Archive for » January, 2015 «

Why the fuss about extreme wealth?

I was surprised to see on BBC’s news site (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30875633) a story about ‘the one per cent’. It said that the world’s wealthiest 1% will soon own more than the rest of the world’s population, or ‘the 99%’.

 

Research by anti-poverty charity Oxfam was said to show that the top one percent’s share of global wealth had increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% last year and ‘will be more than 50% by next year.’  Other claims included that 80 richest individuals had $1.9 trillion wealth – equal to the bottom 50% of the rest (or 3,500,000,000 people).

 

The question that automatically arises in most minds (of people who visit the BBC news site) is, I’d guess, ‘So what?’  Why indeed the fuss? Has Oxfam nothing better to do, alleviating poverty, than to pry into how much those at the other end are worth? Katie Wright, Head Global External affairs at Oxfam, is quoted as saying, ‘The world talks about having the ambition to end poverty but that simply isn’t going to happen until we tackle this vast and growing inequality.’ Other quotes include, ‘It is time our leaders took on the powerful vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world. Business as usual for the elite isn’t a cost-free option – failure to tackle inequality will set the fight against poverty back decades.’

 

BBC did not surreptitiously nudge us into accepting or rejecting her arguments, which too was unusual.

 

The real question is how tempted you or I may be to accept these Oxfam arguments. Do you (or I) feel that efforts to distribute wealth more evenly are justified? Or, does this sound like sour grapes on the part of those not clever or hardworking (or simply lucky) enough to reach the top 1%?

 

We may really be more on the fence than we realize – arguing for one position or its opposite, sometimes depending only on who we are with. Getting off the fence for even a month can provide far more insight into who we really are (or I really am) than forever sitting on it, leaning repeatedly to one side or the other.

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p.s: 14 Feb 2015

 

The few responses I got to the preceding post indicate that I failed to achieve the intended result – namely to get ourselves off the fence.

Only those who were not on the fence offered comment – namely, those who felt that extreme inequality in wealth was either most evil or the natural and desirable result of true progress. Both held that theirs was the way to make life better for all. My feeling on these two positions is that they are held simply on the basis of personal inclination and are impervious to logic or empirical evidence. Whatever our inclination, we justify it on the grounds that humanity is better served following our preferred prescription.

The advocates of greater equality, if pushed, would probably hold that restricting material progress is a worthwhile price to pay to reduce extreme disparities. And those who argue the other way, if pushed, would likely say that some pain to a minority is a reasonable price to pay for the advancement of the rest. Whatever our attitude, its basis is primarily emotional rather than scientific or rational. Should we be able to present incontrovertible evidence that their expected result does not follow from their recommended approach, neither party would budge.

So what are we to do? A good part of debate about development and economics is about values. And among these, a powerful opposition exists between those who are either strongly opposed to, or in favour of, allowing disparities of wealth to grow unhindered. These positions are based on personal whim or inclination. If we cannot agree on a means by which to adjudicate whether one or the other approach leads to the greater good, all discussion about economics and development is futile. We can forever argue in support of whatever we instinctively prefer, for neither party will change its opinion.

Let us try now to leave the debates to the strident advocates of one position or the other. Those of us currently on the fence must instead work out what kind of world we prefer to inhabit. And then we should go for it, allowing the alleged opinion makers to imagine that their proclamations matter. Let’s overcome our awe of the experts, who know not good from bad. Nobody knows better than us what sort of world we want.

Fence-sitters arise!

 

Grateful if comment or criticism, if any, is sent to:

samara-singhe@hotmail.com

for the direct reply function on this site does not deliver

 

Paradox in the Pope

At the beginning was the sublime spirit of Jesus Christ. And then arrived The Church. It profited by marketing his name. And even more by burying his spirit. That subjugated spirit has off and on emerged, to be suppressed fast by malign forces. In Francis of Assisi the spirit was strong enough rising, to make the establishment quiver – as it once did faced by Christ. Church and Pope of the day moved again to crush the threat of emergent spirit, the moment good Francis stopped breathing. Today we witness the incredible – a Francis Pope, the first. The force crushed and the forces crushing combined in the one. What on earth is happening?

I, ‘non-Christian’ outsider, am not informed enough to fathom these shifts precisely or to figure out how much my understanding is skewed. The spirit I’ve admired in Christ is that of standing up to oppressive power – fearlessly confronting the practices and forces that gratuitously sow suffering. This spirit is, I believe, present in each of us. So also is its opposite, which is the quality picked up and reinforced selectively in wider society. It takes a Christ or a Francis to convert our personal good into a felt social movement. I am so glad this new Pope chose to bring Saint Francis back to life.

Organized instruments that suppress or warp our individual compassion and ethics include churches, political parties, trade unions, advertising agencies and money. The most evil of these are churches and various other religious establishments. For they warp the good in the name of the benevolent and deliver it surreptitiously to the vicious. Sleight of hand is heavily employed. Even the originally disliked Francis of Assisi was later permitted sainthood, when safe.

My concern is that the quiet, decent spirit of humanity has no chance against the loud, persistent and intolerant instruments of social manipulation and control. The smaller the human unit, greater the expression of the decent, compassionate and ethical. The larger its level of organization and power, smaller the chance of the decent emerging. As power grows the sublime wilts. Absolute power forsakes the righteous, however piteously it may cry out. Assisi’s Francis did not forsake Christ.

