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par Graham PEEBLES
Market fundamentalism pervades all areas of contemporary civilisation and created what Pope Francis recently described as the “globalization of Indifference. It is a world in which we have become used to the suffering of others. This extreme model of capitalism places profit, not people, at the centre of everything. The wellbeing of human beings has become secondary to the aim of maximizing returns, no matter the costs, whether human or environmental.
One of the major “trends of globalization” is what P. Sainath calls “corporate globalism”. Today’s world is “marked by the collapse of restraint on corporate power, in every continent”. This is borne out by the fact that over half of “the world’s 100 wealthiest bodies are corporations”, organizations with enormous political influence which own media groups, essential utilities and transport systems. They are the major donors to political campaigns, they finance development projects and fund think tank ; they are the mining giants clearing indigenous people from ancestral land in search of minerals ; and they are the driving force behind the commodification of everything and everyone. They jangle the corporate politicians in their silk-lined pockets, influence policy and determine elections.
A river of destructive consequences flows from market fundamentalism. Inequality and the globalization of indifference are two of the more prominent, inter-related poisonous effects of the economic model that has served the bank accounts of a tiny minority well, failed the rest and polluted the planet. It sets people in constant competition, encourages greed and selfishness, and fuels division and conflict. Income and wealth inequality are thought to be greater today than at any time in history, and in spite of the growth rhetoric from certain commercial corners of the world, the poor are poorer than ever. Noam Chomsky relates a study by Action for Children, which concludes that “the gap between rich and poor [in Britain] is as wide today as it was in Victorian times”, and in some ways worse. “A million and a half families cannot provide their children with the diet fed to a similar child living in a Bethnal Green [London] Workhouse in 1876”. The chasm is wider than ever and the pace of disparity is quickening : under market fundamentalism “inequality has grown faster in the last 15 years than in the past 50”, according to P. Sainath. A recent study by the Pew Foundation on “the greatest source of tension and conflict in American life” found that, for the first time ever, “concern over income inequality was way at the top [of the list]”. This shift in collective awareness, Chomky says, is “a tribute to the Occupy movement, which put this strikingly critical fact of modern life on the agenda”.
America leads the industrialized rich world on every measure of inequality, followed by its 53rd state, Israel, and main international ally, Britain. At the other, more equal and just end of the income/wealth spectrum of developed nations we find Japan, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. In these countries, where the level of inequality is considerably lower, Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Public Health, University of Nottingham, found there is less crime and far fewer murders. Children have a better life, people live longer ; there are fewer mentally ill, drug and alcohol dependents. Literacy levels are higher ; obesity numbers are lower, there are fewer teenage pregnancies, prison numbers are much lower (America is “off the scale” here too), and community life is stronger and more vibrant. In its detailed investigation, Professor Wilkinson’s team discovered that, perhaps unsurprisingly, trust is related to equality. In America a mere 15 % confessed to trusting others, while in more equal countries on average 60 % of the population trust their fellow citizens. Lack of trust fuels divisions and strengthens suspicions of the “other” on the opposite side of the economic tracks, which aggravates social tensions and fuels criminality. Gated communities, with private security patrols, armed guards and alarm systems result from such division and distrust.