A recent study by Oxfam provided some striking data regarding growing disparities of wealth and poverty within and between countries around the globe:
50% of the world’s wealth is now owned by 1% of the population.
This richest 1% has 65 times as much combined wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.
The world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.
10% of the population controls 86% of all the assets in the world, while the poorest 70% control only 3% of assets.
The amount of wealth hidden in secret tax shelters is estimated to be $18.5 trillion, which exceeds the entire GDP of the richest country on earth (US GDP = $15.8 trillion).
In the US, the richest 1% of the population captured 95% of new wealth generated after the 2007 financial crisis, while the bottom 90% became poorer.
The combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the EU between 2008 and 2010.
The report goes on to show that these growing income disparities are being seen in most democratic countries today and it attributes this trend to “political capture” – or the control of political institutions by the wealthiest segments of society, who are re-writing national and international laws and policies in ways that serve only their narrow self-interests.
Which raises an important question: what can be done to reverse these trends?
The Oxfam report suggest that “popular politics” – or the political mobilization or poor and working classes in support of progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services – will be needed to reverse such trends.
I fully agree that progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services are essential. But achieving and sustaining these kinds of advances will require much more than “popular politics.” This is because the underlying problem is, in part, structural.
Western liberal democracies are structured according to the logic of interest-group competition. When governance is organized in this way – as a contest for power – it will always be divisive and dysfunctional at best, oppressive at worst.
For reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere, electoral contests invariably invite the corrupting influence of money; they diminish the inclusion and participation of historically marginalized individuals or groups; they reduce complex issues down to manipulative slogans; and they ignore the well-being of the masses of humanity.
Stated another way, when governance is organized as a contest for power, it will inevitably result in political capture.
Popular political mobilization will, in exceptional historical circumstances, result in temporary advances for the cause of social justice and economic equity. But the long-term trends will continue to be characterized by the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people – as the history of the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries abundantly demonstrates.
These trends cannot be reversed merely through popular mobilization within current political structures. They will only be truly reversed when the organizing logic of interest-group competition is replaced with a new structural logic, derived from consciousness of the oneness of humanity — or recognition of the organic unity and interdependence of the entire social body.
It is, therefore, toward the cultivation of this consciousness, and the construction of new models of governance that are coherent with it, that we need to bend our energies in the long-term, if we hope to truly reverse the deeply troubling trends identified in the Oxfam report.
Today it seems that the message for change is articulated by people who believe in the unity of races, equality of genders, and institutional intervention on behalf of social and economic justice. These people also hold that the unity of mankind is a valuable principle. Alternative views originate from camps where self-reliance, individualism, and the centrality of ownership over risk and productivity is central to economic growth. These two camps are not necessarily opposing, although they set themselves up in a way to compete in a zero-sum situation, mutually excluding each other from voters allegiance, and financial and ideological support. There may be principles of merit at the heart of both camps, however the conflict appears to be designedly partisan, ideologically embodying the structure of conflict. They equate success with the failure of the opposing camp. As such, unity and consensus cannot be built.
The association of change and progress with unity and inclusiveness has not always existed. Progress has become increasingly linked with unity in popular discourse. However, the language of unity recalls certain associations with historical precedents. Certain movements invoked similar justifications for tyrannical processes in the past, such as the emphasis of national unity under communism in the USSR. This recalls tragic associations with 10 million deaths and relocations in genocides under Stalin.
Progressivism is associated with the political left, and conservativism with the political right. Leftism is associated with unity as a principle because of the language employed historically in communism. The right is associated with individualism, which it regards as the driver of economic activity. The right regards laissez faire markets as the source of economic prosperity. Whatever the etiology, the right has come to be associated with capitalism, and the left with communism. The division has been made highly controversial by manipulating public perceptions, reducing the discussion oftentimes to caricatures. The current matrix of associations is as follows:
Economic theory: communism
Social theory: unity and equality
Economic theory: capitalism
Social theory: individualism
What is the origin of the association between the principle of human unity and communist economic systems? Why has a moral principle become bound up in political lingo and public perception with something so destructive and so outdated as communism? The largest and most well-remembered historical example of communism’s practical failures was Soviet Russia and the cold war arms race. In American perception, the USSR was demonized and held to be an ideological antithesis to the United States of America. But is this association between communism and an appeal for greater unity so tight knit? Moreover, is the fear of communism and all things related to it rational or even useful for our society? More specifically, does the principle of human unity imply communist economic practices?
First we will have to identify the elements of communist economics that led to its failure. Second we will have to look at the principle of human unity and identify its elements, moral appeal, and its implications. Finally we will look at these two, and determine if there exists any essential overlap that confounds the language of human unity with the knee-jerk reaction against communism. We will show that the aforementioned association is partly the result of historical experiences, irrational fear, and prejudices of language; we will also show that the principle of the unity of humankind is good, sound, and moral; and we will conclude by demonstrating that there is no essential connection between the economic system of communism and the moral appeal of the principle of oneness.
According to Karl Marx, when left to their own devices, power structures within free markets will set up systems that normalize a culture of exploitation of the masses of common laborers. Without a medium for expression of their wants and without voice to their needs, the proletariat, as they were called, would feel progressively dissatisfied. The discontent of the masses would well up into revolution eventually which would shift the balance of power in favor of the working class with the instatement of a communist government. This analysis also produced the categories of class theory that saw the organizers of the system of exploitation as a rich, powerful, minority that enjoyed disproportionate privilege. Whilst the working class was constituted of a poor, hard-working, majority that suffered in silent determination until the advent of revolution.
