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Voice From the Back

Owners And Non-Owners

The development of the oil industry in the Middle East has led to immense wealth for the ruling class there. 'In just seven decades as a nation, Saudi Arabia has grown from an impoverished backwater of desert nomads to an economic powerhouse with an oil industry that brought in $300bn last year. Forbes magazine estimates King Abdullah's personal fortune at $18bn, making him the world's third-richest royal, behind the rulers of Thailand and Brunei' (Guardian, 1 January). The report goes on to record that the Saudi government discloses little official data about its poorest citizens. But press reports and private estimates suggest that between 2 million and 4 million of the country's native Saudis live on less than about $530 a month – about $17 a day – considered the poverty line in Saudi Arabia. So we have up to a quarter of the population living in poverty and hunger while the owning clique luxuriates in obscene wealth. This is capitalism in action.

Recession? Who’s Recessing?

We are at present living through an economic recession and we are told by the mass media that we all must share the hardships of these straitened times, but it seems that some are faring better than the rest of us. 'The richest people on the planet got richer in 2012, adding $241 billion to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world's 100 wealthiest individuals… Amancio Ortega, the Spaniard who founded retailer Inditex SA, was the year's biggest gainer. The 76-year-old tycoon's fortune increased $22.2 billion to $57.5 billion, according to the index, as shares of Inditex, operator of the Zara clothing chain, rose 66.7 per cent' (Chicago Tribune, 2 January).

Desperation In Spain

In recent years Spain has been struggling with a dramatic economic crisis, leading to an unemployment rate of 25 per cent and massive evictions. 'Spain's housing market collapsed in 2008 after a housing bubble, hurting the economy and causing a homelessness epidemic. As a result, more than 50,000 delinquent Spanish homeowners were evicted in the first half of 2012 alone, and 1 million homes lie empty in Spain, according to Reuters' (Huffington Post, 3 January). These evictions have led to locksmiths in Pamplona refusing to carry out evictions. This move they think could essentially stop evictions in Pamplona because even if the police kick a family out of their home, the evicted can still get back in if no one has changed the locks. But it’s unlikely to work.

The Dignity Of Labour

Desperate for work, many Mexicans come to the USA and Canada and work on the farms there. Concerned about migrants settling permanently, the Canadian government has very strict rules to deal with this. Only married men are eligible for the Canadian program, preferably those with young children, and their families must remain in Mexico. Another incentive to return home: a cut of the migrants’ wages is placed in a Canadian pension fund, receivable only if they return to Mexico. 'Once in Canada, the workers live like monks, sleeping in trailers or barracks, under contractual agreements that forbid them from drinking alcohol and having female visitors, or even socializing with other Mexican workers from different farms. Most of their time in Canada is limited to sleeping, eating and working long days that can stretch to 15 hours, without overtime pay' (Washington Post, 5 January).

Happy Families?

Aspiring politicians like to be seen as supporting families, but the reality is far different. 'Soaring energy bills are forcing one in four mothers to turn off their heating in the depths of winter in order to afford food for their children. Fuel poverty is resulting in thousands of families resorting to wearing extra clothes and using blankets in their homes. More than half of families turn off the heating in their houses when the children are out, while 45 per cent of adults keep warm using blankets or duvets during the day, according to a survey. ..... A shocking 23 per cent of families are already having to choose between buying food or using heating, according to a survey by the Energy Bill Revolution campaign' (Daily Mail, 6 January). Warm shows of affection by politicians won’t heat up your kid's bedroom.

Chinese Capitalism

It is always touching to see a father being generous to his daughter, but this takes a bit of beating. 'Bringing new meaning to the phrase 'happy couple,' Chinese businessman Wu Duanbiao gave his daughter and her husband a dowry worth nearly $150 million in celebration of their wedding on Sunday, according to the South China Morning Post' (Shine from Yahoo!, 2 January). This generosity is all the more remarkable as China pretends to be a communist country.