In ancient Greek mythology Hesiod describes 5 ages of man: the golden age, the silver age, the bronze age, the heroic age and the iron age. The heroic age is often left off as that is just about the heroes in the conquest of Thebes and Troy. In these ages mankind degenerates in his admirable characteristics and is progressively more warlike, acquisitive and unwilling to sacrifice to the gods and so forth. In the Golden Age, men were essentially very sympathetic and compassionate toward one another and things were arranged so they didn’t need to work but could live off the bounty of the land. Disease was unknown and death was simply going to sleep. It reminds me of a quotation by John Milton in Paradise Lost: “Not to irksome toil, but to delight he made us, and delight to reason joined.” Then, Zeus replaced Cronus and the Titans and the Golden Age ended. Consequently, for a variety of reasons, the other ages ended, except for the iron age in which we presently reside, according to the ancient Greeks.
Shakespeare described the seven ages of an individual man as infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old man and a second childhood of oblivion sans teeth, eyes, taste and nearly everything else. There must have been a lot of justices in Shakespeare’s time. I would have substituted parent.
Placing the ages of man on a more scientific basis, I think one could say the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age, the machine age and the age of computers. Sociologically speaking, I guess one could delineate the ages as those of the Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman enlightenment, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and the Age of Reason, and now I would say, we live in the Age of Foolishness and Economic Inequality.
One statistic brought this home to me very forcefully. There are only 358 billionaires in this world, but they control 45% percent of the world’s wealth. That means they have more wealth than 3 billion other people on the planet. In fact, they have more wealth than the Gross Domestic Production of 48 of the poorest nations on Earth. The horrendous injustice and foolishness of this fact leaves me searching for an adequate adjective to describe it, Even if one is extremely selfish and uncaring, wealth distribution like this makes instability, violence, revolution and wars inevitable. Francis Bacon described the situation as follows: “Above all things good policy is to be used that the treasures and monies in a state be not gathered in a few hands. Money is like muck, not good except it be spread.” The present policy makers have exactly the opposite idea. Money is no good if not concentrated in only a few hands and the process continued till I don’t know what end. Are all the billionaires going to fly off with their ill gotten gains to some South Pacific islands and leave the rest of us to dumpster diving or what? They have already deindustrialized the United States (the rust belt, for example) and converted most of the rest to a service economy, where young people can either work at McDonalds or join the army and kill other poor people in a foreign country in service to the rich. One thing they haven’t deindustrialized are the factories which produce weapons. The United States is number one in the world in the production and sale of weapons. So we produce hamburgers, pizzas and Tomahawk cruise missiles and various other deadly weapons. It is a very strange economy. Most of the rest of the consumer items we import from China and run up enormous debts for war, which will be paid by the ordinary workers some day and definitely not by the rich. Some people are probably familiar with the fact that a small percentage of the Pentagon’s budget would provide clean drinking water for all those in the world who lack it. Throughout the 1990s more than 100 million children will die (now have died) of illness and starvation. Those 100 million deaths could have been prevented by the price of ten stealth bombers or what the world spends on its military in two days. For the price of one missile, a school of hungry children could eat lunch every day for 5 years.
I thought I would give a few more facts to illustrate just how much suffering is done by the majority of the world’s population. Incidentally these are from various United Nations agencies like UNDP and UNICEF. 1.2 billion people in the world live on less than $1.00 dollar a day. 1..8 billion people live on less than $2.00 dollars a day. 800 million go to bed hungry every night and 30,000 to 60,000 people die of hunger every day, including 13,000 to 16,000 children. 1.7 billion people lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion people live without decent sanitation. 113 million children have no access to education. In addition, there are the numerous landmines left behind in various wars, usually ones involving the United States, which blow their little arms or legs off, and there are those deliberately multicolored toy-like objects called cluster bombs, which will blow them apart or just take away their eyesight. 80% of the world’s population live in misery, while only 20% live relatively comfortable lives. I once thought like Pythagoras that I would like to live another life after this one. With an 80% chance of being born in abject poverty, if I were born human, I have drastically altered my thinking.
Land distribution is just as skewed towards the rich as everything else. It is quoted in a relatively new book by Kevin Cahill that the Queen of England owns 10 billion acres of land, which is not too outlandish considering the number of colonies Great Britain once owned. She has something like 634,000 acres in England itself.and by some weird technicality of the law owns the rest of the country, but the law is never enforced, of course, or everyone in England would be homeless. It just proves how unequal land distribution is even in the very industrialized countries and the former colonizers of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Third World Countries the large landowners and big foreign agribusiness own most of the land and the peasants occupy the least fertile land or have fled to shantytowns on the outskirts of big cities. If a peasant is fortunate enough to possess land, the IMF dictates what crops he must plant. The crops the IMF prescribes are exotic export ones like asparagus, strawberries, etc.for the US or European market, instead of the normal crops the peasants plant for their survival. It is no figment of the imagination at all to see foreign ships loaded with food bound for the United States leave port, while children in that country starve to death. To make matters even worse, farmers in the United States and in Third World nations, who are under contract with Monsanto, must use Monsanto seed every year, Monsanto fertilizer and Monsanto Round Up pesticide. Farmers can’t save seed for planting next year like they have for generations. Monsanto has developed a terminator seed which self destructs and forces farmers to buy new seed every year. Farmers in the United States struggle, but go into debt and in a few years small farmers are purchased by large agribusiness. In India the situation is even more dire as peasant farmers go so deeply into debt that tens of thousands of them are committing suicide every year as reported by Arundhati Roy. Biotechnology companies are even patenting life forms like the neem tree in India and the cell lines of primitive tribes. They have no respect for anything but wealth.
