Tag Archives: inequality

The Greatest Issue of our Time?

inequality2Is the world’s growing inequality  the new de facto slavery of our time?

Target, the American mega-chain retailer, failed in its expansion plans in Canada and recently announced that they are closing all of its 133 Canadian stores and laying off about 17,600 employees. But Target’s Canadian liquidation is not the news I want to write about, rather it’s something more shocking than a mere business flop.

It seems the fallen CEO of Target’s Canadian subsidiary will get a total severance and benefits exit package from the home office worth about the same as the total amount being offered to all 17,600 of the chain’s Canadians employees. Now that’s a golden parachute!

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/target-s-package-for-ex-ceo-matches-package-for-all-17-600-canadian-workers-1.2927893?cmp=rss

But Target’s policy of massive compensation disparity between executive class and worker class isn’t just a Canadian phenomenon. Target’s former American CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, who stepped down after the massive credit card privacy breach of May 2014, received as his golden handshake a retirement plan valued at more than $47 million, or about 1,044 times what the average retiring Target employee usually receives.inequality4

This just illustrates with a few Developed World examples the global predicament that the British NGO Oxfam starkly described in a recently released paper detailing the world’s rapidly increasing state of inequality. The highlight of the Oxfam report was what could only be called a “statistical obscenity”: the world’s 80 wealthiest persons–many of whom are big shareholders in the finance, pharmaceutical, and health industries– now have more money and assets than the bottom half of the entire world’s population–some 3.5 billion people!

It should be obvious to all that this world’s economic system is not designed to benefit your average Joe and Jane. And it’s not just the working poor living in developing nations who are inequality1steadily losing their meager share of the world’s riches. It’s also happening to the middle and working classes in the developed world as well. The present global economic system is unfair and rigged  to benefit an extremely small elite of mega-oligarchs.

The problem is clear. Can the situation be remedied in a fair, equitable, and peaceful way? Or is the only solution a 21st Century repeat of the war cry of the violent French or Russian revolutions. “Off with their heads!”

Recently, I read various  proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy, such as income and inheritance taxes. There is talk about increasing the minimum wage to what’s called a “living” wage. Or, increasing subsidized educational opportunities such as was proposed by the U.S. president recently in his State of the Union address: two years free tuition at community colleges throughout the U.S.A.

But all of the above suggestions are just nibbling around the edges of the inequality issue. Even if all the above measures were passed by the politicians and enacted into law–which is doubtful considering the oversized effect concentrated wealth can have on donation-seeking politicos… inequality3when money talks you know who listens–the effect of such proposed “reforms” would only be temporary and mostly ineffective at resolving the growing inequality.

All such reform attempts would be mere “shows” put on by the politicians to try and convince the public that they are really trying to do something to address a system that at its core is rigged and unfair. And such “reforms” will eventually fail because the super rich know how to hide their wealth, how to influence the appropriate people, and how to manipulate the financial and economic systems in order to protect the status quo that benefits them.

Of course, the problem of the wealthy defrauding the poor by means of a corrupt world order is nothing new. The Bible specifically addresses the issue:

[But] look! [Here are] the wages that you have withheld by fraud from the laborers who have reaped your fields, crying out [for vengeance]; and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of hosts,” James 5:4 Amplified Bible

An older commentary on this verse in the Bible observed that great inequality among men and women has most often been accomplished throughout history by some form of slavery.

“The very essence of slavery is, that the slave shall produce by his labor so much more than he receives for his own maintenance as to support the master and his family in indolence. The slave is to do the work which the master would otherwise be obliged to do; the advantage of the system is supposed to be that the master is not under a necessity of laboring at all. The amount which the slave receives is not presumed to be what is a fair equivalent for what he does,” Barnes Notes of the Bible for James 5:4.

Of course, not everyone who has become wealthy has practiced some form of slavery by not paying his workers fair wages. But if one does achieve financial success through some appropriate creativity and hard work or even just by chance, the Scriptures would still encourage such a person to be generous with others and to practice philanthropy. In other words, loving one’s neighbour as one’s own self. As the writer of Proverbs puts it:

Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed,” Proverbs 11:24-25 New Living Translation.

A lot more can and will be said about how to remedy this world’s growing inequity and injustice. But for the moment a simple exhortation to practice brotherly love is a good first step and it would only do good and certainly no evil. The people in the boardrooms should take this Judeo-Christian principle very, very seriously while there still is time to change their fate.

