Oxfam won’t achieve anything by decrying exploitation to the the world’s exploiters, argues Stephen Hallmark
While it’s wonderful that Oxfam strives to highlight the stupendous disparity between the one-percenters and the rest of us, bringing this message to Davos is indicative of terribly twisted thinking.
It’s rather like slaves bringing grievances about overwork to the pharaoh.
Oxfam this week drew attention to figures published by Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report for 2014 which show that the richest 1 per cent now control 48.2 per cent of all the world’s wealth — up from 46 per cent last year. The charity added that if growth patterns continue, within a couple of years the top 1 per cent will own half the world’s resources.
Clearly thrilled by the opportunity of mixing with the global elite at the World Economic Forum, hosted at the swish Swiss resort, Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima believes that she can influence policy to affect change.
She said:?“We want to bring a message from the people in the poorest countries in the world to the forum of the most powerful business and political leaders.
“The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”
One suspects the call to those who epitomise the current social order to consider changing direction may fall on deaf ears.
Perhaps we should have some hope, given that in the absence of George Osborne and David Cameron at this year’s shindig we can rest easy that the Duke of York is our country’s main representative.
Oxfam has laudable intentions and Byanyima is a world-renowned leader on women’s rights, democratic governance and peace-building. She served 11 years in the Ugandan parliament, held a number of top jobs at the African Union Commission and United Nations and is a passionate advocate for tackling inequality and climate change.
She rightly branded inequality as “a defining issue of our time across the world, and the extremes of it are felt most in the global South. It is a very real obstacle to prosperity as millions of people are unable to access health services and education, impacting their quality of life and life expectancy.”
Among the policies Oxfam is pushing for are measures to ensure that corporations pay their tax, redistributive legislation and ways to ensure that capitalism works for the many. But is it possible for capitalism to change its spots?
The answer may be provided by examining the response to Oxfam’s call at last year’s World Economic Forum. The charity made headlines back then too with a study showing the planet’s 85 richest people have the same wealth as the poorest 50 per cent — 3.5 billion people.
The situation for everyone but those extremely lucky few has deteriorated further since then.
It is worth turning to Oliver Twist for a lesson on what asking for more achieved for him: “The master was a fat, healthy man but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds ... The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle.”
In Dickens’s narrative a general debate then ensued about what Oliver’s punishment should be. After locking the boy up, the master decided to offer £5 to anyone who would remove Oliver from the poorhouse and take him on as an apprentice.
Rather than asking for more at Davos, we should be demanding more.
Representatives from unions have made that call, but we are currently too weak and divided to be heeded. Surely our only hope rests in linking the global struggles that we are engaged in, by focusing on what we have in common and looking to exploit the weaknesses within the capitalist system.
The opportunities are there. Mass dissatisfaction with the status quo in this country is a fact, as shown by plunging party memberships and the growth of single-issue parties. The way in which people as disparate as Pope Francis, both of England’s archbishops and Russell Brand are able to tap into the zeitgeist further illustrates that the time is ripe.
So part of the answer has to be building the fight against austerity, opposing neoliberal onslaughts such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and exploring the alternatives.
On the international scene, the answer must also be to support developments in Greece, to defend achievements in Latin America and to learn from the protests against neoliberalism occurring across the globe.