The world needs popular mobilizations to fight against the inequalities induced by the pandemic

Oxfam published two reports on inequality on January 17 this measureand the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The evidence available around the world shows that the gap between rich and poor has widened. Oxfam Also published “Inequality Kills, India Supplement 2022”. He finds that bboth the number of billionaires and their collective wealth have exploded in the countryside.

In 2021, the number of billionaires has increased from 102 to 142. The country’s top decile owns 45% of its wealth, while the bottom 50% owns 6%. The richest 98 billionaires have as much wealth ($657 billion) as the poorest 40%, or $555 million. The richest 100 own assets worth US$775 billion.

This came as 84% ​​of households suffered a drop in income and more than 120 million jobs were lost, with unemployment reaching 15%. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are more than 200 million undernourished people in India.

Oxfam’s report, “Inequality Kills: The Unprecedented Action Needed to Combat Unprecedented Inequality in the Wake of Covid”, shows us that this is a recurring plague in global society and the world. political economy, including in India. What we can anticipate, in the absence of something truly monumental, is that inequalities will worsen and the conditions in which the world’s poor live, especially in the Global South, will worsen. aggravate.

At the same time, we have seen something else during the Covid-19 pandemic. Especially in North America and Western Europe, an “epiphany” seems to have been inspired by the pandemic – that societies were unsustainably unequal and the poor lacked the resources to cope, especially during the pandemic. . It was demonstrable that ethnic minorities and poor communities were hardest hit by the virus in North America and Western Europe.

And there seemed to be a response in the Global North, accompanied by overblown rhetoric. So in the last few months of his term, then-President of the United States Donald Trump signed off more than a trillion dollars to support students, the unemployed, and small businesses. This was after years of tax breaks for the super-rich and federal funding cuts for virtually every agency providing or overseeing public goods.

In the UK too, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, much against form, have been forced to massively increase funding for social services and small businesses. This was after an entire decade of conservative austerity, involving deep cuts in social services and higher education.

That was not all. The Conservative establishment in the UK and the incoming Democratic establishment led by current US President Joe Biden have gone further, promising that the future direction of economic policy will be based on big spending on infrastructure and services. social – public goods in other words.

The UK rebuilding project was sold with the slogan ‘Leveling Up’, as one that would address issues of inequality and the building of physical and public infrastructure. In the United States, Biden pledged a multi-trillion plan to build public infrastructure, address issues of poverty and inequality and, most importantly, climate change, by promoting a greener economy – the slogan was “Build Back Better “.

These “revolutions” are now in tatters. In the United States, two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, torpedoed the bill that would have carried out Biden’s plans in a vertically divided Senate, despite the willingness of Biden and the Democratic establishment to compromise.

In the Udenied Kindom, Johnson’s ever-rash populism – mostly sloganeering – clashed with Sunak’s more conservative fiscal and economic beliefs. Britons are eagerly awaiting lower taxes for the rich and more of the same: austerity.

Before delving into this report, we must mention one issue: the fight against Covid-19 itself. In the early years, the World Health Organization led a chorus of calls insisting on the need to ensure that people around the world got a fair share of vaccines at affordable prices. It was not only a question of ethics, but it would also have been an enlightened self-interest.

This does not happen. While developed countries have stockpiled vaccines, poorer parts of the world have little access to them. Across the African continent, for example, less than 15% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region are doing reasonably well, vaccinating 72% of people with at least one dose, while North America is slightly ahead at 76% and Europe trails them, with 66%. West Asia is at 51%. Clearly, there are large disparities within regions. A total of 1.7 million people have died from the virus. In some countries, people from the poorest sections are four times more likely to die than the wealthiest.

Coming to the Oxfam report, despite all the rhetoric and increased spending, we are shown that while the wealth of the 10 richest men in the world has doubled, that of 99% of the people has decreased. The report tells us that during the pandemic, a new billionaire was created every 26 hours, while 160 million people “should have been pushed into poverty”.

Inequality is as much between countries as within them. For the first time in a generation, the gap between rich and poor countries is set to widen. At least 73 countries face austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund, which will likely worsen disparities between and within countries.

The wealth of the “small elite of 2,755 billionaires” has increased more during the pandemic than in the past 14 years. What enabled this was not a deus ex machina, but soaring stock prices (in a time of global recession), a rise in monopoly power aided by more privatization, interest rate cuts corporate taxation, loosening of regulations and assault on workers’ rights accompanied by lower wages.

Long before the pandemic, economists like Thomas Piketty had revealed the growing inequalities that had plagued North American and some Western European societies since the 1980s. Piketty, in particular, showed that at the end of the last century , inequality had begun to approach 19th century and early 20th century levels. It was not until after World War I and, especially, World War II that societies began to become more economically egalitarian, with northern states adopting command roles.

But virtually everywhere in the world now, “small government” is all the rage. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in India, he was quick to promise minimum government and maximum governance. What we have, however, is an incompetent and corrupt government and pathologically ignorant governance.

Nonetheless, the fact is that petty governance is an ideological slogan that means governing for the rich against the poor, using weapons ranging from tax cuts for the rich to aiding corporate union busting.

It may be wise to take stock. Writing about the 1990s, Naomi Klein charted the beginning and evolution of the branding revolution, which fundamentally involved a disinvestment from production by giant corporations in the North. She has also written optimistically about a growing global anti-corporate movement facilitated by the internet.

In the West, the promise of this movement was briefly revived after the 2008 recession in the “Occupy” movement. Closer to home, we have had two flagship citizen-led movements; one against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and the Farmers Movement.

We must hope that such movements will help shape a progressive agenda, because periodic elections will not.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher. Opinions are personal.

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