A clear and present danger
By Jim Poling Sr.
The hit movie Parasite, winner of this year’s best picture Oscar, may be fiction but it reflects what is happening in real life today.
Parasite tells a story of class prejudices and greed creating violence between a rich, privileged family and a poor, low class one.
It is a story that many of us see developing around us every day. In real life, social inequality is creating class conflicts that threaten the health of our democracies. More and more people, including some wealthy ones, are beginning to blame all this on failures of our capitalistic system.
Our capitalism simply is not inclusive – not producing good things for enough people. It is making the rich more rich and the poor more poor. A variety of polls and reports show that most economic growth is going to the richest part of the population.
The development charity Oxfam says that in 2018 the world’s richest 2,200 billionaires saw a 12 per cent increase in wealth, while the world’s poorest people saw an 11 per cent decrease.
Ekos, the Canadian research company, has reported that 70 per cent of those it polled feel that almost all economic growth in the last 20 years has gone to the top one per cent of the population.
Anand Giridharadas, author of the 2018 book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, says that “we live in an age that has been absolutely punishing for perhaps the majority of middle and working class ....”
Few could argue truthfully that the middle class is not suffering. Most of us in the shrinking middle class see our monthly bills increasing while our incomes remain stagnant, or even shrink.
Our capitalist system is broken, but I don’t think it needs to be replaced. It needs fixing, and even some well-known capitalists admit that.
“I’m a capitalist and even I think capitalism is broken,” Ray Dalio, billionaire founder of Bridgewater hedge fund, said last year. “The problem is that capitalists typically don’t know how to divide the pie well and socialists typically don’t know how to grow it well.”
A U.S. Gallup poll conducted in 2018 reported that only 45 per cent of Americans, ages 18 to 29, are positive about capitalism, a 12-point drop over two years. In 2010, 68 per cent of this age group were positive.
A 2019 Forum Poll found that 42 per cent of Canadians have a negative opinion of capitalism. Those Canadians most likely to view capitalism negatively were in the 18 to 44 age bracket.
The social damage caused by this inequality is being reported more often now, notably in films such as Parasite and in fairly recent books such as Hillbilly Elegy, Tightrope, and Educated, all of which document the damaging toll on families unable to access education and economic opportunities.
One suggested way of starting to fix capitalism is to tax the rich more heavily. Both Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz have argued for higher taxes on the rich.
Also, reforms that would allow low-income families better access to education, health care and housing would make the system more equal.
Certainly, the warning signals of revolutionary upheaval caused by the widening crevice between rich and poor are becoming obvious.
The 15th edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has warned that financial inequality continues to intensify, and a result could be economic confrontations and domestic political polarization. We’ve certainly seen the latter in both the U.S. and Canada.
Bridgewater’s Dalio has warned that growing inequality in the U.S. could lead to “great conflict and some form of revolution unless capitalism is reformed.”
Reform is needed, and urgently, so that our capitalistic system produces better lives for everyone, not just those who already are getting an unfair share.
The World Economic Forum warns: “The challenges before us demand immediate collective action, but fractures within the global community appear to only be widening. Stakeholders need to act quickly and with purpose within an unsettled global landscape.”
Strong leadership is required to get the fixing done. Strong leadership particularly in politics. Strong leadership by people who do what they know must be done, not what their political parties or rich friends want.