We live in a world where ideologies appear to mean nothing and personalities are the lock, stock, and barrel. Greed and ego have taken the upper hand and are facilitated by a mathematical metaphor designed to legitimize fraud and theft. The financial system that has been put into place over four decades ago is rotten.
“What is rewarded above is punished below. Profits are privatized, losses are socialized.” Eduardo Galeano knows what he is talking about. Look around you, and you will easily find proof that validates Galeano’s exclamation. It is all thanks to eager investigative journalists and grassroots movements, people who did not sell out their ideals and beliefs but went searching for the truth in order to create a better world. Their labor shines a bright light on what is wrong with the world today. Therefore, I salute these dedicated men and women who are all heroes in their special way.
If you have been even a tad bit interested in the news these past few years, you will probably agree with me when I say that we live in a world where a wealthy elite evades billions of taxes, multinationals shop for profitable tax regimes and politicians are corrupt and willfully blind. While our lives are trifled away, our dreams remain unfulfilled, granting that the crumbs at the bottom have become more sparse while the cake turned out bigger than ever before.
The realization of this pessimistic notion has been shaped throughout the duration of our current global crisis, which has been suffocating the majority of us all. Even those with an ingrained comfort zone – me being one of them – have been feeling uneasy since 2008. I have come to believe that those who say that there is nothing wrong with our current capitalist system are the rare breed for whom the system works. I found out first-hand how the middle class gets the middle finger and shafted for what is rewarded above while I was running a small family business with my father. Hence, I can only imagine what those fellow men and women who are less fortunate than me have to go through on a daily basis in order to survive. The system does not work for me nor does it work for you. Where are the crumbs that capitalism has promised us all?
In order to show you how the wiring of our societies is flawed and how the poor and the middle class are in the same rocking boat, I will share some stunning Greek numbers with you. These figures shed a light on what everyday life in Greece is currently like. During the past five years, there has been:
- a 42% increase in suicides, more attempts than ever;
- 28% unemployment;
- 50,6% youth unemployment (under 25);
- minimum wage of approximately 586 EUR. Luxembourg, where multinationals receive extensive tax cuts, has a minimum wage of 1,921 EUR;
- 20,000 homeless people and more than 300,000 empty homes;
- 25% loss of small and medium size enterprises;
- 31% criminality increase;
- 150% increase in prostitution; and
- migration of nearly 100,000 educated youths moving abroad in order to find work in their field.
What is happening in Greece will happen in all of Europe and the rest of the world if we do not open our eyes. In his article George Mobiot claims that “When the Greeks complain that they have been reduced to colonial subjects, they are right, but the colonial masters are not the northern members of the Eurozone. They are the private banks. The governments that seem determined to destroy a sovereign state for its impudence are merely the intermediaries of power. None of this is to deny the corruption and fiscal promiscuity of previous Greek administrations. But while the banks have got away with far worse, the bullies of the Eurozone insist on extracting every last drop of blood from people who had no role in their governments’ deceptions.”
Consequently, you can conclude that none of us are out of range from this guzzling financial monster with its insatiable hankering. The conclusion that the Greek situation could quickly occur in other places around the world is not far-fetched, is it? Even in Germany, an austere country with a steady economy, poverty hits a new high. Their stern government fails in fighting poverty and the increasing inequality. I wonder why? When you take the free-markets into account and the lack of governance to prevent speculative cowboys from ruining economies singlehandedly, you realize that even Germany’s austere actions cannot turn the tide.
The Russian financial crisis in 1998, the Argentine crisis that started in 1999 (and still influences Argentinian life nowadays), as well as the Asian financial crisis in 1997, are but a few examples that prove how fragile our economies are. No matter the certainties we think we have, in the current system we all depend on the whimsical behavior of a small elite and their predilection for more wealth, driven by avarice.
Our governments wrap themselves in cloaks woven from a fabric commonly referred to as austerity. Public spending is being cut. Who needs social welfare, education, or culture for that matter? Social welfare only breeds a class of lazy, good-for-nothing bums, right? A conservative political class, our representatives, often enriches itself through corruption – payments are received in order to create legislation with loopholes that serve the minuscule elite – and succeeds in remaining consciously blind. A prime example for this statement are the Luxembourg leaks, or LUX-leaks, as well as the more recent HSBC scandal. Both scandals are merely the tip of the iceberg – a large, desolate (give or take a penguin or a polar bear depending on the hemisphere you occupy) chunk of freshwater ice that floats in open water and can be traced back to a glacier or an ice shell – and ought to feed our general curiosity.
