By David Starr
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe."
-- Frederick Douglass
As globalization under capitalism continues, so does the increase in economic inequality. Touted as a means for EVERYONE to live a better life, capitalism-particularly in the form of trickle-down economics-has drawn sharper class distinctions between those at the top, i.e., the 1%, and those at the bottom, i.e., the 99%.
The richest 1% control almost 50% of the world's wealth, reveals an Oxfam International study. Furthermore, 80 of the wealthiest people own $1.9 trillion, a figure almost the same as what 3.5 billion people share.
In the United States itself, the 2008 bank bailout of Wall Street elites cost $1.2 trillion. (So much for Main Street.)
The effects of this lopsided share of wealth has of course been devastating to workers, the poor, etc., worldwide. For example, a 2013 Economic Institute study found that between 1983 and 2010, 60% of people in the U.S. experienced declining wealth.
In other parts of the world, like Mexico, Europe and China, there is further tension between capital and labor due to the current world economy.
The 1% has committed class war on the 99% through the very nature of capitalism, i.e., a voracious appetite for profits. Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, "It's class warfare, my class is winning, but they shouldn't be."
While the theories of John Maynard Keynes, i.e., regulating capitalism, have had positive effects, Keynesianism seems to be a thing of the past. It's the nature of the capitalist beast. Not that the situation is hopeless.
In the U.S., class conflict is recognized by a majority of the population. A Pew Research Center poll found that in 2011, 66% of U.S. citizens thought that there is "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between the rich and poor. Regarding political affiliation, in 2011, 55% of Republicans, 73% of Democrats and 68% of independents thought class conflict was a major problem. (Regarding how the rich got richer, 46% thought it was through connections and inheritance, while 43% thought hard work, ambition and/or education. Eight percent thought both.)
With economic crises continuing, a spectre may now be haunting the world: the spectre of Karl Marx. In his piece, "Marx's Revenge: How Class Struggle is Shaping the World" (published in Time magazine, 3/25/2013), Michael Schuman wrote:
"With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant income, Marx's biting critique of capitalism-that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive-cannot be so easily dismissed."
Marx laid out his dissection of capitalism in his opus, Das Kapital. Included in the book is the subject of class struggle, that continuous back-and-forth between capital and labor in the lowering and raising of wages. When labor successfully bargains to have wages raised, capital will find ways to make up for this by paying lower wages to labor elsewhere. Or capital can hire cheaper labor to replace higher-paid labor.
Although labor laws have existed, and these laws can vary from region to region worldwide in their implementation, labor is on the defensive because of capital's gradual reemergence as a Gilded Age enforcer since the 1980s; in particular, however, with the changing of the international situation during the 1990s, with the dissolving of the USSR. It was proclaimed by conservative Francis Fukuyama to be the end of history, and a glorious victory for capital.
No longer is that illusion credible. The class war of the 1% is proving to be more ethically bankrupt as economic inequality continues to rise. Something has got to give.
David Starr writes on various issues, both national and international.