There’s no denying that if you give a hundred people a dollar each it won’t be as useful as giving one person a hundred dollars to work with. History teaches this lesson again and again. It’s the age-old rationalization for income inequality. To be effective capital must be concentrated. You can’t make the poor rich by making the rich poor.
In Jamaica, when I was growing up, large tracts of land were owned by a few families, while most Jamaicans had little or no land. The large plantations – properties they were called – could produce cash crops like sugar cane and bananas far more cost-effectively than tiny plots. In many cases, the island’ s “small farmers” supplemented their income by working on the big “properties.”
The concentration of land was the basis of the island’s agrarian economy.
It’s the same kind of thinking that supported the British tradition of leaving everything to the eldest son instead of dividing up a family’s resources on the death of its patriarch.
It obviously was not fair, but there was an economic justification of sorts – the preservation of capital in enough concentration to be effective.
But surely there’s a point of diminishing returns in this equation. And I think the global economy is at – or past – this point.
When 85 of the world’s richest people control more of its resources than the 3.5 billion poorest, there can be no reasonable justification for the current economic system.
And that’s what a recent Oxfam study has found.
To me, this state of affairs is patently absurd. Such extreme concentration of capital cannot possibly serve the world’s best interests.
I see the looting of the world by a few powerful people as an argument for government intervention. I would argue that to serve the best interests of the global community, governments must temper the excesses of the “free market.” I would suggest promoting such things as the development of credit unions and employee-ownership as an alternative way of concentrating capital. And I see free education for all as the only way to provide equality of opportunity.
But – surprise! – not everyone agrees with me.
According to a report in Salon.com today, Canadian TV personality Kevin O’Leary perceives the Oxfam report as reason to celebrate the transformative powers of capitalism.
Salon quotes O’Leary as saying:
[I]t inspires everybody, gets them motivation to look up to the one percent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people, I’m going to fight hard to get up to the top.’This is fantastic news and of course I applaud it. What can be wrong with this?
I’m sure O’Leary is not alone. The lucky few who have corralled the bulk of the world’s loot would probably echo his sentiments.
And I suspect many voters are influenced by the hope that they, too, might some day become vastly rich. And when they do, they don’t want the tax man showing up or the government telling them how to spend their money.
Of course, they have as much chance of joining the ranks of the super-rich in today’s rigged society as they have of winning the lottery, but – hey – look how many lottery tickets are sold.
They’re chasing the dream, I suppose.
But, sadly, like Aesop’s dog that jumped into the stream to get the bone reflected there (above), they are giving up the chance of a decent life for an empty promise.