A Little Poverty Never Hurt Anybody
By Jason Miller
"It is like paradise and hell. They throw our petitions in the dustbin. They have everything. We have nothing… If we protest, they send soldiers. They sign agreements with us and then ignore us. We have graduates going hungry, without jobs. And they bring people from Lagos to work here.”
Eghare W.O. Ojhogar, chief of the Ugborodo community in Delta State (of Nigeria)
In describing the situation in Nigeria, Eghare presents us with a microcosm of a modern Inferno, Purgatorio, e Paradiso (about which there is little divine or comic). In the timeless struggle between the “haves and “have nots”, alarming numbers of “useless eaters” (“have nots”) are sliding from Purgatorio into the abyss of abject poverty’s Inferno.
And what heinous transgression did they commit that necessitated their banishment into the Inferno? They were born, of course. Most of those experiencing the misery of indigence had the misfortune to enter this world bearing a losing lottery ticket.
From their birth, the psyches of the poor and homeless in the “developed” nations and those of the impoverished in the “developing” nations are battered with the hopelessness and despair of their harsh realities. (Realities carefully created and perpetuated in a variety of ways by their “betters”).
After spending their formative years pitted against nearly overwhelming economic and social forces, the message many of them internalize probably reads something like this:
Sorry, washout. You are the wrong color, ethnicity, caste, social class, or nationality. Surviving to age 40 will be no small task for you. And if you manage to do so, your chances of significantly bettering your situation are quite slim. After all, the lottery winners invest a great deal in maintaining structural barriers to hold you down. But the good news is that you can add meaning to your miserable existence by working for slave wages( or simply withering and dying) to ensure that the tiny percentage of humanity enjoying economic Paradiso continues to do so and that the shrinking number of fortunates in Purgatorio experience a degree of comfort and security.
To gain some perspective on the extent of human suffering, avarice, and depravity associated with the gross imbalance in wealth and power, weigh these facts:
1. More than half of the 6.5 billion human souls populating Earth subsist on less than $2 per day. 790 million of the deeply impoverished suffer from chronic malnutrition (while 65% of US Americans are overweight).
2. 20% of the human race does not have access to clean water and 31% of the world’s population has no electricity.
3. Combining the gross domestic products of the 48 poorest nations (representing 25% of global population) yields a figure that is less than the wealth of the three richest people in the world.
4. “Developed nations” account for 80% of the world’s consumption and 20% of the world’s population.
5. The wealth gap between the richest and poorest countries went from 3 to 1 in 1820 to 72 to 1 in 1992.
6. Corporations account for over half of the 100 wealthiest entities in the world.
7. And most tragically:
“According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year.”
(Thanks to Global Issues.org for the above information)
Earth’s ruling oligarchs and plutocrats have created and perpetuated a socioeconomic dynamic in which the destitute have little or no access to education, basic healthcare, decent employment, or even basic necessities. From the United States to sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, those isolated in despairing communities with crumbling or non-existent infrastructures find themselves mired in impoverished breeding grounds for crime, high birth rates, substance abuse, and AIDS.
Perhaps an apt message for those impoverished children arriving in this world with three strikes against them would be:
“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate”, which is most commonly translated as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
How humane and politically correct those monopolizing Earth’s bounty have become. Monarchy has essentially been relegated to the dustbin of history. Empire building through brute force is becoming an increasingly rare event. Certainly the ruling elite maintain potent militaries to exercise their right to “defend themselves” (as they are doing in Iraq and Lebanon). But more often then not, the masters of the human race have learned to wield their economic power like a heavy cudgel, capable of battering their foes into submission with a few swift strokes.
New age dawning?
As humanity basks in the nurturing rays of a long-awaited sunrise marking the dawn of a glorious new paradigm, a determined privileged class is determined to make utopia a reality for themselves. Ushering in a veritable paradise of free trade, “robust economies”, “ownership societies”, “freedom and liberty”, and unprecedented profits generated by massive companies unfettered by frivolous government regulation, predatory human beings now issue their edicts from corporate skyscrapers rather than moated castles.
