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One of the major, untold stories of our time is the rapid movement toward global oligarchy, in which just a handful of billionaires now own and control a significant part of the world economy.
Here in the United States, the top one-tenth of 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Incredibly, according to a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies, three of the richest people in America—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett—now own more wealth than bottom 160 million people in our country.
But this is clearly not just an American issue. It is a global issue. While millions of people throughout the world live in dire poverty, without clean drinking water, adequate health care, decent housing, or education for their kids, the six wealthiest people in the world as ranked by Forbes Magazine own more wealth, according to Oxfam, than the bottom half of the world's population, 3.6 billion people.
This massive level of wealth and income inequality, and the political power associated with that wealth, is an issue that cannot continue be ignored. We must fight back.
Thanks to the so-called Paradise Papers, a trove of millions of documents analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its collaborating news outlets, we now have a better understanding of how the largest corporations and wealthiest people in the world avoid paying their taxes and hide ownership of assets. Needless to say, these billionaires are all strong supporters of our military, our veterans, our infrastructure, our schools and other government services. They would just prefer that you pay for those activities, not them.
According to the ICIJ's investigative reporting, the Americans listed as having offshore accounts in the Paradise Papers, (which have not been independently reviewed by CNN), are a who's who of billionaires, some of whom are the very same officials who have led the effort to promote the Republican tax plan, which would provide even more tax-avoiding opportunities to the very rich.
Even before these revelations, we knew that tax dodging by the wealthy and large corporations, not just in the US but globally, was taking place on a massive scale. In 2012, the Tax Justice Network, a British advocacy group, estimated that at least $21 trillion was stashed in offshore tax havens around the world. In other words, while governments enact austerity budgets, which lower the standard of living of working people, the super-rich avoid their taxes.
According to Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, individuals in the US are avoiding $36 billion through offshore tax schemes and US corporations are avoiding more than $130 billion through these schemes. The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Caymans is now the "home" of nearly 20,000 corporations—and that is just one of many tax havens operating across the globe.
The essence of oligarchy is that the billionaire class is never satisfied with what they have. They want more, more and more—no matter what impact their efforts have on working people, the elderly, children, the sick and the poor. Greed is their religion. While the oligarchs are avoiding their taxes, Trump and his Republican colleagues, ostensibly in order to save federal dollars, have been trying to throw tens of millions of Americans off of their health insurance, and make massive cuts in education, nutrition assistance and affordable housing.
As a candidate for president, Trump promised that he would stand up for the working class of this country. Needless to say, that was a lie. Almost half of the benefits in the Trump/Republican tax plan would go to the top 1%, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Additionally, they want to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, even though in 2012 one out of every five large, profitable corporations in the US paid no federal income taxes at all and between 2008 and 2015, 18 corporations had a tax rate lower than 0%.
Republicans also want to make it easier for companies to shelter their profits overseas and pay zero taxes. The "territorial tax system" they are proposing, which means companies would be taxed only on income earned within our country's borders, would exempt the offshore profits of American corporations from US taxes and allow for a one-time 12% tax on their offshore cash profits when brought back into the United States.
Meanwhile, while the wealthy and large corporations are receiving huge tax breaks, nearly half of middle-class families would actually see their taxes go up by the end of the decade by eliminating deductions for medical expenses, student loan interest rates, state and local income and sales taxes, and the cost of health insurance for the self-employed.
The Paradise Papers make it clearer than ever that we need, in the United States and throughout the world, a tax system which is fair, progressive and transparent.
Now is the time, in the United States and internationally, for people to come together to take on the greed of the oligarchs. We can and must create a global economy that works for all, not just a handful of billionaires.
A spectre is haunting the US, and conservatives are worried. A new study from the admirably impartially named Victims of Communism Memorial Fund has found that 50% of US millennials would prefer to live in a communist or socialist system, significantly more than the 42% who opted to continue living under capitalism. ‘Millennials’, ran a Fox News headline, ‘think that socialism would create a great safe space.’
Disturbingly also for the organization that commissioned the poll, Karl Marx attracts a 31% favorability rating from millennials while Lenin, the architect of the Russian Revolution whose 100th anniversary takes place this week, attracts a very respectable 23% rating. This is higher than the approval rating of millennials for the US President himself – a recent poll carried out by NBC put this figure at 21%. At least Trump is more highly regarded than Stalin who earns a mere 6% approval although the much higher ratings for Lenin than for Stalin must drive the people at Fox crazy given their penchant for throwing Marx, Lenin and Stalin into the same category of tyrants and fanatics.
Fox is especially troubled by the findings that reveal that a significant minority of Americans don’t share its fundamentalist attitude towards the First Amendment. Some 43% of millennials and 42% of all Americans think that there should be restrictions on freedom of expression in order to prevent ‘offensive speech’. Rather than seeing this as evidence, as does Fox, of a knee-jerk political correctness, it is rather a welcome rejection of a corporation-friendly interpretation of the First Amendment and a sign that Americans are seeking to protect vulnerable groups from harm.
Now you might think that this is just another bogus opinion poll or agree with the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu who argued that because of its constructed nature, ‘public opinion does not exist’. But the poll was carried out by the generally well-regarded pollsters YouGov and, more significantly, chimes with two other polls carried out in the US in the last eighteen months both of which contained similar conclusions. Gallup reported that people aged between 18 and 29 were equally sympathetic towards capitalism and socialism while Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that a majority of under-30s were hostile, rather than sympathetic, to capitalism even if the numbers supporting socialism were not quite at the same level of those backing capitalism.
How can we explain these shocking trends that, in the words of the very frustrated director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, show that ‘millennials are increasingly turning away from capitalism and toward socialism and even communism as a viable alternative’?
To be honest, given the current prospects for millennials and post-millennials, it’s a miracle that the support for capitalism is holding up at all.
Student debt, something that their predecessors barely had to confront, now stands at $1. 4 trillion with the average millennial owing around $30,000. This is a generation that is increasingly priced out of affordable housing and is facing a slump in wages, the lowest since 1980. According to the New York Times, millennials ‘are faced with a slow economy, high unemployment, stagnant wages and student loans that constrict their ability both to maintain a reasonable lifestyle and to save for the future.’ And yet they still have the audacity to reject capitalism and to consider alternatives.
Not surprisingly, they are also the generation most likely to express dissatisfaction with the electoral system and turned to Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election in huge numbers with 56% having a positive view of Sanders as compared to only 38% for Clinton and 22% for Donald Trump.
Millennials aren’t alone, however, in having real doubts about the fairness of US society. The YouGov poll shows that ‘concerns about inequality are prevalent’ across the board. While 53% of millennials believe that the US economic system ‘works against me’, 48% of all Americans believe this to be true. Less than one-third of those polled think that the rich pay enough tax while nearly half want to see higher taxes for the rich with 37% arguing for a ‘complete change to our economic system’.
The conditions are ripe, therefore, for the sympathy to be turned into concrete support for socialist ideas. Naturally this will require the development of popular socialist organisations, a phenomena which – despite the bump provided by the horror of the Trump presidency – is taking place painfully slowly. The biggest socialist organization, Democratic Socialists of America, has some 30,000 members while the Sanders campaign has fragmented into different constitutive parts of the Democrats.
The message is clear, however, that socialist ideas are gaining traction as market fundamentalism has burnt its bridges especially with the young.
Millennials (and everyone else): you increasingly have nothing to lose but your debt. And a world to win.