What goes on beneath the surface? Certain flashes, such as the Swiss and Luxembourgish tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering schemes, offer us a clearer glimpse of how the hidden dynamics of our so-called capitalist economy truly works. After decades’ worth in looting and plundering state resources and common property, one can honestly state that money does not trickle down at all. These times call for thorough changes. Just to put things in perspective I would like to ask you whether you would let a bank robber go free if only he gives back all the money.
A man who was raised in object poverty once uttered, “Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it.” The American singer-songwriter, Irving Berlin, learned how to survive and thrive against all odds. He was raised in truly impoverished communities in which personal growth was a rare thing, given the harsh circumstances. Nevertheless, he succeeded in creating a bright future for himself. Berlin’s life story may have served as an inspiration to many folks out there. I for one was baffled when I first read about his perseverance. Hence, I wonder what his analysis of our modern day reality would be. How would this successful entrepreneur and artist take that ninety percent? Would he accept the fact that wealth flows from the bottom to the top, thereby thwarting the laws of physics and defying gravity? Would he accept the fact that a country’s taxes are extorted from the poor and the middle-class while a wealthy elite safely hides their billions in Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Caymans, only to name a few of such tax paradises? Would our songwriter still shush us when he perceives how the wealthiest criminals and their assistants within the financial system reap the rewards and courteously accept the plaudits, while the rest of us face intimidation and persecution, just as Galeano’s crystal clear description depicts? What would Irving’s reaction be when he found out that over 300 multinationals enjoyed tax breaks in Luxembourg, thus evading their taxes in the countries where they were due?
Robbing the common people during broad daylight – that is what the financial industry is all about. Seven years ago, several banks were saved with trillions of taxpayers’ money. That means your and my hard-earned cash, assuming that you aren’t an expert in shipping of billions to a disputed tax paradise. We were told that it was a necessity, our only option to successfully avoid chaos. Now, the opposite appears to be true, given that nothing has changed for the better.
Despite our collective investment in these financial institutions, the banks remain largely unaccountable for their conduct. Greed reigns now more than ever. The power of the high-stake players in our financial apparatus is less constrained than that of democratically elected leaders. The predicament that Greece is in and the unacceptable inequality which affects us all are fine examples to prove that statement. The unconstrained power that was given to these players by our elected officials has had enormously distorting effects. After all these years, the lack of restraints kept the crippling, corrupting and deceiving way of doing business intact. Where is that noble, moral business purpose which works to the service of humankind? We deserved a change, especially after handing over our hard-earned cash. However, today it is business as usual. Thus, I jump to the conclusion that our political and economic order is broken. The leaks mentioned above reveal this to us. If you are still not convinced about how we are being enslaved in a cunning, virtual and somewhat subtle manner, you ought to read a recent study by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin I. Page. Their study clearly shows that we are being dominated by a rich and powerful elite.
I know that there is a good chance that you have access to Google when you are able to read this post. I even, safely, assume that you can read and type. Subsequently I tell you that these two professors are not just two nut-jobs running around with a tin foil hat in order to prevent the alienated government from reading their thoughts. Google them if you do not trust me. Their study offers a clear vision on what really goes on in politics, right in front of us. Even though their study is based on numbers that are related to the USA, I do believe that the same conclusion goes for politics in Europe or anywhere else in the world. We live in a classist society. Therefore, I hope that grassroots movements, such as PODEMOS in Spain, and fresh revolutionary politicians, such as Alexis Tsipras and Pablo Iglesias, will reform politics as we know it. It is time to introduce a brand new form of decentralized governance and pure democracy that, when combined, are able to fight the financial monstrosity devouring our world.
End austerity and – for crying out loud – prosecute white-collar criminals. They hurt me and my fellow men more than the no-good dealer crowding my street corner as he tries to sell an ounce of weed. Successively I would like to add that clamping down on tax avoidance, money laundering, and tax evasion while simultaneously improving tax collection from the wealthy – given that the IRS never fails to collect our taxes – would be fantastic. It could even render the discussion of a “rich tax” obsolete. All that we ask is that the 1% actually starts playing the game similarly to how 99% of the world is forced to participate in it. Doesn’t that sound fair and equal to you?