Wage slaves and sweat shop laborers have supplanted serfs and chattel slaves. Five major corporations comprise 90% of the mass media in the United States. What are their specialties? Shaping public opinion to maintain the illusion that one of the world’s most rapacious and bellicose nations is a “benevolent superpower” and enticing those who fall prey to their charms to experience a virtually insatiable desire to acquire more material possessions. A brain-washed complacent citizenry perpetually ready to go on a buying binge is a wet dream for the ruling elite.
For many, the survival of their families depends upon the meager pay they receive from corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart. More fortunate wage slaves earn enough to cover the cost of necessities and to attain the goods the corporate media push like Ecstasy. Shopping….what a rush!
Between the US Americans who have high discretionary income and the easy credit issued to those who don’t, demand for consumer goods is nearly infinite. With grossly unfair laws (protecting consumers, the environment, and workers) squeezing their profits, those ingenious devils amongst the ruling elite concluded they would locate in "developing" countries where they could truly rape, pillage and plunder. Hence the worsening plight of those beholden to their corporate masters both in the United States and abroad.
Where is the wealth?
And just how heavily are the world’s assets concentrated into the hands of the elite? While the United States is by no means home to the entire world’s de facto aristocracy, it is the “leader of the obscenely rich world” and by default is the “leader of the (ostensibly) free world”.
For example, Professor G. William Domhoff of the University of California at Santa Cruz wrote in 2001:
“In terms of types of financial wealth, the top 1 percent of households have 44.1% of all privately held stock, 58.0% of financial securities, and 57.3% of business equity. The top 10% have 85% to 90% of stock, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America.”
And thanks to the Bush administration, that 10% is maintaining a firm grasp on what they own.
Pernicious and Enduring Lies
The predator class pacifies its subservient underclass with the myth that in the United States and the satellite “free market economies” it has established (at gun-point or through the subversive activities of the CIA), everyone can become a successful entrepreneur by starting their own business. Yet like the lie that all impoverished individuals except widows, orphans, and the infirm are responsible for their own circumstances, this malicious fairy tale ignores several realities. Like the fiction about the impoverished, it assumes that all people are on a level playing field. However, that notion is far removed from reality. Some people have a higher quality education than others. Individuals receiving a high degree of support from friends and family are much more likely to succeed than those who have little or no support. While some starting a business have financial resources behind them, others have virtually nothing but their drive and ideas. Market forces, weather patterns, competition, health, and many other variables can serve to make or break a “budding capitalist”. And no two people are alike or face the same conditions.
Approximately 150 million of those young and healthy enough to work in the United States earn a wage or salary. (Versus a relatively paltry figure of 20 million who are self-employed). 85% of small businesses fail within 5 years. Corporate leviathans like Wal-Mart and Microsoft have defied anti-trust laws to crush myriad competitors, including many small entrepreneurs. Horatio Alger success stories are none too plentiful in the “land of opportunity”. And the grim reality is that the Goliath corporate giants usually prevail against the David small businesses.
In 2003, the average worker in the United States was netting $517.00 per week. How much were CEO’s taking home at that time? A mere $155,000. 52 times per year. That is a staggering 301 to 1 differential. In 1982 the ratio of CEO to average worker pay was “a mere” 42 to 1. From 1990 to 2003 US corporate profits rose 128%.
To further appreciate the obscene avarice of the world’s plutocracy, consider that the average garment worker in Bangladesh earned 13 cents per hour in 2004. The “10% of the people who own the United States” and their counter-parts in nations around the globe are doing very well thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of the remaining 6 billion or so human beings on the planet.
Incorporating their Avarice
Corporations are the Holy Grail for the rich and powerful. They provide moneyed individuals investment vehicles which afford them extremely limited personal liability, financially and criminally. By the late 19th Century in the United States, corporations had acquired many of the legal rights of a human being. Despite their roots in British colonialism and the deep apprehensions of founders like Thomas Jefferson, corporations have come to dominate the United States and much of the world culturally, politically, and economically.