The corporate media always refer to the formerly colonized countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa as “developing countries.” When the English, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and, later on, American colonizers talked about their acquisitions, they never talked about development. It was always about how much wealth could be extracted from that colony. The Spanish and Portuguese used Native American slave labor in the gold and silver mines and they didn’t care a whit about the diseases caused by the use of mercury in refining and they certainly didn’t care about “development.” The Americans finally became foreign colonizers, when the US military conquered Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. They fought a long and bloody war against the natives of the Philippines, but, of course, that was because they needed “development.” and freedom and democracy. America is somehow different from every other colonizing power, even though the capitalist systems are the same. This is known as American exceptionalism, a most illogical concept.
Actually, what is practiced now is a different and more efficient type of colonialism-neocolonialism. Instead of the expense of running the government, the colonizing power gets together with the ruling families of the country and tells them they will have all their personal and financial needs taken care of, if they just follow orders from Washington, D.C. Their army will be trained at the School of the Americas, the CIA will take care of any subversive threat to their wealth, and they will have it good-very good. It usually works perfectly, but once in a while someone like Manuel Noriega or Saddam Hussein becomes too independent, and then, the US military needs to take action.
One must be very careful about terminology in American corporate propaganda. Remember how for many months torture was called “abuse.” Now, for years, exploitation has been called “development.” In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association seems puzzled by the fact that while global GNP grew by 40% between 1970 and 1985, the number of poor people increased by 17%. They are at a loss to explain the growing gap between rich and poor, also. The common American citizen is baffled as well. They say we give them all these billions of dollars in foreign aid from the US government. Besides that there is humanitarian aid from other countries and charity organizations, not to mention all the investment from our corporations. However, their situation steadily grows worse. Let me use an analogy here. Suppose one was a very unusual type of burglar. One came one night and left 3 dollars, but took 5 dollars. The next night one left 5 dollars, but took ten dollars and the next night one left 10 dollars, but took 20 dollars. Now, would the victim of this unusual burglary be getting richer or poorer? I refuse to use the term “developing countries” because these countries are being exploited and not developed. American corporations repatriate all their profits so as to benefit their rich shareholders. The workers in these countries are paid so little that they can’t afford to buy what the corporation they work for produces. Remember Phil Knight and Nike in Indonesia. His workers could barely afford food, let alone buying a pair of the athletic shoes they produce.
I think the best explanation for why Third World countries are not developing but are headed in the opposite direction was given by Michael Parenti, when he analyzed what the British had done to India. In 1810 India had a flourishing textile trade, trading beautiful and finely woven textiles and also mass produced textiles to many other countries, including Britain, Egypt and China. The British had colonized India by military force and placed high tariffs on all native produced textiles, while allowing British textiles to be imported into India and other British colonies duty free. By 1830 the British textile industry had expanded rapidly and became very wealthy and the Indian textile industry withered away. Between 1850 and 1890 the per capita income of Indians dropped by a staggering 65%, not only because of the textile industry alone, but all the other industries affiliated with it. The Indians who formerly worked at textile plants were sent out on the land to grow the cotton for the British textile mills. So India hasn’t always been a poor country. It has been forcibly made poor by Britain and now by other imperialist powers like the United States.
It is very similar to NAFTA and all the other “free trade” agreements the rich countries try to force upon Third World countries. They are actually corporate enrichment treaties and have nothing to do with free trade. Every disagreeable, disgusting thing the United States attempts to do seems to have the word free in it somewhere: free trade, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and undoubtedly many I haven’t thought of yet.
I wrote this article because of the anger I felt at the injustice of 358 people having more wealth than 3 billion other people on Earth and the fact that instead of improving, it is becoming more unjust with every passing year. I doubt that those with whom I argue about inequality of wealth will be able to rationalize and provide justifications for such a cataclysmic disparity in wealth distribution. Certainly, 358 people didn’t work harder than 3 billion other people. Most assuredly, 358 people don’t have more talent than 3 billion other people. I think a quote from Noam Chomsky rather sums it up: ” Wealth and power tend to accrue to those who are ruthless, cunning, avaricious, self-seeking, lacking in sympathy and compassion, subservient to authority and willing to abandon principle for material gain.” Unless we change course dramatically, the next age may be the Age of Oblivion.