All posts by Gary Engler

Do Something to Change the System or Face the Consequences

It is the worst of times. It is the best of times.

My dear American cousins, looking down from a country that stretches across the top of your map it seems you are living through a tale of two ever more divided classes.

It is about as bad a time as has ever been if you’re a mother with three children from Honduras who is desperately trying to escape an abusive husband and start a new life in the United States.

But it is a very good time indeed if you’re an American billionaire with hundreds of millions of capital gains you seek to shelter from taxes.

If you’re a 23-year-old recent university graduate with over $50,000 in student loans, your job is mind-numbingly soul destroying, pays $11 per hour and requires a car you cannot afford, the future seems bleak indeed.

But if you’re a White nationalist business owner who refuses to serve gay or transgendered people and supports a law, similar to the Israeli nation state law, proclaiming the USA to be a Christian country, you feel very hopeful.

If you’re a supporter of a woman’s right to choose an abortion, a feeling of dread overcomes you every time the Supreme Court is mentioned.

If you understand science and have read the latest reports about climate change you feel we may be living through the beginning of a mass extinction.

But if you believe the Bible as interpreted by Reverend (fill in the blank) is the literal word of God you are enthusiastic about a president who is appointing good people as judges.

If you desire to make America great again, and don’t like immigrants, your country seems headed in the right direction.

But if you have diabetes and your wife suffers from hypertension and your employer just announced your co-pay and deductible will double, you are absolutely scared of what tomorrow might bring.

If you’re a gun-loving, citizens’ militia member, Trump supporting, impeachment-hating man who dreams of fighting in the next U.S. civil war, you’re excited to be alive and hopeful of becoming the next Stonewall Jackson.

What should an outsider, a non-American, make of this state of your affairs and should we care?

I’ve visited all your states except Hawaii. One of my grandfathers was American. One of my uncles fought for you in World War II. I’ve counted many Vietnam War draft dodgers as friends, had more than a few American professors and even possess a U.S. Social Security card because of working on ships that visited Washington and Alaska, so of course I care.

Like most Canadians who read newspapers, websites, listen to the radio and watch TV, it is impossible to ignore your news and I must be frank: You’ve got me worried. You’ve got a lot of us worried. What happens in the United States does not ever stay in the United States.

My partner and I were in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, and dined with an American couple on the day after Donald Trump was elected president. If we had known they were Republicans the dinner may never have happened, but I’m glad it did. We had a great discussion. They seemed as surprised as us that Trump had won. They seemed as worried as us about what would happen next. They seemed like genuinely nice people.

This is what gives me hope. I believe in the goodness and intelligence of ordinary people. I believe that if all the facts are presented to them and a fair debate amongst all points of view is held, they will make the right decisions. I believe in democracy.

I wouldn’t presume to interfere in the internal affairs of another country — a principle that should be in the UN Charter (oh, that’s right, it is Article 2.4) — but would offer these thoughts for you to consider.

The evils you do unto others is often visited upon you. One could argue that disregard for truth, ignoring the law, racism, misogyny, environmental catastrophe and “making America great again” are all blowbacks from what has been done in your name to others.

While he enables much of the bad stuff that worries the world, Donald Trump did not cause it. Rather, he is the product of a system that says greed is good, which was built on the foundation of slavery, racism, patriarchy and ecological destruction.

This point is critical. If you do not understand it and then do something to change the system, most people in your country, mine, and all the others, are truly in for the worst of times.

Bank Report Reveals Where Ruling Class Lives

While clearly not intended as a tool for the subversion of capitalism, the 2019 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report provides a fascinating glimpse at the inequality that the neoliberal era has produced, who has benefitted and those who have been left behind.

According to the tenth edition of the report, recently released, “The bottom half of wealth holders collectively accounted for less than 1% of total global wealth in mid-2019, while the richest 10% own 82% of global wealth and the top 1%  alone own 45%.” (Note that this a study about wealth and not income. It measure assets [housing, stocks, bonds etc.] minus debts.)

Further evidence of the incredible inequality generated by neoliberal capitalism:

  • North America and Europe together account for 57% of total household wealth, but contain only 17% of the world adult population;
  • 2.9 billion people, 57% of all adults,  have wealth below $10,000 US in 2019. Of course many of these have more debts than assets;
  • Average wealth per adult in Africa is $6,488 while that figure for North America (which seems to be defined as Canada and the USA) is $417,694. For India it is $14,569 while in Latin America the average wealth is $22,502;
  • Average wealth in “socialist” China has grown more rapidly than elsewhere over the past two decades to $58,544. (It seems government intervention in the economy is good for wealth creation);
  • The share of total global wealth owned by millionaires (47 million or 0.9% of adults) has grown from 34% in 2000 to 44% today;
  • About 40% of millionaires reside in the USA and more than half of the 1.1 million who achieved that status in the past year live in the land of Trump. The U.S. growth of millionaires exceeded that of the next nine countries combined (Japan, China, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, India, Spain, Canada and Switzerland);
  • Australia lost 124,000 millionaires over the past year, primarily due to declining real estate prices;
  • The wealth of 41 million of the millionaires was between 1 and 5 million dollars. Another 3.7 million are worth between 5 million and 10 million, and almost exactly 2 million adults now have wealth above 10 million. Of these, 1.8 million have assets in the 10–50 million range, leaving 168,030 with a  net worth above 50 million;
  • Of these 168,030 members of the capitalist ruling class, 80,510 (48%) live in the USA. China has 18,130 (11%) , Germany 6,800 (4%), the UK 4,640, India 4,460, France 3,700, Canada (3,530), Japan 3,350, Russia 3,120 and Hong Kong 3,100.

The importance of knowing where rich people are and might be popping up next is what has produced this annual “most comprehensive and up-to date survey of household wealth”.

In ancient Greece people would consult the oracles in order to choose the fruitful path, but today the most common source of such divination is the wisdom of the dollar and its associated deities. Rather than seek advice from experts at interpreting the various Hellenic gods, we consult those who specialize in illuminating where “the money” has been and is going. The ancient oracles could be found at shrines to the various gods; the modern version of these advice givers reside in universities, think tanks, mutual fund companies, brokerages, banks and the ever-present business media. The offerings of those seeking the guidance of today’s financial gods support a multi-billion dollar information and advice industry.

This seems “rational” behavior only because we live in an economic system that distributes power on a one-dollar-one-vote basis. To divine where the dollars are is to learn where best to seek the power that comes from them. In other words, the rich get richer and those who want to catch the crumbs as they fall off the banquet table need to be present at the court of King Capital.

Like the royal courts of feudal Europe that moved around its realm from castle to castle, money, in the form of capital, travels around its planetary realm from country to country, city to city, economic sector to economic sector, searching for the highest profit. This movement of capital creates real estate and other booms in favored locations then financial crises when the wealthy decide it is time to move on.

According to supporters, capitalism is supposed to be all about competition. The system is supposed to reward merit. Winners and losers are legitimate because everyone has an equal chance to succeed. But this is clearly not true in the actual world as described by the Credit Suisse report.

How can the 2.9 billion adults who own less than $10,000 in net assets compete fairly against 47 million millionaires, let alone the 168,030  who own $50 million or more?

The system is rigged. In a neoliberal capitalist competition to buy the most profitable companies, processes, patents, ideas, and anything else that can be made “property” the winners will always be those with the most money.

This report illustrates the pyramid of capitalist wealth and the peculiar property of money that guarantees most of it floats to the top.

The only way for billions of people, most countries and entire continents to escape the inevitable “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is by using the power of collectivity (call it government, socialism or mutual aid) to counter the power of one-dollar-one-vote capitalism.