The worst of times
The world is beginning to look like France, a few years before the Revolution. There are no reliable wealth statistics from that time, but the disparities are unlikely to have been greater than they are today.
Now, just as then, the desperation of the poor counterpoises the obscene consumption of the rich. Now, just as then, the sages employed by the global aristocrats – in the universities, the thinktanks, the newspapers and magazines – contrive to prove that we possess the best of all possible systems in the best of all possible worlds.
Like the court at Versailles, the wealth and splendour of the nouveau-ancien regime will be on display, not far from the stinking slums in which hunger reigns, at next week’s world trade summit in Cancun in Mexico.
How the WTO further bankrupts the poor:
Take, for example, the issue of “tariffs”, or taxes on trade. A new report by Oxfam, published today, shows that the poorer a nation is, the higher the rates of tax it must pay in order to export its goods. The United States imposes tariffs of between 0-1% on major imports from Britain, France, Japan and Germany, but taxes of 14 or 15% on produce from Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal. The British government does the same: Sri Lanka and Uruguay must pay eight times as much to sell their goods over here as the United States.
This happens for two reasons. The first is that the poorer nations can’t fight back. The second is that, without taxes, the poor would outcompete the rich. The stiffest tariffs are imposed on goods such as textiles and farm products, in which the weak nations possess a commercial advantage.
This isn’t capitalism. This isn’t “fair trade”. This is exploitation of the poor to further enrich the wealthy. And, as Monbiot points out, historically speaking, such grotesqueries seldom last long.