The richest 1% of the world’s people (those earning more than $172,000 a year) produce 15% of the world’s carbon emissions: twice the combined impact of the poorest 50%. On average, they emit over 70 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person every year, 30 times more than we can each afford to release if we’re not to exceed 1.5C of global heating. While the emissions of the world’s middle classes are expected to fall sharply over the next decade, thanks to the general decarbonisation of our economies, the amount produced by the richest will scarcely decline at all: in other words, they’ll be responsible for an even greater share of total CO2. Becoming good global citizens would mean cutting their carbon consumption by an average of 97%.
There’s an oft-quoted axiom, whose authorship is obscure: it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Part of the reason is that capitalism itself is difficult to imagine. Most people struggle to define it, and its champions have generally succeeded in disguising its true nature. So let’s begin by imagining something that’s easier to comprehend: the end of concentrated wealth. Our survival depends on it.
I’ve come to believe that the most important of all environmental measures are wealth taxes. Preventing systemic environmental collapse means driving extreme wealth to extinction. It is not humanity as a whole that the planet cannot afford. It’s the ultra-rich.
Something to watch on the eve of huge energy price increases driving the cost of living crisis in UK
What can we do about our oligarchy in the United States? President Biden’s blueprint for ones in Russia is a good place to start.
Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence. Note by dizzy: There’s a photo of Jeff Bezo’s superyacht at the original article. He’s got a new one now of course requiring an historic bridge to be dismantled in Rotterdam.
12/3/22 ed: I’ve emphasized one paragraph in red typeface. That part is particularly important showing that we do not live in democracy. 13/3/22 The West is imposing it’s model of oligarchs on Russia by imposing sanctions. Western oligarchs control and dictate to Western governments but that’s not the case in Russia.
Tonight I say to the Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who have bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: no more.
The U.S. Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs.
We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.
With these words, the president unintentionally laid out a blueprint for responding to the American oligarchs, superpredators who dwarf their Russian counterpoints in wealth and political power.
America’s oligarchs, like their Russian counterparts, have bilked billions—no, make that trillions—from their own regime.
Oligarchs in a Violent Regime
About that “violent regime” business: It’s possible to condemn the violence perpetrated by Russia’s government while at the same time recognizing and condemning of our own. Our direct attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries, have been matched by the proxy violence we have funded in nations like Palestine and Syria. Our sanctions have taken countless lives around the world, a form of bloodshed we pretend isn’t warfare.
America’s oligarchs, like their Russian counterparts, have bilked billions—no, make that trillions—from their own regime. Some of their bilking comes directly from its violence, in the form of “defense” contracts to entities like Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and the Carlyle Group.
A 2014 Princeton political science study showed that government actions nearly always conform to the wishes of wealthy and powerful US elites. “Our central finding was this: Economic elites and interest groups can shape U.S. government policy — but Americans who are less well off have essentially no influence over what their government does,” wrote co-authors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page.
America’s oligarchical influence extends from healthcare and fossil fuels to the industry of war itself. American companies account for more than half of all arms sales worldwide. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that “in the past two decades, (the arms industry’s) extensive network of lobbyists and donors have directed $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending to influence defense policy.”
Arms manufacturers (more commonly known by the Orwellian appellation, “defense industry”) shrewdly concentrate on hiring ex-government officials to advance their agenda and pump up their “ill-begotten gains.” This ensures that their interests are represented by people who know the officials they’re lobbying. Even more importantly, it puts those officials on notice that there is a lucrative future in store for them if they play along. Arms oligarchs have hired more than 200 lobbyists who, in the report’s words, “have worked in the same government that regulates and decides funding for the industry.”
Arms manufacturers played a dominant role under Trump, but are also well-represented in the Biden Administration:
While Biden has touted strict ethics rules that attempt to thwart the influence of lobbyists on the administration, several of his earliest appointees, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken consulted for a private equity firmthat emphasized its “access, network and expertise” in the defense industry. Austin also had a seat on the United Technologies and Raytheon board, earning more than $250,000 from the now merged companies.
It’s not just the arms industry, of course. Other oligarchs have bilked the people of the United States in more creative ways. Jeff Bezos built his Amazon empire off his ability to sell products online without charging sales tax. This government-granted loophole made him an oligarch, a position he has used to further cement his power and influence. He has purchased the most influential paper in the nation’s capital—an oligarch’s move if there ever was one—while constantly extending his monopolistic power into new markets.
Despite the fact that he already possessed great wealth, Elon Musk has received billions in subsidies and contracts for his automobile and space ventures. Bill Gates parlayed a government contract and some aggressive patent strategies into his own oligarchical status. Insurance executives have bilked billions from the violence of our privatized healthcare system, which takes an estimated 45,000 lives per year.
