The Voice From The Back column from the April 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
100 Years Of Conflict
The centenary of the First World War has produced a plethora of TV programmes and newspaper articles but one fact seems to be usually overlooked: ‘British forces are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. If 2015 is a year of peace for the UK, it will be the first for at least 100 years’ (Guardian, 11 February). The British army has been involved in wars all over the world constantly since 1914 – Ireland, Iraq, Aden, Kuwait, Palestine, Second World War, Korea, Suez and so on ad nauseam. Ironically the 1914-18 war was named the war to end all wars.
Billions Of Dollars
We are constantly reminded by the mass media that we are living through a recession and must be prepared to cut down on our economic expenditure, but no such advice is proffered to the owning class. ‘The investment firm run by the US billionaire Warren Buffett has reported a record profit for 2013. Berkshire Hathaway made $19.5bn (£11.6bn) last year, up from $14.8bn (£8.8bn) in 2012. ‘On the operating front, just about everything turned out well for us last year — in some cases very well,’ Mr Buffett wrote to shareholders’ (BBC News, 2 March). Investors in Berkshire Hathaway with an additional $4.7bn culled from the exploitation of the working class will have no need for any cuts in their expenditure.
The Gap Widens
The desperate poverty that forces millions to eke out an existence on the equivalent of $2 a day when we have a handful of billionaires living in luxury is a contrast that was well illustrated recently. ‘Microsoft founder Bill Gates has regained the top spot as the world’s richest person, according to Forbes magazine’s annual ranking of global billionaires. Mr Gates’ total net worth was estimated at $76bn (£45.5bn) this year, up from $67bn in 2013’ (BBC News, 3 March). Gates is not the only one enjoying this bonanza – in total, there were a record 1,645 billionaires, according to Forbes.
Poverty And Ill Health
Harry Burns, Scotland’s chief medical officer had some words of wisdom to say before retiring from his post. ‘As a doctor at the Royal, I never once wrote a death certificate saying the cause of death was living in a horrible house or unemployment. People die of molecular deaths, such as proteins coagulating in arteries and causing heart attacks and strokes. Yet we know that poor [social] conditions lead to poor health and premature deaths’ (Guardian, 12 March). For many members of the working class being exploited all their lives is bad enough but it can even lead to poor health and premature death.
One of Mrs Thatcher’s proud boasts when she made council houses subject to sale to the occupiers was that Britain was becoming a property-owning democracy. The boast seems a little empty today with growing homeless figures, re-possessions and the following news. ‘Nearly half a million UK households are still in negative equity—meaning their homes are worth less than the mortgages on them, figures show. There is wide regional variation, with 41% of borrowers in Northern Ireland —68,000 homeowners — in negative equity at the end of 2013, the figures from mortgage group HML show’ (BBC News, 1 March). Another empty political boast proves futile, but negative equity sounds so much better than ‘skint’ doesn’t it?
No Housing Problem Here
Many workers face trouble paying rent and mortgages on their homes but no such problems exist for these New York residents. It has been labelled ‘the world’s most powerful address’, the luxurious Manhattan tower block where Wall Street titans, foreign oligarchs, technology moguls and film and music stars live away from prying eyes. But a book has now revealed the secrets of 15 Central Park West, an imposing $1billion tower block where the ultra-rich and famous enjoy commanding views of New York’s famous green space. ‘It is no surprise that the building is home to New York’s most expensive apartment, a palatial $88million penthouse. It was bought by a trust fund from the fortune of Dimtry Rybolovlev, a Russian fertiliser tycoon, for his 22-year daughter, but it is now at the centre of the world’s most expensive divorce battle with his estranged wife, Elena. Apartments at 15 CPW currently on the market include a 6,000 sq ft unit owned by steel magnate Leroy Schecter. He initially listed the property for $95 million. It is now available for a snip — at just $65million (Daily Telegraph, 12 March).