are expected to control half of the world’s wealth, as inequality rises to an unprecedented extent. This further demonstrates the inexorable law of capitalism that, over time, the rich get richer and the poor, relatively speaking, get poorer.
Just 80 people in the world own $1.9tn between them – equivalent to what is shared by 3.5 billion poor people, according to research by Oxfam published on 19 January. Of course, if the poor were living relatively comfortably, with jobs, career prospects, medical care, education services, and a sufficiency of food and means of entertainment, the fact that there were mega-rich people living somewhere out of sight owning more money than God would scarcely trouble them, or even impinge on their consciousness.
The trouble is that in this world of capitalist hyper-productivity, more and more working-class people and peasants are being pushed below the poverty line, especially as austerity measures are being implemented in order to save finance capital at the expense of the poor.
Anticipating an angry backlash against the bourgeois parasites, various defenders of capitalism, such as US President Obama in his State of the Union speech this year, have been mildly suggesting that taxes on the rich could be increased to help the “middle class” (by which Obama means those of the working class lucky enough to have a job that offers a reasonable standard of living).
This ‘middle class’ in the US has apparently shrunk in size from 45 percent to 43 percent of households since the beginning of the century, while the well off, defined as those with incomes over $100,000, have declined from 25 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile, the poor – ie, those whose household income is below $35,000 (£23,000) a year – has gone up from 31 percent to 34 percent of the population. In the US, there is very little state support for people on low incomes, so a wage of £23,000 brings on average a lower standard of living than it would in Europe. (See ‘Middle class shrinks further as more fall out instead of climbing up’ by Dionne Searcy and Robert Gebeloff, New York Times, 26 January 2015)
Thomas Piketty, in his fashionable volume on Capital in the 21st Century has also advocated that, in view of growing inequality, the rich would do well in their own interests to organise a modicum of redistribution in favour of the poor. There are even a handful of rich people who take such injunctions seriously. They are the exception who prove the rule. Most hang on to every penny like grim death and are engaged full-time in looking for ways to enrich themselves still further.
In a way, they are right. The laws of capitalism will always eventually work to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, however much charity the rich care to dispense. Why waste money when, so far at least, in many parts of the world, the poor are either quiescent and/or completely unfocussed on the need to bring an end to the capitalist system? The lesson for the oppressed must be that even to be offered charity we have to fight – and fight the real enemy, too. We must fight the capitalist system and all those who defend it.