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Friday, September 18, 2020

The utter inequality of the inequality of wealth

It seems aeons ago since Thomas Picketty's Capital in the 21st Century drew the attention of the world to the stupefying riches snared by the top 1% of the world's people.  

The situation hasn't changed a whit -- indeed, it has become worse.  As the Guardian states, US billionaires have profited hugely from the pandemic, while ordinary working men and women have lost jobs, are getting no income support, and small businesses are closing down.

Many are household names.  Others have fled to their luxury yachts and boltholes in faroff places, including New Zealand.  Some bolster their image by creating foundations -- feel-good moves that benefit something vague like stamping out malaria, but do nothing to help ordinary citizens in this time of great crisis. 

As the story relates, The already vast fortunes of America’s 643 billionaires have soared by an average of 29% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which has at the same time laid waste to tens of millions of jobs around the world. The richest of the superrich have benefited by $845bn , according to a report by a US progressive thinktank, the Institute for Policy Studies.

The report calculated that 643 billionaires in the US had racked up $845bn (£642bn) in collective wealth gains since 18 March, when lockdowns began across the US and much of the rest of the world. The collective wealth of the billionaire class increased from $2.95tn to $3.8tn. That works out to gains of $141bn a month, or $4.7bn a day. 

Over the same period, more than 197,000 Americans have died from coronavirus and more than 50m Americans have lost their jobs.

Since the start of the pandemic, the wealth of Jeff Bezos has almost doubled, to over 186 billion.  This is because people who are locked down, or afraid of going out, are using Amazon to deliver goods to their doors.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has seen his wealth increase by 84% or $45.9bn to $100.6bn.

Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of electric car company Tesla, has also benefited from the pandemic. His estimated fortune has risen by 274%, to $92bn.

Bill Gates, who has made a vague pledge to give at least half of his fortune to charity and has already pledged a “few billion dollars” to the fight against coronavirus, has seen his estimated fortune grow by 19% to $116bn.

Bernie Sanders and Ilhan Omar, both Democratic senators, have introduced legislation dubbed the “Make Billionaires Pay Act” for a one-off 60% tax on the wealth gains of billionaires between 18 March and the end of the year to help working Americans cover healthcare costs.

Under Sanders’ proposal, Bezos would pay a one-time wealth tax of $42.8bn, and Musk would pay $27.5bn.

Robert Reich, who served as US labour secretary under President Clinton, said “American capitalism is off the rails” and a “wealth tax” was urgently needed to help redress the yawning inequality gap.

“Jeff Bezos could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic. If that doesn’t convince you we need a wealth tax, I’m not sure what will.”

As he went on to say, "American capitalism is off the rails."  But not just in America.  The greed of the few has afflicted the entire world.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Extraordinary Story of Survival ... and Leadership

Over the years, Island of the Lost has had some great newspaper and magazine reviews, written by professional reviewers.  That is always very nice, but even better are thoughtful reviews from readers.  This one, which came out yesterday, appealed to me because the reader picked exactly the points I was trying to emphasize in the book.  The Challenge, and the Contrast.  And the ordeal that the castaways went through, at the most basic level of existence.

Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2020, by Laurie Kelley

Verified Purchase

This is truly a riveting and human story about two terrible shipwrecks really: The Grafton and subsequently, on the same island, the Invercauld. The two stranded parties never met during their time on the islands, but are easily comparable. The Grafton party, under the leadership of Cap. Thomas Musgrave, all survive, thanks to his leadership but also to the incredible teamwork and attitude of the crew. The Invercauld party suffers, and many die, due to the inept leadership of its captain, and its lack of teamwork. Only a lowly seaman shows any spark of leadership. And through their deprivations and sufferings, you learn about leadership: using each individual's skills rightly and to the fullest; the importance of celebrating holidays; keeping a journal; stepping into leadership when the leader (Musgrave) falters (he was prone to deep depression); and the all-important purpose of prayer. It's stunning to watch the evolution of their leadership and teamwork, especially when Raynal creates all the tools needed eventually for the final outcome. Truly extraordinary and superb. This is a page-turning, fantastic read, and powerfully inspiring.

For those animal lovers who rated this book only one or two stars... apparently they have never felt true hunger. I have while on expeditions, where the hunger grips you so badly, down to your cells, you want to eat anything--a wrapping paper, a dribble of honey, a leaf... even my guide's arm, I joked. And that was only for a week. I cannot imagine it daily, over a year! The seals were killed in droves, just as orcas would do when they were hungry. Druett had to include this to show the extreme conditions they battled. The same people who critiqued the explicit killing scenes didn't mention the horrid and explicit suffering the men experienced battling scurvy. Nature cannot be appreciated, understood or respected from your armchair. Hunger and the food chain are part of nature. So kudos to Joan Druett for a spectacular book, that puts a human side to suffering together as a team, and shows that many facets of leadership.