Money, of course, is only part of an oligarch’s wealth. President Biden also mentioned the property that belongs to Russian oligarchs: “your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.” (He meant “ill-gotten,” but I suppose you could call such malapropisms part of Biden’s charm.)
If a “supertax” were levied against America’s oligarchs by the federal government, it would produce as much as $755 billion in revenue.
Russians own an estimated 7-10 percent of the world’s superyachts, leaving plenty for their American counterparts. Luxury apartments? Check out “New York Condo Sells for Close to $190 Million; Hedge-Fund Billionaire Doubles His Money.” Private jets? Jeffrey Immelt, job outsourcer and financial predator at GE, used to taketwo jetswhen he traveled so that he’d have a spare—and charged it back to GE’s shareholders.
Little Oligarchs, Big Oligarchs
We’re told that the Russians whose yachts have been seized include Alisher Usmanov, whose net worth is $20 billion, and Alexei Mordashov, whose wealth is described as “nearly” $30 billion. Compare that with Elon Musk, who’s worth nearly $300 billion, or Jeff Bezos at $202 billion. These guys are pikers.
Globally, in the US-led world financial order, billionaires have gained $5 trillion in wealth since the pandemic began. Think of our economic leadership as a “global endowment for oligarchy.” Oxfam reports that the ten richest men in the world (yes, they’re all men) own more wealth than the bottom 3.1 billion people (“six times more, in fact”). Oxfam also notes that “if the 10 richest men”—nine of whom live in the US—”lost 99.999% of their combined wealth, they would still be richer than 99% of the world.”
Now that’s oligarchy.
Making a Killing
No industry has taken more advantage of government-granted patent monopolies than Big Pharma. Even when its oligarchs misled the country into an opioid epidemic—one of the largest mass-casualty events in American history—they are able to escape criminal culpability for their actions.
Then came Covid-19. As Forbes reported in January, US billionaires held an estimated $3.5 trillion before the pandemic struck, a figure that reached nearly $5.3 trillion two years later. That’s $1.8 trillion in gains, divided among only twenty oligarchs. Musk led the pack, with Bezos in second place. The billionaires’ list is a cavalcade of monopolists and speculators whose wealth has been fueled by their government’s benign view of their predatory business practices.
Once the pandemic hit, Big Pharma’s oligarchs were able to parlay their political power into exclusive patent rights for Covid-19 vaccines. Moderna made $17.7 billion from its vaccine in 2021 and anticipates making $22 billion this year, from a formula developed with $2.5 billion in funding commitments from the US government. The money from these government-granted profits could vaccinate the entire world, but they’ve been used to enrich shareholders instead. That’s oligarchy.
Restoring the Balance
What can Americans do about their oligarchy? President Biden’s blueprint is a good place to start. A “dedicated task force to go after the crimes of American oligarchs” is an excellent place to start. It could address questions such as:
1. Why have nine American billionaires acquired more than $755 billion during the Covid pandemic, while so many other people struggled?
2. What role did government and central bank policy play in this enrichment?
3. What unethical or illegal actions, if any, were undertaken in amassing this wealth?
4. What effect will these levels of economic inequality have on social justice, political power, social mobility, and the rights of consumers and workers?
5. Is there any reason why this money should not be taxed at 99 or 100 percent?
Item #4 would not be unprecedented. It would revive a proposal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a “100 percent war supertax” on extremely high incomes and would echo the 94 percent top tax rate passed during World War II. (The top marginal tax rate stayed above 90 percent for the next two decades.)
We certainly face a World War-level emergency. Oxfam observes that “a 99% windfall tax on the COVID-19 wealth gains of the 10 richest men could pay for enough vaccines to vaccinate the entire world and fill financing gaps in climate measures, universal health and social protection, and efforts to address gender-based violence in over 80 countries, while still leaving these men $8bn better off than they were before the pandemic.”
I don’t hate these oligarchs. I see them.
If a “supertax” were levied against America’s oligarchs by the federal government, it would produce as much as $755 billion in revenue. That’s enough to pay for the original, ten-year “Build Back Better” proposal—twice.
To See, and to Act
It’s striking that the current debate about American democracy ignores its biggest antagonist: the oligarchs who have undermined the political process and drained the nation of its wealth. Restraining the oligarchs would help build true democracy. It would be good politics, too.
“We know from polling that (anti-oligarchical) policies and rhetoric like these are wildly popular,” writes Eleanor Eagan of the Revolving Door Project. “In our deeply divided country, anger at elite impunity and a desire to see it end are among the rare uniting forces that we have left.”
