Over the course of the last month, the breathtaking hypocrisy of the capitalist elites in Ireland and internationally has been glaringly exposed.
On an international level, first prize for hypocritical capitalism goes to the massively wealthy “philanthropists” and their hangers-on in the media who are heaping praise upon the 40 US based billionaires who have pledged to give half of their wealth to “charity” while living or on their death.
The “Giving Pledge” was initiated by two men said to be the richest in the world, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, whose wealth is estimated to be about $40 billion and Warren Buffet coming in at $37 billion.
In his “Philanthropic Pledge” letter, Warren Buffet explains how he got rich. “My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest… My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results”. He refers to the skewed values of that system: “I’ve worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious”.
The distribution of long straws, however, is determined not by fate, but by the workings of international capitalism which elevates corporations and individuals to positions of predominant economic power in society which many use to speculate and profiteer at will. In this way, fabulous wealth was accumulated by banks, hedge fund operators and various other speculators.
Worldwide wealth is created by the combined labour by hand and brain of hundreds of millions of human beings. The current economic and political systems allow a tiny minority to control the lion’s share of that wealth. That is why we have billionaires while most people struggle to make ends meet and hundreds of millions live in abject poverty.
The resources of the billionaire philanthropists were created by social effort in the first place and in a rational economic system, those resources would be available as of right for the good of society and not dependent on the whim of private individuals. Schools and health clinics starved of adequate public funding, whether in the United States or in very poor countries, would not then depend on being accidentally favoured by private billionaires.
Other glaring contradictions stand out. Michael Dell, the billionaire Chief Executive of the Dell Corporation has his very own philanthropic foundation devoted to “children’s causes” and health issues in the US and India. The same gentleman, however, did not hesitate to throw 1,700 workers on the unemployment queues in the Limerick region by shifting his manufacturing base to cheap labour countries in search of greater profits.
First prize in Ireland for hypocrisy goes to the government for its response to the downgrading of Ireland’s credit rating. The rating agencies which they used to club public sector workers in particular with are apparently no longer infallible, and in fact Standard & Poor’s has got it wrong. All because they pointed out the worsening economic situation, which stands in stark contrast to the government’s repeated efforts to reassure us that “the worst is over”.
Recently, the Financial Times published a “weather map” of Europe whereby it gave their economic prospects. Three countries had the worst possible ratings – with “snow” forecast – Greece, Iceland and Ireland, with the explanation “serious disruption to the economy, likely to last”. Of course, the change of attitude in the government to the rating agencies will not result in any change of policy – if anything, it will spur the government to go further in its attacks.
It was socialists who raged against the “dictatorship” of these rating agencies and financial markets, while we were derided by the establishment who promised that the rating agencies would reward austerity! The struggle to break this dictatorship will occupy an increasingly central role in Ireland and Europe in the coming months.