Whilst communism has multiple elements, the economic theory is of greatest concern here. One of the tenets of a communist economics is the absence of private property and ownership and that the means of production and subsistence belong to the community as a whole. So, communism believes that people should not be allowed to own things, and that the resources funneled into industry as well as the products of work belong to the society as a whole to be distributed as it sees fit for the satisfaction of its subject’s needs. These tenets can summarized as follows:
1) No private property
2) Resources and Products belong to the community
Although it is not entirely obvious that these are bad ideals as stated, it does pan out to be the case that societies do not prosper with the implementation of communist economic theory and these beliefs. No one has to remind the west of the dangers of communist economic practices, and with the evidence of history at our disposal in the 21st century, not many entertain the idea that communism in its pure ideology is tenable as a model of governance in economic spheres. Notable cases of the collapse of the Soviet Union testify to this fact, and the reality that the People’s Republic of China has actually prospered in recent times due to its distancing itself from communist economic regulations, and the implementation of a de facto free-market system under a nominally communist government, has led to widespread acceptance that pure communist economic theory is not a practical possibility.
Finally, we note that the episode of McCarthyism in the United States in the 1950’s roused public fears and prejudices to a level of irrationality and hysteria. As a result, communism ceased to occupy a rational pole in public considerations of governmental and economic options available, and started to become a weapon of defamation commensurate to a culture of witch hunting, demon-exercising, or other superstitions. The combination of these influences produced the current psychological milieu, in which it may be difficult for the public to speak or think rationally on topics that have a historical association with something so tragic and devastating in the collective national memory.
It is important to differentiate communist economic systems, from the benefits of the principle of the oneness of humankind, which it is the position of this forum, constitutes the single most important factor in the realization of world peace, global security, and future prosperity for the species. The principle of the oneness of humankind is no outburst of ignorant emotionalism or a vague hope, it is not even just a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and charity among humans. It determines the nature of the structures and relationships that bind institutions within states, policies to people, and nations into members of a single human family. It is not merely an ideal. Institutions are responsible and committed to the task of spreading its message, and embodying its truth. It cannot engender a mechanical change in society, but a natural and organic one. It challenges old belief systems, that inculcate or encourage a loyalty to smaller or outdated sects, and challenges all values to recognize the infinite authority of the value of the entire human family.
The principle of the oneness of mankind necessitates the demilitarization of the globe, as large militaries have been one of the most crucial elements enabling divisiveness, disparities, and war. We require a unified planetary model that melds our political machinery into a single global federation of nation-states, with a representative parliament, and a single global executive branch.
Unity must materialize in our spiritual aspirations, our trade and finance systems, and our script and language. Nevertheless, we must safeguard the local cultures and diversity of national and regional heritage. This is similar to how a human body centralizes control over many functions through the operation of the central nervous system, but also relegates certain functionaries to local administration and entrusts certain decision-making to regional nervous circuits or even paracellular communication. Unity in a planetary federation does not therefore imply uniformity any more than national federalism (vis. the USA) implies destruction of state distinctiveness or regional rights and cultures.
Human unity represents the consummation of our evolution that began with the birth of family life, subsequent development of tribal solidarity, leading to construction of the city-state, coming to rest finally in the system of sovereign nation-states that we have today. As you can see the circle of unity has been expanding continuously over humanity’s long history from the caveman to the space-station, and our final stage of evolution is now imminent: global unity. This final stage is necessary, inevitable, and soon at hand.
To meld so many disparate factions into a cohesive unity will require another impetus from that Source that has impelled the evolution of our species through all of its successive stages into greater circles of unity throughout the past. It is prophesied in religious scriptures and tribal faiths as well. A gradual diffusion of the spirit of world solidarity is arising out of the chaos on the internet, in the financial system, in health scares, in tourism and travel, in international trade and debt, in sports and culture, and in charity and development work.
Human unity increasingly captures the attention of the leaders and presidents of nations. Only selfish and backwards forms of nationalism would regard the call to international unity as a threat to the power and resources of the national government. Just as colonial powers resisted the inevitable rise of national sovereignty for the sake of selfish power, so too will national powers resist the rise of a global unity that stands equally inevitable and equally beneficial to the interests of the people and the governments. Absolute autonomy of the arm is no special boon when the brain is willing and able to coordinate whole-body motion.
The fierce opposition which greeted the Geneva Protocol, the proposal for a United States of Europe, and the restriction of President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points into a smaller version, the League of Nations, all rank as among the prejudices faced by the forces of global unity at the hands of national power-mongering. Nevertheless the testimony of the prosperity of the United States of America with its system of federalism represents a credible and persuasive guide for the future of our world when it overcomes its prejudices against planetary society. Indeed, the United Nations demonstrate a significant advance in this direction, with some well-known shortcomings that illustrate the importance of more powerful and less nominal government structures at the global level.
The establishment of the European Union has taken steps in securing the monetary unity of that continent, however we still see the challenges associated with surgically enacting monetary unity in the absence of greater fiscal unity, vis. the current debt crisis in Greece. With Greece wanting to maintain its own national sovereignty in the context of increasing debt, their eventual fiscal merger with the rest of Europe is inevitable. As it is now, without fiscal unity, Greece maintains its control over fiscal budget setting. This sets the stage for increasing debt because they are not able to manipulate their currency, now the Euro (set by central European control) in response to economic shortages. This predicament will continue, and will worsen, until Greece and other countries like it are forced to sacrifice their national sovereignty in favor of continental governance. European control has already begun asserting Greek civil servants must comply with austerity measures before further loans from the European Union will be granted. The signs of centralized european government are already therefore being demonstrated. Inevitably, Europe is heading toward both monetary and fiscal unity – A reliable guide to the economic future of our planet.
Trouble and travail meld the warring factions of the world into a single united homeland. Stirring struggles and fierce controversies that forged the unity of the United States, are liable to play themselves out on the world stage to forge a global unity that will endure as long as mankind itself.