Jesus Christ was impelled to speak truth to power, right up to his final moment. Imagine how high the human spirit could have soared had Christ’s final anguished accusation been allowed to reverberate relentlessly. But its power was so effectively drained by the relief retrospectively delivered through resurrection. The empire has its ways.

 

 

Grateful if comment or criticism, if any, is sent to:

samara-singhe@hotmail.com

for the direct reply function on this site does not deliver

How I voted

The polls for the election of the President of Sri Lanka have just closed, and results are likely to be in during the next 18 hours. It seemed like a good idea now to declare publicly how I voted.

I do so because we tend to fudge our previous opinions as soon as we find out the results, and thereby fail to learn. So I chose to set out my reasoning publicly, before counting begins.  Not because the public wants to know my opinion but because it helps me learn. We must learn to force ourselves to learn.

So I declare whom I voted for and my reasoning.

There are some background things:

First, I am convinced that elections of the kind now practiced globally have become a farce to placate the vast majority into thinking that their choice makes a difference. But the population of the world is increasingly run according to the whims of a tiny, tiny cartel that decides what should happen in every country. Most of those who decide aren’t even human but abstract ‘people’ – namely, the largest global corporates. I know that elections offer no hope for the vast majority of the population in the USA or elsewhere to influence their own health and wellbeing – but I vote out of habit.

Second, I vote on the understanding that the person I vote for is my adversary from the moment that he wins.  I try to avoid the trap of approving mindlessly the subsequent deeds of the person I voted for. We vote because we must, really. Rather like how most of us consume alcohol. We don’t need to become a fan or convince ourselves that we like the stuff (or the person) simply on the basis of a seemingly voluntary action.

Next is choosing between candidates

We try to see what each contender will deliver. We should think not only about us and our immediate circle but to humanity and sentient beings at large. This is quite an over-the-top calculation for a mere vote. But then I do this to make things clearer for myself, not really to change the world.

In this regard, Mahinda Rajapakse (MR) appeared to me clearly better equipped and inclined to oppose the agenda of the ruling global oligarchy. The oligarchy would, I felt, clearly prefer Maithripala Sirisena (MS) as a tame leader. What this oligarchy wants is bad for the health of nearly all of humanity.

Within Sri Lanka, MR I felt would stand for less conflict between peoples in the short as well as long term. That I value greatly.  The oligarchy works to spread and sustain conflict. And it works in ways that increase economic inequality – both of which are inimical to human wellbeing. They work through the governments and leaders they control (especially of the US, UK).

On another matter to do with the health of the Sri Lankan public, I very much liked MS for having stood up to the inducements and threats of the tobacco trade. He showed at the time a laudable commitment and great resilience to stand up against the noted global bully. And I gladly agreed to deliver a homily to him at a WHO function meant to felicitate his steadfastness. I felt sad at the time that MR seemed to be veering towards compromise with the trade. My guess was that the tobacco trade had worked through one or two persons close to him, while economic advisers in the cabinet and treasury had contributed by misleading him about the nitty-gritties. And this was to do with a trade that killed – during the 30 year war –more than did the violence. Even to appear to compromise on this was for me a weakness.

But nearing the election though, I recognized that most in the informal network of agents (that conduct surreptitious ‘guerilla’ campaigns in buses, trains and public settings, posing as ordinary citizens) who promote pro-tobacco agendas were surprisingly for MS. So were pharmaceutical, alcohol and tobacco trade-friendly people. It appeared that those in the know were not worried that MS would have enough clout as President to persist with his stated alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical related policies.

So I had decided, about a week or so ago, to vote for MR – mainly because of his courage in standing up to global bullies. But on the morning of the election, a person whose opinions are solid, told me in a chat, ‘We are going to have regime change anyway, because the western powers have decided on it. If MR wins they will next use protests, clashes and street violence. It may be through orchestrated ethnic and religious strife or various political ploys.’ His view was that it would be safer and healthier to allow their desired regime change through the peaceful means of elections. ‘This country can’t afford another bloodbath of 60,000 deaths of good people. We have been so battered that we cannot survive another wave of killing. We just don’t have the human resources.’  An MS win he thought would be a peaceful way of allowing the desired regime change before a violent one was next imposed.

The next 20 minutes, driving back home and towards the polling booth, I realized he was probably right. Examples he did not mention, but came to my mind, were Iran and Thailand. Iran’s public quietly voted out the ‘extremist’ candidate and has survived without violence so far. Thailand’s electorate stubbornly kept electing their preferred candidates until he (and she) had to be forced out by violent means. The damage to Thailand has not only been economic.

Despite this consideration, I stuck with my decision of a week or so – and voted for MR.

I think I still valued the likely role he will continue on the international stage – which I think is for the global good. We ignore the world at our peril. All countries have to pull together to avert the impending climate disaster. More chance of Sri Lanka supporting such a move with MR as leader.

I fear that domestically he will no longer take forward the tobacco and alcohol agendas, now that vociferous advocates for it have left his team. Should this happen, much preventable misery will continue. Nor do I see the ‘pharmaceutical policy’ moving forward. But then these weren’t likely to move with an MS win either.

I know that I will not be popular with whoever wins. That, I think, is where all voters should try to be: try to elect the best possible candidate but see him as your adversary from the moment that he wins.