As for you and I, we might have to start with opening our eyes and trying to collectively overcome the synthetic structures that have been put in place to promote the egocentric in us. I would say that is an upright place to start for us all. As Russell Brand eloquently wrote in his latest book, “Our power is in unity. We must always prioritize our collective well-being above individual advantage.” Love may very well be the answer in a world that is built on common sense.
“I’m telling you, a jackal starving in the dessert is happier than a well-fed lion in a cage.” – Vladmir Bartol
- Jerome Roos, “HSBC and the upside-down world of austerity politics.” Roar magazine (roarmag.org). February 12th, 2015.
“Starting with the bankruptcy of New York City in 1975 and the Mexican debt crisis of 1982, austerity became the key mechanism whereby the banks effected a historically unprecedented redistribution of resources from the bottom to the top.”
- Jörg Wiegratz, “Bankers have a moral compass, it just may not look like yours.” The Conversation (http://theconversation.com/). March 3rd
“The revelations of greed and cynical immorality … keep pouring out of this HSBC Swiss bank scandal, one of the biggest of the last few decades since this is probably only the tip of the iceberg on bank wrongdoing in this no-holds-barred era of crooked capitalism.” – Michael Meacher
- Ian Robertson, “Bankers and the neuroscience of greed.” The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/). July 2nd, 2012.
“Senior bankers hold enormous power, greater than that of many elected national leaders. Largely unaccountable except to occasional shareholders meetings and often quiescent boards, their power is much less constrained than that of democratically elected leaders. And given that power is one of the most potent brain-changing drugs known to humankind, unconstrained power has enormously distorting effects on behavior, emotions and thinking.”
- Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Scholar Princeton (http://scholar.princeton.edu/). September 2014.
“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
- Will Hutton, “British capitalism is broken. Here’s how to fix it.” The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/). February 11th, 2015.
“Millions of workers struggle in a harsh demimonde of temporary jobs and zero-hours contracts. For many, it is no longer a realizable aim to acquire skills or a profession and pursue a stable career with an enduring and reliable organization; our companies indulge in unending cycles of restructuring, regrading, and reshaping, while the public sector has been shrunk to an unprecedented degree. It is only those at the very top who see their pay and possibilities expanding – along with the ease of passing on advantages to their children, creating a new closed caste of elites and diminishing prospects for social mobility. If we wish to create an economy, and a society, in which the majority of us flourish, Britain in 2015 is not the model to follow.”
- Russell Brand (2014). Revolution. Ballantine Books. 372.
“The financial industry is a mathematical metaphor designed to legitimize fraud and theft.”
- George Monbiot “A maverick currency scheme from the 1930s could save the Greek economy.” The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/). February 17th, 2015.
“Banking’s great civilizational advance has been all but destroyed through deregulation, whose result is a new system of usury, speculation and exploitation. Private banks borrow cheap and lend dear, forcing us to work ever longer hours and to inflict ever more damage on the natural world to service our debts.”
- “Leader: The stench of corruption at HSBC is a reminder tax havens must be closed.” New Statesman (http://www.newstatesman.com/). February 12th, 2015.
“The tax scandal uncovered at HSBC is one that even the most imaginative conspiracy theorist would struggle to concoct.”
- “Leader: The 1 per cent and the masses.” New Statesman (http://www.newstatesman.com/). January 22nd, 2015.
“In the years since the crash, governments have focused on the immediate task of ensuring macroeconomic stability by repairing banking systems and reducing fiscal deficits. But as recovery takes hold, most notably in the US and the UK, it is right to ask more profound questions about the shape of modern capitalism. Rather than the trickle-down economics of recent decades, global leaders need to rediscover the virtues of Keynesian ‘trickle-up’.”
- Thomas Hirst, “The Greek government is calling for a radical new ‘basic income’ welfare policy.” Business Insider (http://uk.businessinsider.com). February 24th, 2015.
“Greece’s bailout extension, contained a number of anticipated measures — including clamping down on tax avoidance and improving tax collection. But they also had one proposal that demonstrated a little more out-of-the-box thinking.”
- Konrad Kreft, “Poverty in Germany hits new high.” World Socialist Web Site (http://www.wsws.org/). January 6th, 2014.
“According to the report, poverty in Germany has ‘reached a sad record high’. Entire cities and regions have been plunged into ever deeper economic and social crisis. ‘The social and regional centrifugal forces, as measured by the spread of incomes, have increased dramatically in Germany since 2006,’ it says. Germany faces ‘a test to breaking point.’”