Unconscionable and growing concentration of financial power in a world of ever more intense competition for a declining base of material wealth is eroding the social fabric to the point of widespread social breakdown.
Extreme inequality is unraveling the social fabric of civilization. A world divided between the profligate and the desperate cannot long endure. It intensifies competition for Earth’s resources, undermines the legitimacy of our institutions, and drives an unraveling of the social fabric of mutual trust and caring essential to healthy social function.
In 2005 Forbes Magazine counted 691 billionaires in the world. In 2008, only three years later, it counted 1,250, nearly double, and estimated their combined wealth at $4.4 trillion. According to a United Nations study, the richest 2% of world’s people now own 51% of all the world’s assets. The poorest 50% own only 1%. That is why we call them poor, because they don’t own any assets. When the rich own everything there is nothing left for the poor to own.
Say a poor family wants a small plot of land to grow some food to survive and a billionaire wants that land for a 20,000 square foot vacation home he may reside in for no more than a few days a year. These are not equivalent needs, but it is a virtual certainty that the billionaire will get the land for what most economists would call a "higher economic value use."
We are told that economic growth is essential lift the poor to prosperity. All too often economic growth lifts the yachts and swamps the naked swimmers struggling to stay afloat.
Most growth in consumption in recent years has not been at the bottom where it is needed. Its been at the very top among the already super wealthy. Our real resources are shrinking, but the rich easily buy whatever resources are left and see no problem. A recent book on the lifestyles of billionaires noted a billionaire's comment on the rising price of oil. “Last year it cost me $30,000 for a tank of diesel for my yacht. Now it costs me $60,000. Its no big deal.”
For the super rich, if we run out of oil, there is always ethanol. Meanwhile desperate mothers watch helplessly as their babies die for lack of food.
Economic growth as we know it will not lift the poor out of poverty. The only way to end poverty and heal our social divisions on an already over stressed planet is through a redistribution of resources from rich to poor and from nonessential to essential uses. The right wing PR machine would dismiss this as Communism.
Actually it is call to reclaim an important American ideal. I grew up with the patriotic story that the United States is a middle class democracy without the extremes of class division that characterize other societies. That story once made us proud and the envy of the world.
Equity is an essential foundation of true democracy and of our national ideal and self-image. It can also be defended on the grounds of rightful inheritance and property rights. It's quite basic. Natural wealth was created by our Earth mother and is therefore a common heritage of all her children, including all non-human species. None of us has a right to abuse that wealth or to monopolize it to the exclusion of our sisters and brothers.