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: Amazon.com 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).
Again, just consider the numbers: Even if we take away 99.99 percent of Bezos’ wealth, he would still have US$11.2 million, which is more than fair and just compensation for his contribution to society and far exceeds anything most people or I could ever dream about.
This wealth needs to be reinvested by governments so that we can finance urgently needed environmental sustainability solutions, and at the same time, address and alleviate inequality within and between nations (“From yellow vests to the Green New Deal,” Jan. 11, page 9; “Elections will not halt green push,” Dec. 9, 2018, page 6).
Otherwise, we have no chance whatsoever of healing our societies, saving our environment, including the climate and the living world (biodiversity and ecosystems), and educating and retraining our people as automation and artificial intelligence squeeze the labor market (eg, “Climate change, free markets and Marxism,” Nov. 30, 2018, page 9).
For many years, I have repeatedly called for such a “radical” social and environmental rebuilding of our societies (eg, “Global economy must be rebuilt,” Dec. 21, 2009, page 8), only to be ignored — once even by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) when I suggested such a remaking of Taiwan (www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEKyyid_Woo).
I was not even surprised by the recent DPP election losses: I expected it all along, because, instead of embracing “radical” solutions, the DPP government has simply continued using the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s solutions with a few well-meant, but ultimately ineffective minor tweaks here and there — and the people have called the DPP out on it.
Bruno Walther is a professor of biology at National Sun Yat-sen University’s Department of Biological Sciences.
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