Sunday, August 13, 2006

Thirty-Five Billion

From the August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

I've been toying with the figure $35 billion which I heard the other day - toying with it because I, like most folk I've spoken to about it since, couldn't grasp the sheer enormity of it. What did it actually represent?

So I decided to do my own in-home research using the New Internationalist World Guide latest edition's figures (UN statistics).

This is what I came up with: $35,000,000,000 is the equivalent of (GNI is gross national income):
1) 1 year's GNI of $35,000 for 1,000,000 people in USA
2) 1 year's GNI of $1,000 for 35,000,000 people in the Philippines
3) 1year's GNI of $480 for 70,000,000 people in India
4a) 1 year's GNI of $240 for 140,000,000 people in Mali or
4b) 10 year's GNI for total population of 14 million in Mali
5a) 1 year's GNI of $100 for 350,000,000 people in Ethiopia or
5b) 5 year's GNI for total population of 74 million in Ethiopia.

Now, if just one person owned all that wealth they'd have to put it somewhere safe, in some kind of bank or shares or whatever where it would be safe and accumulate, e.g. a 1 percent return over 1 year would produce $350,000,000 in interest; a 5 percent return $1,750,000,000; 10 percent $3,500,000,000 and so on assume compound interest kicking in and you'll have to do your own figures or find an expert; however, you get the picture.

Of course when you've managed to accrue enough after a few years to be able to give away the lion's share without noticing any difference at all in your own life style people will applaud you and say what a wonderful, altruistic person you are.

What would you choose to do with your fortune? Beat malaria? Wipe out the debt of several Highly Impoverished Nations? Bring clean water to some of the millions without? Fund schools or hospitals in perpetuity from your foundation's coffers? The possibilities are endless.

But, surely, one person wouldn't actually have so much money! How would one person acquire enough in the first place to be able to put money to work to accrue more money? Simple, just use other people, lots and lots of people, to do the work for less than it's worth to produce the goods on your behalf and pocket the difference.

The less you manage to pay your workers and the more you're able to sell your goods for to other workers, the better the profit you'll make, enabling you to be the one to choose how to improve life on the planet for the unfortunate masses.

How can it be, however intelligent, hardworking, honest and/or altruistic, that one person's 'gift' can be equal to the income of all the people of Ethiopia, men, women and children, for 5 years?

How can it be that one person should be able to choose how to affect (or not to affect) such a multitude of people, albeit in a positive way? How can it be that so many people have so little choice in their own lives? It's the system, my friends, the system that puts profit above all else - how else could it work?

The system that uses and abuses people all around the world, the system that can't work with full employment, universal healthcare and satisfied bellies, but must rely on chasing profit around the globe whatever the consequences for the planet and its inhabitants.

Imagine 1,000,000 US citizens giving up their whole year's income. Imagine the entire population of Mali having no income at all for 10 years. Imagine one man having that much spare cash. I don't doubt that you know which particular man I'm writing about - the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet, who's decided to donate not $35 billion but $37 billion to the charitable foundation of the richest man (Bill Gates).

But what's $2,000,000,000? Well, 3 years GNI for the Maldives . . . Am I knocking Bill Gates, Warren Buffet et al? No, I'm knocking the system which allows, nay encourages, a small minority to exploit the vast majority in an unequal relationship.

The capitalist system cannot work with equal relationships. There have to be (a few) winners and (many) losers. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right to clean water, enough food, access to health care, a comfortable home, to raise one's children in a cooperative rather than a competitive society in a well-husbanded world environment in the knowledge that there is a sufficiency of all our basic needs and no good reason for anyone to go without.

This is the only fair system. If you're content with the status quo then carry on as before. However, if you've taken the time to read this far the chances are you're not content. If you're sick and tired of hearing the same old political fixes on offer and are looking for real answers then take a few more minutes to look at the only alternative. It could be the best thing you'll do this year.
Janet Surman

For more information on the revolutionary alternative to capitalism, please contact:
Socialist Party of Great Britain spgb@worldsocialism.org
World Socialist Party of the United States wspus@mindspring.com
Socialist Party of Canada spc@iname.com