Market fundamentalism pervades all areas of contemporary
civilisation and created what Pope Francis recently described as the
“globalization of Indifference. It is a world in which we have
become used to the suffering of others.
This extreme model of capitalism places profit, not people, at the
centre of everything. The wellbeing of human beings has become
secondary to the aim of maximizing returns, no matter the costs,
whether human or environmental.
One of the major “trends of globalization” is what P. Sainath calls
“corporate globalism”. Today’s world is “marked by the collapse of
restraint on corporate power, in every continent”.
This is borne out by the fact that over
half of “the
world’s 100 wealthiest bodies are corporations”,
organizations with enormous political influence which own media
groups, essential utilities and transport systems. They are the
major donors to political campaigns, they finance development
projects and fund think tank; they are the mining giants
clearing indigenous people from ancestral land in search of
minerals; and they are the driving force behind the commodification
of everything and everyone.They
jangle the corporate politicians in their silk-lined pockets,
influence policy and determine elections.
Inequality and social disorder
A river of destructive consequences flows from market
fundamentalism. Inequality and the globalization of indifference are
two of the more prominent, inter-related poisonous effects of the
economic model that has served the bank accounts of a tiny minority
well, failed the rest and polluted the planet. It sets people in
constant competition, encourages greed and selfishness, and
fuels division and conflict.
Income and wealth inequality are thought to be greater today than at
any time in history, and in spite of the growth rhetoric from
certain commercial corners of the world, the poor are poorer than
Noam Chomsky relates a study by Action for Children, which concludes
that “the gap between rich and poor [in Britain] is as wide today as
it was in Victorian times”, and in some ways worse. “A million and a
half families cannot provide their children with the diet fed to a
similar child living in a Bethnal Green [London] Workhouse in 1876.”
The chasm is wider than ever and the pace of disparity is
quickening: under market fundamentalism “inequality has grown faster
in the last 15 years than in the past 50”, according to P. Sainath.
A recent study by the Pew Foundation on “the greatest source of
tension and conflict in American life” found that, for the first
time ever, “concern over income inequality was way at the top [of
the list]”. This shift in collective awareness, Chomky says, is “a
tribute to the Occupy movement, which put this strikingly critical
fact of modern life on the agenda”.
America leads the industrialized rich world on every measure of
inequality, followed by its 53rd state, Israel, and main
international ally, Britain. At the other, more equal and just end
of the income/wealth spectrum of developed nations we find Japan,
Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. In these countries, where the
level of inequality is considerably lower, Richard Wilkinson,
Emeritus Professor of Public Health, University of Nottingham, found
there is less crime and far fewer murders. Children have a better
life, people live longer; there are fewer mentally ill, drug and
alcohol dependents. Literacy levels are higher; obesity numbers are
lower, there are fewer teenage pregnancies, prison numbers are much
lower (America is “off the scale” here too), and community life is
stronger and more vibrant.
In its detailed investigation, Professor Wilkinson’s team discovered
that, perhaps unsurprisingly, trust is related to equality. In
America a mere 15 per cent confessed to trusting others, while in
more equal countries on average 60 per cent of the population trust
their fellow citizens. Lack of trust fuels divisions and strengthens
suspicions of the “other” on the opposite side of the economic
tracks, which aggravates social tensions and fuels criminality.
Gated communities, with private security patrols, armed guards and
alarm systems result from such division and distrust.
Inequality is a major cause of poverty and creates the marginalized
majority which has little or no influence on social policy or
political decisions designed to maintain and strengthen existing
divisions and reinforce concentrated power. Disempowered and
ignored, this ocean of men, women and children suffer the indignity
of what the Brazilian educationalist and philosopher Paolo Freire
calls “dehumanization”. They are the tens of millions of children
living in rural India without sanitation; the families of five or
six in Ethiopia who share a bed, have no access to decent
healthcare, clean running water or electricity, whose children are
forced to walk 20 kilometres a day to attend poorly equipped schools
without so much as a chair or desk. Or the 50 million plus in
America living below the poverty line, who have no healthcare
insurance, while the three leading pharmaceutical companies earn
collective profits of 27,000 million US dollars (2010 figures), or
the tea pickers in Assam, India, earning 1 dollar a day and forced
to sell their daughters for 50 dollars to an “agent” offering a city
job, only to traffic the child into the commercial sex industry and
years of misery and abuse.