Jefferson’s expression of concern to George Logan in 1816 was well-founded:
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
Not only was the aristocracy of moneyed corporations born. Its power has grown to such monstrous proportions that it has virtually crushed the life from a still relatively nascent social experiment based on democratic ideals and Constitutional law.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, the pharmaceutical industry alone has spent $675 million lobbying the government to shape public policy over the last seven years. The insurance industry spent even more if one includes campaign donations. Through their corporate proxies, the moneyed elite invest a great deal in the United States’ political system. They expect and receive a great deal in return.
"Defending" the predator class is an expensive proposition
Spending at a clip of $600 billion per year (including Iraqi Occupation costs), the United States accounts for 50% of the world’s military spending. As George Bush (the current public face of the world’s plutocracy) so sagely reminded us, “Free nations are peaceful nations.” To manufacture the many instruments of peace which prove how free we are, the United States relies on 737 defense contractors, sometimes known as the military-industrial complex. Of those 737 contractors, a mere five have received government contracts totaling $284 billion over the last six years. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics do quite well at the public trough. Halliburton has also fared nicely since former CEO Dick Cheney took office and helped lie the United States into the Iraqi Occupation. Facilitating killing is their business, and business is good.
Sedating the masses with consumerism, spin, fear-mongering and historical revisions; lobbying heavily; donating huge sums to political campaigns; and maintaining the military industrial complex are powerful means of securing the seats of power in DC and Tel Aviv. However, the predator class has yet another weapon at its disposal: the revolving door between government and major corporations. Men like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are but two stalwarts of the privileged class who have traversed back and forth from roles of great influence in major corporations to positions of power within the government. But they are not pioneers. Theirs is a path blazed by many before them and almost certain to be followed by many after them.
A glimpse of the ugly reality of pathological avarice in action...
To move beyond an abstract analysis of the machinations of the oppression and exploitation of most of the human race by a select and privileged few, consider one of many specific examples. For years, British and US oil interests have enjoyed the complicity of the criminal ruling elite in Nigeria in plundering an incredibly valuable natural resource. In return a majority of the indigenous people have received land too polluted to farm, brutal attacks by government forces, and extreme poverty.
According to an article written for Amnesty International:
“It's 10 years since the Nigerian Government executed the well-known Ogoni writer and human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa. But little has changed for the people of the Niger Delta, reports Seth Jordan….
…Oil was discovered in the Ogoni region in the late 1950s by the Royal Dutch/Shell Group….by the 1990s an estimated US $30 billion worth of oil had already been extracted, and oil revenues accounted for over 98 per cent of Nigeria's foreign exchange earnings; the 550,000 local farmers and fishermen who inhabited the coastal land had received little except a ravaged environment. Once fertile farmland had been destroyed by uncontrolled pollution, and virtually all fish and wildlife had vanished. Only a handful of local people were employed by the oil companies or benefited economically in any way….
“On 4 February 2005, soldiers from Nigeria's Joint Task Force fired on protesters from the Ugborodo community at the Escravos oil terminal run by Chevron Nigeria. One man was shot and later died from his injuries. Thirty other demonstrators were injured by blows from rifle butts and other weapons. Neither the government nor the oil company provided adequate medical care or helped to transport the injured.”
Nigeria provides a potent example of the blatant abuses of the impoverished masses by the privileged few. But sadly, it is but one of many such cases.
While the rapacious individuals who wield the power in this world have stacked the deck heavily in their favor, there are glimmers of hope. The United States and Israel are both failing in their wars of aggression in the Middle East. A wave of democratic socialism is beginning to sweep South America. A populist leader may still win the presidency in Mexico. Joe Lieberman was ejected. And checks and balances were at least temporarily restored in the United States when a federal judge ordered George Bush to obey the Constitution.
A collective populist movement is slowly evolving. It is only a matter of time before humanity’s oppressed put aside their religious, racial, and nationalist differences to unite against their common enemy. When six billion people act in unison against a few million, there will indeed be a new world order.
Jason Miller describes himself a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He writes prolifically and his essays have appeared widely on the Internet. He welcomes constructive correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.