The Pandemic was an eye opener. Elders died by the thousands because essential workers in eldercare were paid so little they needed more than one job to eat and keep a roof over their heads. They had no sick leave and little or no protective clothing and equipment. When personal care workers fell ill they took their illness to two facilities rather than one. Millions of other front line essential workers were also poorly paid and lacked sick leave – people like janitors, check out staff, warehouse labourers, food plant workers, factory employees – the millions of people who make the products we need, get them to us and keep our world safe and clean. The millions whose low wages and absent benefits make corporate shareholders millionaires and billionaires.
At the same time billionaires in Canada and around the world wallowed in massive wealth increases. Between 20 March 2020 and 20 March 2021, “The wealth of Canada’s billionaires has increased by $78 billion since March 2020 while 5.5 million Canadian workers lost their jobs or had more than half of their hours cut at the pandemic’s peak …”. That is a 44% wealth increase in one year. https://www.policynote.ca/the-rich-and-the-rest-of-us/ Billionaires in the 15 countries with the most billionaires, saw their wealth grow to more than $8 Trillion by September 2021. Let’s put that in perspective. Ending world hunger would cost $11 billion per year. $ 8 trillion could end world hunger for 227 years.
Why have we have constructed an economy to serve large corporations and the very, very rich billionaires who own and control them? Over a half a century political leaders and government officials have written economic policies, almost all of which help the very richest and the corporations they own and control grow more powerful and concentrate wealth in just a few hands. In Canada 20% of the people own 73.5% of the country’s wealth and their share is growing.
Free trade policies favour the largest corporations which can construct supply and distribution chains that spread around the world. Small corporations struggle with global reach. Huge corporations can locate the cheapest source of supply based on low wages, unsafe working conditions, lower quality, and weak or absent pollution laws. They can use their buying power to manipulate or control suppliers buying a large portion of their product and then threaten their viability unless prices are cut. They can push them close to bankruptcy by making and calling loans or delaying payments and then purchase a supplier at a fire sale price. They can target local competitors with predatory pricing or supply chain disruption and drive them out of business. This is just a short list of market control tactics open to them. They not only can do all these things, but not a day goes by in the global economy during which these activities are not regular corporate practice.
Patent or Intellectual Property Laws are not designed so much to protect intellectual property as to facilitate its purchase and control. Small companies with new ideas can be purchased and absorbed or shut down depending on which is most profitable. New ideas and technologies are purchased not to use them to benefit humanity and nature but to maximize the return to the shareholders of the corporations.
This became clear during the pandemic when huge corporations with access to the latest vaccine technologies demanded and got massive support from governments to develop vaccines and then made billions. The top 8 shareholders of Pfizer and Moderna made a windfall profit of $10 billion during the week when existence of the omicron variant was announced. Their protected patents ensure that billions of people in low income countries will not be vaccinated and new variants will continue to emerge. Good for big pharma shareholders but a disaster for humanity.
Our legal and justice systems are ideal for large corporations and the very rich. They can afford legal expertise far beyond what small business, never mind what individual citizens can afford, and every imaginable kind of expertise to bring to the courts.
Advertising media is perfect for the superrich as well. Whether it is TV, radio, print media or the internet, massive advertising works for huge corporations with deep pockets. It is why even Canada’s government owned television is choked with ads for big trucks and large cars tearing up the natural world while spewing carbon dioxide. This, at the same time CBC tries to put on some programming that explores the dangers of climate change. Alas, their programs cannot afford the psychological testing and focus groups that makes big corporate ads so effective in ramping up climate change and shareholder profits.
Trump and other extreme right wing governments taught the superrich and their corporations the value of having an extreme right wing political leader who would dole out out enormous tax breaks for them and protect their interests. Even if he made some uncomfortable when he often lost touch with the truth and stirred up hatred, it was worth it. He also fueled and reinforced their disdain with democracy. People based democracy is simply not in their interest. It is why extreme right politicians are well funded. Like Canadian Conservatives during the Harper government, Trump Republicans want to change voting rules to ensure people who are likely to vote against them will likely be unable to vote.
This is not a conspiracy theory. None of this requires a conspiracy among corporate leaders or the superrich. Just as people who are hungry do not need to conspire to know that a good solid meal would be good for them, the superrich do not need to conspire to know that policies that foster tax breaks, tax havens, lax environmental and safety regulation, low wages and poor benefits all help to make them rich and that they ought to contribute to the political leaders who will support those policies. That is why we have an economy whose rules favour the superrich and the corporations they own and control.
We knew this or suspected it before the pandemic and Trump and his violent assault on democracy. More and more people are questioning the economic system that has driven us into this mess. The questioning will become more passionate with the potential climate catastrophe that is becoming more evident month by month and year by year. As the billionaires become more bloated and the floods, fires, droughts, mega storms, extreme heat and cold events become more intense the unfairness and destructiveness of our capital centered economy drive more and more people to question it.
We ar in a mess and heading for a worse one. So what can we do about it? Is change possible? Is it possible to have an economy designed to meet human need rather than human greed? In short the answer is YES. There are very successful examples of it. There is good news and a basis for hope.
Tune in to the next installment:
That light at the End of the Tunnel is Not a Freight Train.
 David Laborde, Livia Bizikova, Tess Lallemant and Carin Smaller, (Oct 2016) Ending World Hunger: What Would it Cost, International Institute for Sustainable Development.
 Parliamentary Budget Officer