With poverty goes vulnerability and exploitation: the
“dehumanization” of the oppressed at the hands of the oppressors.
Health and poverty
One of the starkest effects of this worldwide social injustice is
the lack of adequate healthcare, although it is enshrined as a
fundamental human right in the much ignored Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. Poverty is “the world’s biggest killer and the
greatest cause of ill-health and suffering”, according to the
World Health Organization (WHO). It is the main reason “why babies
are not vaccinated, why clean water and sanitation are not provided,
why curative drugs and other treatments are unavailable and why
mothers die in childbirth”, and is the “underlying cause of reduced
life expectancy, handicap, disability and starvation”. Poverty is
the major contributor to mental illness, the cause of “stress,
suicide, family disintegration and substance abuse”.
The overwhelming majority in the world live and die under the
repressive shadow of poverty and inequity. They are oppressed,
abused and exploited in varying degrees depending on the nation of
birth, by the 1 per cent or less who have accrued obscene levels of
wealth and with it power and political influence. This tiny coterie
of men (they are almost all men) suffer from what is perhaps the
greatest vice of privilege: complacency. The “I’m all right Jack”
syndrome of cynicism and crippling selfishness allows 12.2 million
children under the age of five to die every year in the developing
world, “most of them from causes, which could be prevented for just
a few US cents per child”, says the WHO.
Growth feeding inequality
The highest levels of inequality worldwide (in the developed and
developing nations) are to be found in Latin America, where
The economic model adopted throughout Latin America and the
developing world is one aggressively promoted by the financiers and
benefactors of development, the World Bank and International
Monetary Fund. It is a model that concentrates economic growth in
the hands of a tiny percentage of the population – the already
wealthy – and sets conditions of market access for Western
corporations on the look out for upwardly mobile consumers.
This model sits within the broader economic ideology of market
fundamentalism, which is building a world divided as never before.
As Chomsky says:
Take India, a nation often cited as the golden child of development.
Twenty years of economic growth, open markets, deregulation and an
access-all-areas business visa to foreign corporations, and yet the
United Nations places India 136th out of 187 countries in the human
development index. Factor in inequality, including gender
inequality, and the country plummets further down the table. With
almost 500 million people living in poverty (on less than 50 US
cents a day), India has more poor than all of sub-Saharan Africa
combined. At 48 per cent, child malnutrition is the highest in the
world and, despite two decades of growth, is only 1 per cent less
than it was in 1991.
Due to crippling debt and government
neglect, Indian smallholder farmers are committing suicide at the
unimaginable rate of two per hour, and an armed conflict rages
throughout the northeast and central forests of the country, not to
mention the violent occupation of the disputed region of Kashmir.
After 20 years of development, the nation is divided in a multitude
of ways: social, gender, racial, religious and economic. The 100
richest Indians are said to own wealth equivalent to 25 per cent of
the national gross domestic product (GDP=1.84 trillion US dollars in
2012). The richest man in India, Mukesh Ambani (the chairman of
Reliance Industries), takes home 18 million dollars a year, while
two thirds of the population (around 900 million people) live on
less than 2 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.
With such colossal levels of inequality and social injustice there
will never be harmony, trust and peace – in India or the world.
Capitalism blended liberally with the seeds of social justice and
fundamental human rights (shelter, food, healthcare and education) –
let’s suggest a 40/60 split – would be a sane step towards much
needed economic reform and a more humane model that places the needs
and wellbeing of the people at its heart. But the extreme type of
unrestrained market capitalism that allows children in their
millions to die of starvation while food rots in storehouses,
condemns women – in their millions – to lives of servitude and
slavery, and men – in their millions – to live undignified, hopeless
lives, totally devoid of creativity, has been allowed to poison all
areas of life, including education and healthcare. It is sold to the
world as the only logical, practical economic model, and the ugly
sisters of competition and separation are relentlessly promoted in
all areas of life.
There is, however, a change of heart sweeping the world, a new
consciousness of synthesis, tolerance and cooperation is sighted.
The people, the oppressed 99.9 per cent, have had enough. Change
from a divisive system that concentrates wealth and power in the
hands of a few while oppressing billions to an alternative, just
model based on equity, social justice and freedom is the need of the
time and the rightful cry of millions protesting around the world.