Not that we can expect an anti-oligarchical agenda from this government any time soon. Politicians know that America’s oligarchs, unlike Russia’s, have the ability to crush their careers at any time. But the rest of us are free to speak out and demand an end to oligarchical rule anywhere in the world. Our condemnation of other country’s oligarchs will ring hollow until we do.
Someone once asked me, “Why do you hate billionaires?” The answer is, I don’t. I’ve met a few, and they were always sociable enough (unless you worked for them). I don’t hate these oligarchs. I see them. As we build the anti-oligarchical movement here in the US, Noah Liebman’s handy browser add-on (for Firefox only) helps everyone see them. It replaces the word “billionaire” with “oligarch” on every web page, producing headlines like “Bloomberg’s Oligarch Index,” “Forbes’ Oligarchs 2021,” “Inside the Financial Holdings of Oligarch Betsy DeVos” … you get the idea.
Another headline now reads, “Oligarch investor Bill Ackman says Russia’s attack on Ukraine means World War III has ‘likely already started.'” Maybe it has, or maybe it will start soon. The best way to prevent it is by eliminating all oligarchies, foreign or domestic, and replacing them with genuine democracy.
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Richard (RJ) Eskow is a freelance writer. Much of his work can be found on eskow.substack.com. His weekly program, The Zero Hour, can be found on cable television, radio, Spotify, and podcast media. He is a senior advisor with Social Security Works.
For your children, to stop the destruction of our planet
10 March 2022: I will be participating of course. I can’t ask other people to do it and not do it myself. There may be some issue about arresting me if I am under an Investigatory Powers Act order so perhaps the police could look into that before 20 March?
[More on that: I am uncertain about it but here’s my reasoning. If I’m watched under an IPA order, evidence that turns up and possibly the fact that I’m under such an order cannot be put before a court. (Is that correct?) So, I would be denied a fair trial. If I’m denied a fair trial then I shouldn’t be arrested or detained.] more: and if that’s the case does it also apply to Assange? There might be some words that make it acceptable.
Bicycles, small motorcycles would seem to be ideal to use – because you can get around traffic.
later: I think that perhaps I’ve been emphasizing Capitalism in this post too much. On the other hand, Capitalism is the problem. Note to self: work this out
10 March 2022: Why is 20 March extended to 36 hours? 20 March is the equinox and also has good numbers. The trouble is that it’s a Sunday and there’s no point disrupting traffic on a Sunday. 21 March is not the equinox and doesn’t have good numbers. So I cheated ;) more: I could have gone into the position of the stars and all that. The trouble is there’s no time to do that (, I’m not that good at it) and we’re not able to delay until the stars are good. [11/3/22 More that the dates of 20 March express what I intend.]
11 March 2022: Feedback is welcomed. It is very unfortunate that presumably the UK government does not permit comments to this blog. On the other hand in this instance they have denied themselves feedback. Hoping that I’ll be able to discuss this Sunday afternoon / evening.
Successive government serially fail to address the climate crisis and must be forced to act. We have now come to realise that 1.5 degree increase is too much. The latest IPCC report has said that we must act now.
Extinction Rebellion are intending to shut down oil refineries starting 9 April and I wish them every success with that. We are sharing the same logic – that we are unwilling to tolerate, actually cannot allow business as usual because it’s killing the planet.
12 March 2022: I’ve had some feedback, it’s usually supportive. The trouble is that it has to be interpreted like reading tarot cards.
Other feedback I interpreted as you will be arrested and it follows that I’ll probably get my own chance to write some prison notebooks. I’m not surprised that I will be arrested, I’m going to be doing criminal damage after all, going out equipped with the intention of doing criminal damage, the discussion of IPA was just wishful thinking and getting arrested is part of the intention.
I also interpreted this feedback as somewhat disparaging, suggesting that I’m a novice. I think that the response to that is that I have been appointed to office, I am by appointment, I never asked to be appointed to a high honourary office and was not even aware of it to start with. I have authority through that office and I am exercising that authority. [ed: not sure that I should regard it as honourary] [14/3/22 I want to stop adding to this post and leave it. I’m not sure if it’s appointed to office – could be more of an official acknowledgement and recognition. I’ve never really benefited from it – I’ve been shown respect by people (including cake thanks) and that’s it. I am otherwise by appointment to … and have been quoted by the highest office.]
I also interpreted this feedback as asking me to take down the sword. It could be straight from Priti. I don’t want any violence or bloodshed which the sword can mean. I do however intend to defend myself according to the law if I’m attacked. I am not XR.
Many people locally are aware who I am. Give me feedback even if it’s just a thumbs up or thumbs down. Nobody’s going to mind you giving them the thumbs up. If you give someone else a thumbs down they’ll just think you’re a nutter. Decide what you want to tell me and tell me.
