Today’s Poll

Greening Up — Reimagining Our Plagued Economy – Part 1

Michael Jessen
By Michael Jessen
April 19th, 2020

“What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.” – Dr. Rieux, a character in the novel The Plague by Albert Camus

We are living in a time of radical uncertainty. Almost nothing is as it was before.

Humanity is trying desperately to dodge a dangerous pandemic while clinging to tiny fragments of normal life.

There’s nothing normal about being laid off from one’s job, being told to stay home, being told not to get within six feet of anyone but those we live with.

There’s nothing normal about being a health care worker, delivery driver or grocery clerk whose customary jobs suddenly carry a high element of risk.

There’s nothing normal about being a financially struggling small business owner who has had to close and now has to hope she or he can bargain with their landlord when the rent or lease payment is due.

There’s nothing normal about being a parent trying to explain what Covid-19 is to an anxious child and why they can’t go to school or have their friends over to the house.

There’s nothing normal about being a retired person and watching the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock market index losing about one-third of its value in a matter of a three weeks, eroding one’s retirement savings.

What do social distancing, self-monitoring, and self-isolating really mean?

Our questions mount daily, the most important: “When will this be over so we can get back to normal?”

Our leaders and health officials respond with “We don’t know. It could be weeks or it could be months.” There may be a second wave or it could return next winter, they inform us.

It is an unbelievable and overwhelming time. It is unprecedented. In just 12 weeks, a virus has brought most of the world to a halt.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that it will be a long, long time before normal returns. A March report from experts at the Imperial College of London stated it could be 18 months or more before a vaccine is perfected.

That leads to another question: What normal can or should we return to?

“The special trouble with uncertainty is that it’s a doorway to infinity.” – Oliver Burkeman

 When we don’t know what tomorrow brings, anything is possible: the good, the bad, the ugly. We speculate, theorize, suppose, guess, and – yes – fantasize and imagine.

We remember that when things got terribly bad in the past that the event eventually ended and almost everything brightened. That’s when we realize that humanity has been through horrible life-changing events before – the Black Death of 1347 and the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Great Depression of 1929, World War Two, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 9/11 attacks, the 2007-2008 financial crisis to name just a few.

We might even come to the same conclusion that CS Lewis preached in his Learning in War-Time sermon in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, in the autumn of 1939.

“The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it,” Lewis said. “Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”

If humanity had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until life was secure, the search would never have begun, Lewis continued.

“We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life”. Life has never been normal.”

“Capitalism and market forces are very powerful in producing wealth and innovation. But we need to ensure that these forces act in the common interest.” – Thomas Piketty

A crisis also exposes the flaws of the world as it is. That fact offers us the opportunity to fantasize and reimagine what could be better

As Peter Baker writes: “In such moments, whatever is broken in society gets revealed for just how broken it is, often in the form of haunting little images or stories.”

We entered this pandemic in the midst of one of the surest signs of the failure of economic growth to make things better for us all – rising inequality.

Oxfam’s Time to Care report – issued in January – uncovered the shocking numbers:

  • In 2019, the planet’s 2,153 billionaires had more wealth than 4.6 billion people.
  • The combined wealth of the world’s 22 richest men is more than the wealth of all the women in Africa.
  • Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day – a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.
  • Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health. 
  • Between 2011 and 2017 the average wages in G7 countries went up three percent while dividends to wealthy shareholders soared 31 percent.

“You need some inequality to grow… but extreme inequality is not only useless but can be harmful to growth because it reduces mobility and can lead to political capture of our democratic institutions.” – Thomas Piketty

Credit Suisse’s 2019 global wealth databook finds that less than one percent of the world adult population own 44 percent of household wealth.

There are 46.8 million adult millionaires in the world.  In 2010, the number of Chinese millionaires was only 38 thousand, while the number in 2019 was 4.4 million. The numbers of millionaires in the rest of the world last year are as follows: Africa has 171 millionaires, Latin America has 673, India has 759, Asia-Pacific has 7,505, Europe has 13,290 and North America has 19,946.

Part of the reason for income inequality is the high earnings of sports stars, movie and music celebrities, and the chief executive officers of corporations.

The average National Basketball Association player’s annual salary was $7.77 million (USD) in 2018/2019 making the NBA is the professional sports league with the highest player wages worldwide. 

Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. Scarlett Johansson was the highest paid actress with $56 million in earnings. Other actors or actresses routinely receive between $10 and $40 million per movie.

According to Payscale, the median salary for an actor or actress in general – in plays, TV, and the movies, without regard to the size of the role – is far, far less: $19.57 per hour or $50,529 per year.

“The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

According to the AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch, the average chief executive of an S&P 500 company earned 287 times more than their median employee. The report found that the average CEO earned $14.5 million in 2018 compared to the average $39,888 that rank-and-file workers made.

David Zaslav is the CEO of the American mass media company Discovery, Inc. Zaslav’s compensation soared to $129.44 millionin 2018, fueled by stock options and grants. Mark Hurd, the CEO of computer software company Oracle took home a tidy $108,295,023.

According to the Credit Suisse report, “From 2010 onward, the dominant influence [in U.S. inequality] was rising equity prices, which increased the share of the top 1% and reduced the relative wealth of middle groups. Lower saving by middle groups due to stagnating incomes also contributed to the fall in their wealth share between 2007 and 2013.”

Today’s flawed theory of capitalism is single-minded in its pursuit of short-term profits and shareholder interests. It can only be described as a system that allows the rich to get richer and the rest of us to get deeper in debt.

We’ve been on a treadmill that has suddenly come to a stop. We don’t have to get back on it when the pandemic ends. There are others ways to move forward.

Isn’t time we moved from the madness of more to the ethic of enough?

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” – Arundhati Roy

Michael Jessen is an ecowriter living at Longbeach near Balfour, British Columbia. He is the author of more than 800 articles on climate change, sustainability, waste reduction, and simple living. He can be reached by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca

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