Time for sharing and a just economic model

Sharing the planet

There are alternatives to greed and division

By Graham Peebles

Over and above the greed and corruption of wealthy and powerful individuals, the leaked Panama Papers revealed the need for a worldwide, standardised tax code, as part of a radical new global economic model. Not globalisation – which is ideologically based, designed by the ruling elite and set up to serve the interests of national and multinational corporations and banks, but a new and just system designed to meet the needs of everyone, with sharing and social justice at its heart.

In the current economic system not only are individuals and companies competing against one another, but geographical regions, countries, states, even towns within states, 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 the Panama Papers.

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: “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 put it in “Requiem for the American Dream”, “concentrations of wealth yield 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.

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

This is evidenced by a report from Oxfam America, which shows that “from 2008 to 2014 the 50 largest US companies collectively received USD27 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts for every USD1 they paid in federal taxes”, that these companies “spent approximately USD2.6 billion on lobbying while receiving nearly USD11.2 trillion in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts”. This means that for every USD1 spent on lobbying Congress and the president, these “50 companies collectively received USD130 in tax breaks and more than USD4,000 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 per cent 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, provided the majority of people are less poor. This view allows the rich to fill to overflowing while the rest struggle to pay rent, cannot send their children to university, afford health care or 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, among other destructive issues – all of which are higher in the most unequal countries of the world: America and Britain, for example.

Encouraging corruption

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 (the Panama Papers) that surfaced from the offices of Mossack Fonseca reveal. Tax avoidance, by those who can afford the corrupt accountants, is but one form of deceit and criminality employed by corporations and wealthy individuals. It costs developed nations billions of dollars every year: the US alone loses an estimated USD111 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 revealed that USD160 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 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 – participation, social justice, and economic fairness and opportunity.

Hollow values

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 among 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 areas of life. The 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; it is a civilisation in crisis; 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 increasingly being discussed, new ways of reorganising society that respond both to the collective need and 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 the 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 cooperation, a realisation 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 and replaced by cooperation. In an encouraging sign of the times that 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 and China” (G77+1), 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 “USD1 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 USD135 billion a year”. The call from the G77+1 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.

Cooperation is one of the keynotes of the time. Sharing, tolerance, understanding, unity and 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 redesigned 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 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), are currently only available to those who can afford them.

In a move that seems in keeping with the ideals of the time, and which recognises that everyone has a right to the essentials of life, as well as the potential large-scale change in employment (due to robots undertaking many of the tasks 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 is looking closely at UBI. 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 be present in our world anymore.

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.

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