Thu, Jan 17, 2019 - Page 8 News List

The radical rebuilding of societies

By Bruno Walther

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for much higher taxes — up to 70 percent — for rich people (“Representative punts ‘radical’ US tax strategy,” Jan. 11, page 9). Such a call was long overdue given rising inequality, not just in wealth, but also in media and political control, resource consumption and waste production, and ownership of material resources.

Naturally, the right-wing neoliberals immediately called her a “radical,” which is one of the several meaningless labels that they try to pin on people who call for a just and sustainable world. Other popular ones used by such simpletons are “communist” and “eco-fascist,” as if these terms have no definite meaning and can just be used on everyone and everything (eg, “Environmental fascism is Earth’s only salvation,” Nov. 19, 2006, page 19).

However, the truth is that more and more people realize this basic truth: The truly “radical” idea is that people should be allowed to become so disproportionately and outrageously rich, and then be allowed to use their wealth to distort our media and wreck our environment by gobbling up all the resources and producing far more waste than other people by buying up real estate and properties, thus enabling themselves to become evermore richer and evermore isolated from the real world that normal people face.

At the same time, normal people such as me, such as the “yellow vests” in France, such as the frustrated people all over the world, including Taiwanese, are realizing that they are just being fed enough bread crumbs to either just get by, or to not even make it through the day or the month on their meager paychecks.

More and more research shows, as common sense suggests, that there is nothing more corrosive to democratic societies than income inequality; it is even a threat to dictatorships.

Just to give one numerical example: founder Jeff Bezos is worth about US$112 billion, which means, to my approximate calculations, that he earned 225,000 times what I earned over about the same lifespan.

In other words, whenever I earned US$1, he earned US$225,000; or, I have to work 625 years to earn what he earns in one day.

This is not just grotesquely unfair, but also outrageously dangerous to social cohesion. While Jeff Bezos should be rewarded for having had a good idea and executing it well, he should not be rewarded so completely out of proportion.

My job is to educate science and public health students, and to publish environmental research. Compared with how society has rewarded Bezos, society considers what I have done for my entire career to be essentially worthless. The same goes for all the world’s educators, doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, office workers, blue-collar workers, farmers, salespeople, waste collectors, etc — almost everybody who keeps society working.

Societies need to reward initiative, invention and courage, otherwise we end up with egalitarian or state-controlled communism, which patently does not work (“Venezuela and Bolivia teach how to do socialism — and how not to,” Jan. 7, page 7).

However, brainwashed by neoliberal dogma, most capitalist societies are heading straight into the other “radical” direction of being controlled solely by those who have superabundant resources.

In my humble opinion, not having sufficiently addressed the problem of inequality is one of the main reasons for the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) local election losses on Nov. 24 last year. The only reasonable solution is to not just tax the hell out of rich people, but also to take away most of their other wealth (“There is a way to address inequality, if the powerful allow it,” Aug. 3, 2014, page 9).

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