It is no secret that global inequality is rising under a neoliberal world order that has prioritised capital over labour. The extent of the problem is revealed by Oxfam in a report which finds that the 26 richest people in the world combined have as much wealth as the lowest 50 percent of the global population. This is a staggering concentration of wealth the likes of which has never before been seen in our history. Its origins can be traced to the end of the cold war when the US, as the undisputed sole superpower, imposed a system under the guise of capitalism that used nebulous concepts like ‘free trade’ to allow the ultra-rich in Western countries to exploit cheap labour in the global South. It then used international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank to impose structural adjustment policies in poor countries that exacerbated inequality within those countries by removing subsidies and imposing regressive indirect taxes. All the while, the mantra of the discredited supply-side economics was preached which called for low income taxes on the wealthy on the mistaken assumption that the benefits would ‘trickle down’ to the poor. As the Oxfam report shows, this never happened.
The news is not all bad. In the last 35 years extreme global poverty has been reduced from 42 percent of the world’s population to under 10 percent. But there is reason to believe that this progress may be stalled. The effects of climate change will hit the poor the hardest as land becomes uncultivable and entire communities are forced to migrate just to survive. Just as this is happening, the West is putting up walls to keep out the very people on whom they have waged war and impoverished.
The global elite, regardless of which country they belong to, have formed a transnational club of sorts where the rules do not apply to them. They park their wealth in offshore havens, increase their net worth through irresponsible speculation and purchase property all around the world, making it unaffordable for anyone else to afford homes of their own. Just as the problem is global, the solution too must be global. Transfers of wealth in the form of foreign aid have not worked as money is simply moved from the West to the ruling and business elite in the rest of the world. True reparations are needed to offset the ravages of colonialism and, above all, the current system that prioritises the selfish desires of the billionaire class has to be dismantled.