Thursday, November 7, 2019

ON GREED AND HOW CAPITALISM & NEOLIBS WORSHIP IT


By Lily Hikam*)

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend of mine about humans’ tendency to hoard things, to keep things for themselves. To be more specific, we were talking about the tendency to hoard money. Virtually everyone in this world would love to make a lot of money. And virtually everyone would like to keep as much of that money as they can, and if possible make even more money than before. And we hate when somebody tried to take our money. We would fight with every ounce of strength we got, no matter the consequence.

As a scientist, I try to dissect this phenomenon by examining what are the advantages for being greedy. The tendency to hoard may have an evolutionary basis. Back in the day, to survive in the wilderness, being greedy could potentially give you a larger share and a larger amount of the necessary resources you need to make it to another day. For example, during the Winter time when the hunt is scarce, there is a higher chance of survival if you kept the food to yourself as opposed to sharing it. Now, I’m not an evolutionary biologist, so don’t quote me on this theory. This is just my attempt to understand why greed is so prevalent in our society and why such behavior, depending on who exhibits it, is deemed repulsive or justifiable.

Humans have the tendency to be greedy when it pertains to our money, and as such we hate the arrival of the Tax Day, that one day per year when the Government would come and take away our hard earned money and use it to fund things like Education, Infrastructure and social safety net programs that would care for the vulnerable members of our society (or so we hope). Taxation cuts into our natural tendency to want to keep what we earned, and I literally have never met a single person who loves paying taxes. Many arguments have been made and I understood the point that are made.

For far too long, citizens aren’t seeing their tax money being put to work due to the lack of transparency in managing those tax Dollars/Rupiahs. Or they do see it, but it has been mis-allocated for something that the taxpayers are against (i.e. Wall Street bailouts, increasing military budgets, tax cuts for the rich, corporate welfare etc). This aversion to taxation is understandable from that point. I bet if we have a more fair taxation system that leads to proportional sharing of the tax burden, and a transparent system where taxpayers are able to see how their money are being utilized, they would gladly pay their share of taxes.

What is not understandable is the aversion to pay taxes simply because you just don’t want to. What is not understandable is the aversion to pay taxes because you refuse to pay your fair share of taxes based on the amount of money you have and will continue to have even after paying taxes. What is not understandable is the aversion to pay taxes and then buying politicians and influencing policy positions that will ensure the continuation of a system that enables you to keep making monstrous amounts of money, more than you know what you would do with it. What is not understandable is the aversion to pay taxes and then shifting the tax burden to the lower class people.

These are the realities we are living in, in this day and age. These days look up any random billionaire and you will find that they have a foundation in their name doing philanthropy work in some impoverished nation. Also look up just how wide the wealth gap has become these days. Don’t you find it odd that in an age of extreme wealth, signified by the presence of billionaires and millionaires and record profits for multinational corporations, that today poverty is as high as ever? In the United States alone, the top 1% owns more wealth than the bottom 90%. On a global scale, the richest 1% owns 45% of the world’s wealth. How’s that for a contradiction?

No amount of philanthropy can disguise the fact that wealth has been generated by the bottom 99% and accumulated by the top 1%. The people whose labor generated that extreme wealth for the 1% are excluded from being able to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Just how did this came to be?

Forty years of Neoliberal policies, which places a larger emphasis on profits over people, is how it came to be like this. Neoliberalism which held sacred the tenets of Capitalism and the “invisible hand of the market” has led to loose financial regulations, free trade policies that hurt workers and the people (as exemplified by NAFTA and TPP) and the eventual destruction of our planet.

Noam Chomsky taught us that the “concentration of wealth is equal to the concentration of power”. In a Neoliberal system where having money equals having power, the ruling class will fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo. They will not sit idly by if someone with a populist message that resonated with regular people come along and try to change the system, try to make them pay their fair share of the tax burden. Today, Mediaite just reported that in an interview Andrew Sorkin of the New York Times, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates said that he “would not commit to supporting [Elizabeth] Warren to defeat the president [Trump].” His reservations come in the wake of Warren’s proposed wealth tax policy, a taxation on total value of personal assets someone owned. Gates continued to say that he would back someone with a “professional approach in the current situation, probably is the thing I will weigh the most. And I hope that the more professional candidate is an electable candidate.”

Bill Gates, the so-called good billionaire, who’s been fighting malaria in Africa for God-knows-how-long, who’s been quoted saying time and time again that he should be taxed more, is hesitant to say that he will back a Democratic presidential nominee, Elizabeth Warren, over Donald Trump because her proposed tax plan would result in Bill Gates not being able to accumulate his wealth. And to be clear, I’m a Bernie Sanders girl all the way, I think Warren’s wealth tax plan pales in comparison to Bernie’s, since it’s not aggressive enough (the rates are lower and it’s affecting less ultra-wealthy people), but to see someone hesitate to oppose an openly racist President whose policies are decimating the country and killing the plane is a pretty telling sign of where Bill Gates’ loyalty lies.

I’ve said before that the ruling class have class solidarity. People like Gates, Buffet and Bezos are probably more comfortable voting for Trump in the next presidential election than they would for someone like Sanders or Warren. Why? Because they know that under a Trump Administration, nothing’s going to change for them. It will be business as usual, and if they’re lucky maybe Trump will give them another tax break. But under a Sanders or Warren administration, things will change. They will have to start paying their fair share of taxes, they will have to start paying their workers fairly, and they won’t be able to continue accumulating wealth like they have been doing for the last decade.

But, Lily, what about all those racist, xenophobic, outrageous things Trump say? Surely you don’t mean they will overlook that? Oh yes. Yes they will. Because those things don’t concern them. If anything, it will make it easier for them to “resist” Trump. Just be outraged at the things he says, not the things he do. Resistance done.

There’s a common misconception that being wealthy equals being moral and being poor is an enormous character defect that will lead to people judging you as lazy or an immoral human being. But no, having money or not having money has no bearing on the type of person you are. It’s something arbitrary, like having blue eyes instead of brown and having curly hair instead of straight hair. The casual worship of billionaires and millionaires in our society stems from this capitalistic system that encourages money making at the expense of anything and anyone else. “All for me and nothing for everyone else” as Adam Smith once said. Those who succeed within the rules of the system are crowned as morally superior , “someone we should look up to”, or a “good role model for young people” while those that fell victim and exploited by the system are deemed “bad people” and became anecdotes parents tell their kids to scare them into behaving.

Capitalism and Neoliberalism is the culmination of greed. The ultimate form of greed made formal and codified into the way the global system is operated. In Islam, there is a passage in the Qur’an that read: “And when they are told, ‘Spend ye of (the bounties) with which God has provided you, the unbelievers say to those who believe: ‘Shall we then feed those whom, God would have fed Himself if He had so willed? You are in nothing but manifest Error” (Surat Yaasin, ayat 47). In the Islamic tradition, we are required to pay Zakat (alms) to curb this dormant tendrils of evil within us called greed. In the Christian tradition, greed (avarice) is one of the seven deadly sins.

Greed benefits no one and destroys everyone. How long are we going to keep perpetuating this system? Only time will tell.

*) PhD candidate, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA
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