By Lynne Fernandez
I was listening to the CBC Radio business reporter explaining what was happening at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He was impressed by the number of billionaires who were present (I don’t remember how many, but it was a lot). The other thing he found noteworthy was that the growing gap seemed to be a popular topic of conversation. He reminded us that only a few years ago, concerns about the growing number of poor contrasted with an increasingly bloated über-rich class were only highlighted by the “radical” left.
The radical left. That’s a loaded term if there ever was one. Today, most consider a radical thought or person or movement as unreasonable, way out there – downright loony. The business reporter did not offer any sort of explanation of how the topic migrated from the loony left to being worthy of attention by a bunch of billionaires and their political apologists. It might have something to do with the left not being so radical after all — in the popular definition of “radical” — or it might have to do with the left truly being radical in the original meaning of the word.
Look “radical” up in the dictionary and you’ll see: “going to the root; fundamental; advocating or favouring fundamental changes in the social or economic structure.” In this sense, being radical means getting to the heart of the matter and, understanding root causes of issues such as poverty, inequality and yes, that growing gap thing.
CCPA has been analyzing the growing gap for over 5 years now. When we first started publishing and presenting on this topic, our audience was small. CCPA was and is able to explain how and why this phenomenon won’t go away; something the billionaires, politicians and mainstream economists were either unwilling or unable to do.
Nonetheless, as a topic, the growing gap is now trendy; even the OECD and Conference Board of Canada are talking about it. Klaus Schwab, president of the World Economic Forum just declared that “Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us” and that “A global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility.” These are remarkable — even radical — statements coming from one of capitalism’s elite. What does it all mean?
It means that even the most powerful people in the world can no longer dispute the evidence put forward by “radicals”. The Occupy Movement has grabbed hold of the truth that the arrogant elite thought would never get out. The genie is out of the bottle and it won’t be forced back in.
They can call us radicals all they like. We have clearly hit a nerve. Now the billionaires – the 1% – are having to regroup as they try to figure out how best to respond. They will co-opt the analysis and twist it to fit their neo-liberal vision: in other words we won’t see a global transformation. At best, we may see some marginally higher tax rates on the rich and maybe a bit more control of the financial sector. But then again, if our prime minister has his way, we won’t even see that.
Take a look at Prime Minister Harper’s sanctimonious, self-serving dressing down of European leaders. Harper won’t even concede that there’s something wrong with the system; he stubbornly believes that the mess in Europe was caused by its “too-generous” welfare state, and that working people must suffer even more to restore economic order. At home, he is going to implement austerity measures that will make the growing gap worse and do nothing to stimulate the economy.
The conditions before and during the Great Depression have shown us that the ruling class never sees the light, but it eventually feels the heat. The last time we went through this scenario, the labour movement was able to consolidate enough heat to force radical — although many would say not radical enough — change.
With labour on the defensive, especially in the US, it’s not clear where the heat will be channelled this time. But make no mistake – the heat is building.