1990s >> 1999 >> no-1140-august-1999

World View:*Who owns the world?* The triumph of hope over experience


    * Who owns the world?
    * The triumph of hope over experience

Who owns the world?

There are sufficient resources in the world to provide adequately for every human being on earth. Why then do millions die annually of hunger and hunger-related illnesses? Why then is there poverty in every country throughout the world? Why then are people homeless and millions living in slums? Why then are there wars over markets, trade routes and places of strategic interest? Why is there competition, alienation, crime and the sort of conflict we have in Northern Ireland which, however disguised as a political or religious war is, when stripped of its rhetoric, a profane struggle over access to jobs, homes, status and profits? Why, when there is potential abundance for all to the goods and services that are needed by the whole human family do we live in a state of economic anarchy and political barbarism?

The answer, quite simply and beyond dispute, is that the resources of the earth as well as the tools of production and the instruments of distribution do not belong to society. They are the property of a relatively small minority class of capitalists. The working class is denied access to the land, factories, mills, mines, warehouses, stores and other resources of society except when they are permitted to work in the production of wealth.

It is the working class that applies its skills and energies to the resources of nature and produces all wealth. But workers are only permitted to work in such circumstances as hold out the promise of profit for their masters. Whether its bread or battleships, production is not undertaken simply to satisfy real or imagined need. The primary purpose of production is profit and if there is not the prospect of profit for the capitalist class then, however essential the needs of the working class are, if there is no profit there is no production. That is why people who can not pay for food die of hunger; that is why thousands of children whose parents have not got the equivalent of 50p for readily-available treatment go blind; that is why we say that it is absurd to say that our society is civilised.

There is an abundance of evidence to prove the truth of our assertion about who owns the world. You see that evidence all around you, in the workplace where you sell your mental or physical skills, in the shop or store where, whatever your needs, you only get what you pay for.

Devastating global evidence of our statement is contained in the latest UN Human Development Report for 1998. We quote only a few facts from the report:

    * 225 individuals own wealth equivalent to 47 percent of the world’s population
    * the wealth of just three of these individuals exceeds the Gross National Product of the world’s 47 poorest nations
    * For 4 percent of the combined income of the three wealthiest people we could provide universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, adequate food for all and safe water and sanitation for all

The owning class and their political agents argue that freedom and democracy are based on the right of ownership. As the UNHD Report shows this means that a few own and control the means of life of the many; that the freedom, wealth and privilege of the capitalist class is based on the slavery and poverty of the working class.

Shipbreaker in Bangladesh.

Some forty thousand children die every single day of hunger or its related illnesses; millions are denied education, health care, water fit to drink and sanitation while hundreds of thousands of children suffer blindness. In both the so-called Third World and the developed countries people suffer varying degrees of destitution or want. All this in order that a relatively few people can accumulate wealth often far beyond what any human being could require in a thousand lifetimes.



The triumph of hope over experience

The annual UN Human Development Report is now ten years old. The latest edition published this July, like its predecessors, reads as a crushing indictment of capitalism, yet still its authors foresee no way forward but to reform the institutions and the system that blights the lives of billions of us each day.

As ever, its observations, facts and statistics reveal a world increasingly divided between rich and poor and in which there is little prospect for improvement.

While the world’s richest 200 people have doubled their wealth to over $1 trillion in the past four years, the number of people existing on less than a dollar a day remains the same at 1.3 billion (incidentally, the number of humans estimated to go without a meal on any given day).

The wealthiest three people in the world continue to increase their fortunes. Between them, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Paul Allen have assets (according to Forbes magazine) of $156 billion. This figure is greater than the combined GNP of the world’s 43 poorest countries—of which some 600 million inhabitants can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, some 80 countries now have a lower per-capita income than when the report first appeared in 1989, and in spite of all the wise UN recommendations put forward since then.

The New World Disorder.

There is much in the report that criticises the power of the multinationals. It points out that of all world patents, 97 percent are held by companies based in the industrialised countries. The report highlights the way the rules permit multinationals to hog intellectual property rights and traditional remedies and cites an example. Two years ago, a University of Mississippi research team was granted a US patent for using turmeric to heal wounds, in spite of this having been an Indian remedy for thousands of years. When ancient Sanskrit evidence was presented, the patent was withdrawn.

In a section on technology, the UN reveals the myth of the trickle-down effect of the hi-tech revolution which was supposed to ease globalisation and be to the benefit of all. While access to the Internet is said to speed growth, we find that 88 percent of users live in the West, and whereas a Bangladeshi would have to save his wages for eight years to buy a computer, the average American need only sweat for a month. As the report points out: “The literally well connected have an overpowering advantage over the unconnected poor, whose voice and concerns are being left out of the global conversation.”

Ted Turner, owner of CNN and the man who donated $1 billion to the UN last year, is afforded space for a special message in the report, which re-emphasises the UN’s demand for poverty reduction:

Even as communication, transport technology are driving global economic expansion headway on, poverty is not keeping pace . . . it is as if globalisation is in fast forward, and the world’s ability to understand and react to it is in slow motion.

Those supposedly in the know, whose words carry weight, certainly do not seem to understand the nature of capitalism, for they react in the same reformist manner as always. The UN itself in the report makes a number of proposals to counter the dire effects of “globalisation”.

The UN recommends a World Trade Organisation capable of enforcing a code of conduct for multinationals, of having the power to curb their monopolistic tendencies; it suggests the establishment of a global central bank—as if the IMF is not enough—and a world investment trust that could redistribute incomes globally and a world forum of businesses, trade unions, environmental and development groups to counter the power of the G7 in global decision-making. Hope again triumphs over experience.

We approach the 21st century with the problems facing humanity many times greater than those that faced us at the start of the 20th century. There are more starving, more homeless, more impoverished people on the face of the earth than at any time in human history. Moreover, the threat of all-out war and environmental catastrophe that threatens the very existence of our planet and every living creature upon it is as real now than ever before.

The facts and statistics that bear out the glaring contradictions of capitalist society are churned out seemingly without end and by the very organisations set up to help rectify them. Still, the reformist logic prevails. Still, a little tampering with the system is all that is envisaged.

After ten years of UN reports, we would think the authors would have got the message. They system can’t be reformed in the interest of the majority. It works as it was always meant to work—to the benefit of a minority. Change is indeed needed, but it is so big a change it is beyond the ken of the likes of Ted Turner of CNN. It involves the total abolition of the money system and a freeing of the productive processes from the artificial constraints of profit. It involves the abolition of all borders and frontiers and the taking-away of power from all who use it to serve their own selfish ends. Simply, it involves the establishment of a global system of society in which we each have free access to the benefits of civilisation.

As we approach the beginning of a new millennium, with a century of raw capitalism behind us, these are the recommendations a Human Development Report would be making.



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