The greed, arrogance and unconscionable conduct that characterises the present era of extreme capitalism is truly breathtaking. Companies will do anything, anything, to squeeze the very last fraction of a cent of profit from their activities, no matter what the consequences to anyone else. No profit is ever, ever, big enough and no costs are ever, ever, low enough. There must be profit growth in every single year, or else it is deemed failure, no matter how huge the profit is. Even multibillion dollar profit must be increased every year. Then, if at all possible, these profits are disguised, manipulated and/or sent to subsidiary companies in tax havens to avoid paying any tax.
The population of Australia is around 23 million people. The biggest four banks in Australia last financial year (2012-12) declared $42 billion in combined total profit. Not turnover, but profit after all tax deductions are made, yet they have to be regulated by consumers taking class action legal suits to stop them charging unconscionable and incommensurate fees.
Individuals are no better. CEO’s and other high worth individuals continue to demand and amass huge, obscene remuneration packages that include the avoidance of consequences for failure. “In 1980, the average CEO made forty-two times what an average hourly worker took home. By 2005, the ratio was 262 to 1″ (Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama) . Furthermore, they employ experts and questionable practices like moving their money to anonymous accounts in tax havens to avoid paying any tax at all, avoiding at all cost, contributing to the society they benefit from. A little while ago I read a report that claimed an estimated 13 trillion US dollars was in tax haven accounts around the world. That was close to the entire US deficit at the time (now 17 trillion). This report claimed there was enough in these accounts to buy every man, woman and child in Europe a new Mercedes car. The grotesque conspicuous consumption and unswerving accumulation of wealth of a tiny percentage of the population of the world, belies the conservative, political myth that somehow, if you allow individuals to become super-rich, wealth will filter down to the general population and raise general living standards. The opposite is occurring; unfettered globalization and extreme capitalism ” will mean a nation even more stratified economically and socially than it currently is; one in which an increasingly prosperous knowledge class, living in exclusive enclaves, will be able to purchase whatever they want on the marketplace- private schools, private health care, private security….. While a growing number of their fellow citizens are consigned to low paying service jobs, vulnerable to dislocation, pressed to work longer hours, dependent on an underfunded, overburdened and underperforming public sector for their health care, their retirement and their children’s educations.” (Barrack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope”).
As the Pope recently lamented, we have transformed the market economy into a market society. I am surprised, but also concerned in anticipation, that there has not as yet been a rise in economic radicalism and terrorism, as occurred in the seventies with groups like the Red Brigade. I can’t help feeling that this is inevitable if the present paradigm continues unabated.
The only question that really muddies the waters of future directions is the rise of China. Given that history has shown that the values of the economically dominant power are exported to the rest, will the seemingly inevitable economic supplanting of the US by China lead to a better or worse society? Will the values pendulum swing more towards community, rather than individual, aggrandisement? Or will it be necessary for Chinese values to morph into American values and become indistinguishable from them, to achieve world economic dominance?