 

Economic Inequality: Putting Off the Day of Reckoning

Right before our eyes the common person’s hope for the “good life” is unraveling, like a loosely woven tapestry being steadily picked apart thread by tread. Life, as we know it, is getting progressively more difficult and more insecure for billions of people in this world due the dramatic rise of economic inequality.income_inequality teeter

In its just released annual report, the United Nation’s Development Program warned that much of the 20th Century’s “improvements in longevity, education and income—the three main components of what is called the index of human development—are slowing due to worsening inequality and economic disruptions, to droughts and other natural disasters and to poor government policies.” (The Associated Press, “Improvements in people’s lives being put at risk, UN says,” Times-Colonist, July 25, 2014)

This UN report noted that the 85 richest people in the world now have as much accumulated wealth as about half of all humanity–some 3.5 billion people or 48 percent of the world’s population. Think about it! Eighty-five individuals have as much as roughly half the world’s population! Something is seriously out of balance and systemically broken or, if you prefer, distorted and corrupted.

wealth-pyramidThe financial writer Paul Rosenberg asserts that this chasm of disparity wouldn’t have been possible without the rise of the modern nation-state and what we call democracy. Before the rise of the “modern” state, the debts of the chief rulers of a country were his personal responsibility alone. However, such men surely made their problems the people’s problems, too! Obviously such wealthy, ruling elites of old would shake down the populations under their control to raise funds to pay THEIR debts–just like old King John of England and his nobles, who were made famous for such a tale of avarice through the Robin Hood legends.

But now loans are not taken out in the personal name of a “King John,” but in the name of an entire nation’s population. As Paul Rosenberg writes:

From the institution of democracy onward, loaning money to a government gave the banker [the central bank, international banks, etc.] a claim against the taxes of the people… a claim that never expires. All the citizens, and their children [and all the succeeding generations], become responsible for repaying the loan.

This was a clever trick: The person who signs for the loan ends up bearing almost no responsibility, and gets to spend all the money. At the same time, millions of people who greednever approved the debt—who probably had no way of even knowing about it—are left holding the bag… and passing on the obligation to their children. (Casey Research newsletter, The Room with Dan Steinhart, July 25, 2014)

Ballooning indebtedness is happening not only to the West, but throughout the entire world. According to Switzerland’s Bank of International Settlements [the B.I.S. is the central banker to the world’s central bankers like the U.S. Federal Reserve], since the financial crisis of 2007, the worldwide debt load has soared more than 40 percent to the current 100 trillion dollars! http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-09/global-debt-exceeds-100-trillion-as-governments-binge-bis-says.html

sminequality_scanlon_r2U.S. Federal debt alone is more than US$56,000 per American. Total European Union public debt averages about 23,000 Euros or about US$ 31,000 per person. http://www.eudebtclock.org/

But, of course, skyrocketing debt isn’t the only factor fostering the growing inequality. Consider what Rex Van Schalkwyk, a financial writer for the Casey Report newsletter says:

The real cause of the inequality that so troubles politicians [are they really bothered?] is the systematic destruction of the free markets over the last century. The essential wealth-building effects of those markets became, at first, more elusive and finally, altogether inaccessible to all but the privileged elite: those who have systematically benefited from an exclusive arrangement. This includes the unlawful front-running of equities and other financial markets through the mechanism of high-frequency trading, a device of the exclusive economy.

Because there is today no free market in the cost of money (interest rates), there cannot be a free market in anything that is counted in money. Low interest rates—systematically depressed by the Federal Reserve over the past two decades—have enriched the bankers, the borrowers, the financial institutions, and the speculators at the expense of the frugal, the pensioners, and the teachers.

Financial asset and property prices have exploded, making them accessible only to those richest getting richerwho already have them. The result is that 90% of the wealth has gone to the 5%, while 10% has gone to the 95%. The predictable outcome is that the 95% have experienced no real income growth in the past 30 years. The middle class has been eviscerated. (Casey Research newsletter, The Room with Dan Steinhart, July 25, 2014)

Actually the real cause for the growing erosion of the world’s hope for a better material future is more profound, and more foundational than even the UN’s Development Program, the Bank for International Settlements, or the writers of Casey Research might suggest. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but that what they point out are just symptoms or consequences of something more foundation to this issue of our obscene inequality.

The actual roots of the inequality problem can be found in the fact that humanity, generally, and certainly this world’s governing financial and political elite, specifically, have turned their backs on and completely rejected the revelation on the financial and economic fairness principles that were presented to us all for all time by our Creator.

From our Creator’s perspective, human society by its very nature needed a financial system that would systematically, and regularly purge accumulated debt from both individuals and society as a whole. It also needed an episodical re-distribution of what constitutes the foundation of wealth accumulation in this world –  land. Specifically, land that is or can be economically productive. By periodically re-distributing a nation’s economically productive real estate, a society can avoid concentrating wealth in the hands of the few and the disenfranchising the majority from owning the foundational source of economic wealth – land. The Creator of humanity instituted two main features in His program to maintain social equality, economic balance and fairness – the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee.

