Illusions Of Grandeur: How The Global Elite Lost Touch With The Real World:

Are you a fan of the Irish Rock Band, U2? If yes, is that because you like their music or because you approve of the anti-poverty campaigns associated with their lead singer, Bono and his condemnation of oil companies that don’t pay taxes in countries where they operate? In which case, you might not be aware that Bono, who is reputed to be worth at least $600 million, has himself been criticised by the Irish Times for “defending his band’s decision to avoid Irish taxes by moving to the Netherlands”.

Another “icon” whose image has been severely dented over the past few weeks is David Beckham – worth, according to the London Evening Standard, an estimated £300 million. In January, this website queried why he hasn’t yet been made a “Sir”. On 7th February, Guardian journalists Robert Booth and Jamie Grierson referred to European media reports that Beckham has expressed anger at not having been granted a knighthood, that the honours committee has been concerned about his tax affairs, and he was annoyed at being asked for a major cash donation to UNICEF (The United Nation’s Children Fund).

The extremely controversial American, Stephen Bannon – a founder of the right-wing “Breibert News” and now Senior Counsellor to President Donald Trump – portrays the elite as being “for themselves, not for the country”. The Huffington Post  columnist, Adam Hamdy, has attributed Trump’s victory as due partly to “the massive transfer of wealth from the average taxpayer to the very richest banks and individuals in society” and the fact that (he asserts), although Barack Obama “was elected on a change mandate, he immediately appointed most of the same old faces to positions of power”.

Victor Hanson of the Hoover Institution Journal believes that the American electorate rejected the Democratic Party because it “is run by rich, snobbish and often ethically bankrupt grandees”. His compatriot, the academic and social critic, Camille Paglia, similarly takes the view that the Democrats have become “arrogantly detached” from ordinary Americans: “Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, they have increasingly become the party of an upper middle-class professional elite”.

In the UK, the Conservative Party MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, told the Guardian that the main reason for the Brexit vote was “Mounting anger about economic inequality – the gap between different parts of the country, with London and the south-east having a booming economy but nothing happening in some of the old northern industrial cities”.

The World Economic Forum (WEF), which took place in Davos, Switzerland, from 17th – 20th January,was described by the BBC News correspondent, Joe Miller, as “The annual Alpine pilgrimage of the so-called global elite”. Among the 3,000 participants were 1,200 chief executives, more than 50 world leaders, and celebrities such as the Colombian singer Shakira and the American actor, Matt Damon. Miller highlighted the “jarring contrast” between the urgent discussions on climate change and the “ hum of private jet traffic”, the pledges to alleviate food poverty at the same time as “snacking on caviar canapes” and the commitments to reducing inequality “while being waited on hand-and-foot by an army of service staff at exclusive dinner parties”.

To coincide with WEF, Oxfam International issued a report showing that just eight men “own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people combined who make up the poorest half of humanity”. Oxfam’s Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, declared that “it is obscene for so much wealth to be in the hands of so few when one in ten people survive on less than $2 a day”. Across the world, she emphasized, people are being left behind: “Their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses”.

So who are the fortunate eight? Bill Gates(USA: Microsoft): net worth £61.5 billion; Amancio Ortega (Spain: Zara): £55 billion; Warren Buffet (USA: Berkshire Hathaway): £49.9 billion; Carlos Slim Helu (Mexico: Grupo Carso): £41 billion; Jeff Bezos (USA: Amazon): £37.1 billion; Mark Zuckerberg (USA: Facebook): £36.7 billion; Larry Ellison (USA: Oracle): £35.8 billion; Michael Bloomberg (USA: Bloomberg LP): £32 billion.

Michael Snyder of “Activist Post” fears that “if these trends continue at this pace, it won’t be too long before the global elite possess virtually all of the wealth and the rest of us have almost nothing”. Anyone with a good and secure job should, he suggests, consider themselves lucky.  As shown by “Statista.com” data, even in much of supposedly prosperous Europe, official unemployment rates are dire: Greece: 23.4%; Spain: 19.2%; Croatia: 12.7%; Italy: 11.6%; Portugal: 10.8%; France: 9.7% – though in the UK it’s just 4.7%. Figures provided by Snyder include: More than 750 million people worldwide lacking adequate access to clean drinking water; approximately 1.6 billion without electricity; 805 million without enough food to eat.

In the UK, disillusionment with the private utility companies and rail operators has become widespread. Thames Water made a profit of £742 million in 2015/16, the annual salary of its highest paid director is £1,357, 000, but it admits that “it has been slow to react to flooding in many parts of London caused by burst pipes”. Centrica, Britain’s biggest energy supplier, will be increasing its prices by around 9% in March and anticipates profits of £1.5 billion for 2017. As the Evening Standard has noted, all the UK’s main energy firms are expected to raise prices by the end of April.

Particular fury has been directed at the train operating companies who, according to an Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) report cited by Philip Handley of “Action For Rail”, receive almost £4 billion from the taxpayer in the form of public subsidies, pay out £200 million in dividends to their shareholders and charge the highest rail fares in Europe. A YouGov survey, observes Handley, has revealed that 60% of the British public support the re-nationalization of the railways.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on February 14th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon

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