Over the last 30 years or so, we’ve witnessed a massive rise in inequality in Britain and in other countries across the world as neo-liberal economic policies replaced the more collectivist social democratic ones which dominated in 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
Publicly-owned assets have
been privatized, state provision cut back and extraordinarily
generous tax cuts have been given to the rich. In the US, the top
1 percent saw income growth of 31 percent between 2009-12-
compared to growth of less than 1 percent for the bottom 90
percent. A 2011 report of the OECD found that the income share of
the top 1 percent in Britain had more than doubled in the period
1970 to 2005.
Austerity? If you’re one of the 1 percent things have never been so good. In 2012, the world’s richest 100 people increased their wealth by $241 billion.
Supporters of the present system have long feigned concern about the gap between the 1 percent and the rest which has been a dominant feature of this era of turbo-capitalism- even though their policies just kept widening it.
Now though, the neo-liberals have stopped pretending that they care about the 'wealth gap' and are instead trying to justify it. No longer must we regard inequality as a Bad Thing, but in fact, we should be celebrating it. We saw a classic example of that in the speech given last week by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to the Centre for Policy Studies think tank.
“I am afraid that violent economic centrifuge is operating on human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth,” Johnson said.
“Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130. … I stress I don’t believe that economic equality is possible. Indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”
The neoliberal message is that inequality is good for the economy as it makes people envious and more competitive in their efforts to ‘keep up‘. If you're poor it’s your fault: you’re either not ambitious enough or it’s because you’re stupid- and not as ‘gifted’ as those ‘brilliant’ bankers and ‘hugely talented’ hedge fund managers making millions in the City of London.
Of course, it’s all a load of hogwash: a pseudo-scientific attempt to justify an economic model whose whole purpose is to transfer wealth and resources from the majority to a small minority. Contrary to what Boris Johnson says, inequality doesn’t fuel economic growth - quite the opposite. More equal societies do much better economically than ones where there is a huge gap between rich and poor. It’s the traditionally egalitarian societies in Europe, such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which have been among the most prosperous and where average incomes are at their highest.
Contrary to the dominant Thatcherite narrative, economic growth rates and employment levels were much higher in Europe during the collectivist post-war era, when governments of all persuasions pursued policies to reduce inequalities, than they have been since neo-liberal policies were implemented.
And while we’re being told that the people at the very top of the income pyramid got there because of their ‘talent’, and ‘ambition’, in truth membership of the elite has far more to do with family wealth and connections. Over 30 years of neoliberalism and an ‘enterprise’ economy has left Britain with very low levels of social mobility: figures from 2012 showed that our earnings are more likely to reflect our fathers' than in any other country in the OECD.
This New Age of Inequality has been affecting international relations too.
The post-World War II international settlement, like the economic settlement, was one which had fairness at its core. It was held that all the states of the world were equal and that the ‘supreme international crime’ was to wage a war of aggression against a sovereign state. At the UN Assembly, all the countries of the world were given an equal vote, regardless of whatever political or economic system they operate under.
The neocons - who most certainly do not believe that all countries should be equal - have worked to destroy this system.
A bogus doctrine of ‘liberal interventionism’ was invented in the 1990s in order to justify the more powerful countries being able to attack weaker ones, to topple governments that didn’t show enough subservience and to steal the country’s resources.
In order to restructure the international order completely to their liking, the neocons have proposed the establishment of an elite ‘Concert of Democracies,’ or ’United Democratic Nations‘ or ‘League of Democracies’, which would be able to freely intervene (outside of the UN), in the affairs of other sovereign states - with of course, no such reciprocal right for the other, ’lesser’ states to intervene in the affairs of the self-appointed ‘elite‘ nations.
The neocon US Senator and 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain called for a ‘League of Democracies’ in 2007, saying the new body would be able to provide “unimpeded market access to those who endorse economic and political freedom,” and that it could pressurize tyrants “with or without Moscow’s or Beijing’s approval.” We can be sure that if the neocons did get their way the ‘democracies’ included in the new association, would only be ones they approved of, and not democratic countries which followed the ‘wrong’ economic and foreign policies like Venezuela.
It is clear that both at home and abroad Western global elites are determined to push for even greater inequalities- both between individuals and nations.
Make no mistake: what we are witnessing here is an attempt to undo all the progress of the 20th century - the century where for the first time in history ordinary people were given equal political, social and economic rights - and where, after World War II, countries were given equal rights too. The New Advocates of Inequality want to take us back to the middle of the 19th century and accept a world where a small number of countries - and a tiny, fabulously wealthy elite within those countries, have all the power.
It’s an incredibly reactionary and undemocratic project, yet it poses as a modern, democratic one. We can’t say we weren’t warned. At the 1975 Labour Party conference, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson remarked on the extremist policies the Conservative Party under their new leader Margaret Thatcher, were adopting.
At the time, Britain was enjoying the lowest levels of inequality in its history.
Internationally, things were positive too, with the Helsinki Accords signed that year between the USSR and other communist countries and the west, marking the high-water mark of détente. It was the Age of Equality between nations and within nations, but some wanted to change it.
“The political philosophy of a once great Party has now been asserted,” Wilson said of Thatcher’s Conservatives. “Not a claim to unite the nation, but a policy to divide it. We have been told, on impeccable and undeniable authority, that the pursuit of inequality for its own sake is now to become an end in itself. It is now to become the altar, the deity, before which they seek to prostrate themselves - and the country.”
Alas ‘the pursuit of inequality for its own sake’ hasn’t just affected Britain, but many other countries in the world too.
For the sake of the future progress of mankind, we urgently need to return to the democratic, egalitarian and genuinely progressive path we were travelling down before those elitist, reactionary ideologies - neoliberalism and neo-conservatism - took over.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.