What’s going to happen? It makes sense to consider different outcomes, to be prepared. Looking at different outcomes, however likely or unlikely.
I could be on my own, I would prefer someone to watch my back while I’m smashing traffic lights but we’ll see.
People can turn out in support to shut roads. I mean blocking roads with their presence. There’s no point doing that until 7 or 8am.
I could get arrested before doing anything. Fine.
This blog could get shut, it’s hard enough to find it anyway.
Shutting down one area could be copied and spread to other areas.
There could be negotiation. Please negotiate with XR, they are in a far better position than me to negotiate.
We could succeed but what then? The intention is to stop business as usual, to show that continuing destruction of the planet is no longer tolerated. Business as usual must stop and XR’s intention of shutting oil refineries is a good one, the ultra-rich to be hugely taxed to finance the green new deal, no more new coal, any spaceport strictly not to include space tourism, superyachts converted to housing, flying restrictions, bitcoin abolished.
Depending on the extent of success, go for a smooth transition, install a caretaker government, no second chamber, early elections (3 months?), proportional representation, voting age 14?, far more involvement in democracy, recall of politicians. It’s not really down to me is it?
14/3/22 What’s going to happen? continued
Whatever happens in this instance, Capitalism is going to fall over the destruction of our planet. If nothing else, parents are not going to tolerate our planet being destroyed for private and corporate profit. A tiny minority – the uber-rich are responsible for this, those that benefit most from the current Capitalist system, the ones that are in charge and direct governments.
COP26 has been billed as one of the last chances to save the planet and humanity as we know it. For nearly thirty years these meetings have brought together world leaders to discuss and debate the best way forward, yet little has changed in that time. In fact, since the first COP meeting held in Berlin in 1995, global CO2 emissions have increased by 56%. The imperialist world’s governments are paying this crisis nothing but lip service, rolling over to let the monopolies and big business that they represent in fossil fuels, agribusiness, manufacturing and finance run rampant across the globe. Politicians are still desperate to cling to the economic system that created this crisis.
This week we have seen the representatives of right wing governments gather to express warm words and pledges in order to protect the capitalist system, with keynote speeches from some of the biggest polluters on the planet including BP and Amazon. These huge monopolies do not represent us and we cannot allow them to pressure governments into enabling and promoting the same privatised market solutions to climate change that have already failed for decades.
Right wing governments and these monopolies cynically present the challenge facing humanity as one of “changing consumer choices and habits”. This completely ignores and obscures the fact that, like all things in our society and its development, production and consumption are rigidly dictated by the monopolies and banks that control the global economy and the governments which serve their interests – all for short-term financial profit.
The continuing role of imperialism cannot be ignored. We are so often told that we are all in this together. But we are not! We are not equally responsible for this mess, and we do not equally share the risks of devastation. Yet we are all told that we all must make adjustments. This week, Scotland’s skies have been filled with the private jets of the elite. We have even seen politicians travelling in jets from Prestwick to Glasgow. A journey served well by a direct train link that takes less than 45 minutes.
More than ever, the inequality capitalism has created on this earth has been made starkly clear. While the richest nations make their own plans for net-zero, many developing nations are being left in the lurch, not offered the breathing space required for their own development. All the while, Western imperialist countries outsource their production abroad whilst attempting to shift the blame towards China and other countries with mass exports.
The media’s relentless anti-China sentiment has continued and increased this week with renewed attention on Chinese emissions, despite the fact that China is by far the largest investor, producer and consumer of renewable energy. Its CO2 emissions per capita barely place it in the top 50 polluting countries globally. Of course, it must do more and the Chinese Government have recently published its plans for net-zero. However, the ramping up of hostility, pointing to a New Cold War cannot be allowed to continue. Nor can we allow smaller and developing nations to be left behind and forced to remain underdeveloped in the interests of the already industrialised western countries.
We cannot stand idly by while politicians seek to divide us, demanding individual responses to what is the crucial systemic problem of this age. We say no more! We do not have time to wait, and we cannot allow our leaders to kick the can down the road to 2030 or even 2050.
Capitalism, a system which is only capable of serving the interest of the banks and monopolies and the suicidal drive for ever increasing short term profit at any cost, has proven itself unwilling and unable to handle the impending catastrophe which it has created. It will never be in the interest of big business or the capitalist governments which it controls to discipline the major carbon emitters or implement the radical change needed to save the planet and humanity. Only a system with absolute democratic control over industry, a Socialist system, is capable of tackling climate change head on. So we say:
The choice is clear – Socialism or extinction
Central Committee Young Communist League 5 November 2021 Glasgow, Scotland