“At the end of every seven years [the Sabbatical year] you shall grant a release. 2 And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed.” Deuteronomy 15:1-9 (ESV)

“You shall count seven weeks of years [seven Sabbatical years], seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month On the Day of Atonement [an annual event designed to restore spiritual harmony between God and man, as well as that of everyman with his neighbour] you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants [The inscription of this verse is found on the American Liberty Bell in Philadelphia]. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. Leviticus 25:8-10 (ESV) 

politics how worksOf course the bankers, multi-nation corporations, and wealthy elite would hate the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee for obvious reasons. But what they don’t understand, is that such a godly system would provide them with security and peace instead of a day reckoning, a time of financial disaster and social turmoil, that is coming.

Mark Carney: financial trolls must reform—or capitalism won’t survive!

Last week Mark Carney, present governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the International Financial Stability Board (as well as a well-respected past governor of the Bank of Canada), strongly warned a conference on “Inclusive Capitalism” at the City of London—which was attended by the elite money managers in charge of one-third of the world’s investable money (about $30 trillion—yes that’s trillion not billion!) that they cannot take the continuation of the capitalist system for granted because the basic social contract has been breaking down!eroding social capital

Carney argued that capitalism in the 21st Century will only survive if it delivers on a social contract between money and the people. It’s what Carney calls an “inclusive capitalism” that provides: 1) “relative equality of outcomes,” 2) “Absolute equality of opportunity,” and 3) “Fairness across generations.”

While in his position as governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney is moving forcefully to reform the financial system by clarifying some of its technical problems, but he acknowledges the reality that no amount of government regulation could possibly save the world’s financial system from its worst problem—its own unbridled greed and self-interest. Carey noted:

“Integrity can’t be bought and it can’t be regulated!”

Carney is concerned that not enough has changed in the trading pits of the money trolls since the world financial system’s near-death experience in 2008. At that time the trolls of finance like a carney pursedbunch of alcoholics woke up after a long binge of rising markets only to suddenly discover that their sophisticated “funny money” financial instruments (derivatives & securitized debt) weren’t worth what they thought they were and couldn’t cover their losses when other risky, opaque investment bets soured. So who did cover the financial system’s losses in 2008? Well, it was you and me, the taxpayers of the Western world—NOT the financial trolls! Carney acknowledged this:

“Major banks were too big to fail operating in a privileged ‘heads-I-win-tails-you-lose’ bubble. Bankers made big sums in the [2008 investment market] run-up, they were well compensated after the hit [after the bailouts] and taxpayers picked up the tab for the failure.”

social inequalityNone of the executives of the financial institutions that suddenly lost hundreds of billions and so created the 2008 crisis were ever charged with a crime. Instead they got to keep the megabucks in salaries, commissions and bonuses that they parasitically sucked from the system. This has severely shaken the public trust in the financial sector.

Carney wants to rebuild the public’s trust in the markets integrity by eliminating the implicit privilege of those who think they are “to big to fail,” as well as eliminating the rigging of commodity, fixed income, and derivative markets and their benchmarks rates by creating an open transparency to ensure “fair and effective markets.” Carney also notes that while many banks have codes of ethics, he doubts many of the employees know what is in them; and he wants stronger consequences for violating ethical codes of conduct including “professional ostracism.”

Also to be reformed are the executive compensation schemes that delivered huge bonuses for short-term gains but that obligated a financial institution to a dangerous long-term risk.  Instead performance pay would be evaluated over a longer term and subject to being reduced. Last of the reforms that Carney is proposing is the building of a stronger sense of vocation and responsibility in finance, one with high ethical standards. Impossible?

Carney acknowledged publicly that the money trolls excesses as revealed by the 2008 downturnhand on money had a “corrosive” impact on what he called the “social fabric”—i.e the growing inequality in the Western, developed world.

Carney admonished the trolls that “finance has to be trusted”; and that they must consider toning down their overweening sense of greed and selfishness. He suggested gently to them that they ought to consider the greater good of all for a change: “There needs to be a sense of society.”

Perhaps in this regard, if Mark Carney wanted to stimulate his audience to re-consider their trollish ways, he should have reminded his audience of Jesus’ sarcastic parable of the dishonest manager.

Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’

“The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what? My boss has fired me. I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’

“So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’ The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’

“‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’

“The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.

But here’s the lesson: Money gained through dishonest dealing has many friends in this age. But, when your earthly possessions are all gone and your temporary physical life fades away, will all those good-time buddies of yours be able to give you a truly eternal home? [An allusion to God’s promised gift to the righteous faithful of eternal life.]

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. [My corrected paraphrase of Luke 16:1-10]