By Jim Miller
As I wrote back in mid-October, Project Censored recently released their list of the most underreported stories of 2015. The number one story on their list features the news that 2016 will be the year when half of the world’s wealth will be controlled by the top 1%. More specifically, they document how:
According to the Oxfam report, the proportion of global wealth owned by the 1 percent has increased from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014 and is projected to reach 50 percent in 2016. In October 2014, a prior Oxfam report, “Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Poverty,” revealed that the number of billionaires worldwide had more than doubled since the 2009 financial crisis, showing that, although those at the top have recovered quickly, the vast majority of the world’s population are far from reaping the benefits of any recent economic recovery.
Even more staggering, the world’s richest eighty-five people now hold the same amount of wealth as half the world’s poorest population. “Failure to tackle inequality will leave hundreds of millions trapped in poverty unnecessarily,” the report’s authors warned.
This news was not just delivered with a sigh. In fact, Oxfam paired it with a 9 step “Even it Up” campaign that could address the problem:
- Make governments work for citizens and tackle extreme inequality.
- Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights.
- Pay workers a living wage and close the gap created by skyrocketing executive rewards.
- Share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field.
- Close international tax loopholes and fill holes in tax governance.
- Achieve universal free public services by 2020.
- Change the global system for research and development and pricing of medicines so everyone has access to appropriate and affordable medicines.
- Implement a universal social protection floor.
- Target development finance at reducing inequality and poverty, and strengthening the compact between citizens and their government.
According to Oxfam, “taxing billionaires just 1.5 percent of their wealth ‘could raise $74 billion a year, enough to fill the annual gaps in funding needed to get every child into school and to deliver health services in the world’s poorest countries.’”
This would seem to be a fairly reasonable response to a socially catastrophic global problem, but both the news of this shameful landmark and Oxfam’s campaign were met with the collective equivalent of a yawn by the corporate media. As Project Censored observes:
Corporate coverage of the two Oxfam reports has been minimal in quantity and problematic in quality. A few corporate television networks, including CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, FOX, and C-SPAN covered Oxfam’s January report, according to the TV News Archive. CNN had the most coverage with approximately seven broadcast segments from January 19 to 25, 2015. However, these stories aired between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., far from primetime. Other coverage focused on Obama’s push for tax reform. CBS and MSNBC ran segments with this focus four times between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m., January 20–21, 2015, with the exception of one MSNBC story, broadcast on February 2, 2015, at 12:00 p.m. ABC covered the story once on January 19, 2015. FOX also covered the story once on January 19, 2015, questioning Oxfam’s motives for releasing the report just before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Sadly, just since October, several more key stories about the intensifying level of economic inequality have also emerged briefly before being overwhelmed by the endless closed feedback loop of Trump and Terror. All of them only underline the grim truth in the Oxfam report.
First, the American Prospect relayed the news of a recent study done by the Institute for Policy Studies that illustrates that our nation’s wealth gap is wider than believed:
Not only do the top one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans own more than most Americans put together, but the nation’s top 20 richest people own as much wealth as the entire bottom half of U.S. earners. That’s a sliver about 15,000 times smaller than the already super rich one-tenth of 1 percent.
Put another way, the 20 individuals who possess more wealth between them than 152 million Americans can fit together comfortably inside one Gulfstream G650 luxury jet. And just who are these 20? Not surprisingly, the list includes the likes of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch; casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.
This was followed a few days later by yet another report (this one by the Pew Research Center) which had concluded that we had reached the tipping point where most Americans were no longer middle class:
Americans have long lived in a nation made up primarily of middle-class families, neither rich nor poor, but comfortable enough.
This year, that changed, according to the Pew Research Center.
A just-released analysis of government data shows that as of 2015, middle-income households have become the minority. The trend is so firmly established that it may well continue; Americans have experienced “a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point,” Pew researchers concluded Wednesday.
Thanks to factory closings and other economic factors, the country now has 120.8 million adults living in middle-income households, the study found. That compares with the 121.3 million who are living in either upper- or lower-income households.
“The hollowing of the middle has proceeded steadily for the past four decades,” Pew concluded.
And middle-income Americans not only have shrunk as a share of the population but have fallen further behind financially, with their median income down 4 percent compared with the year 2000, Pew said.
Around this same time, news broke of another Oxfam report that the world’s richest 10 percent are responsible for half of carbon emissions as national and global inequality has risen:
… [The] poorest half of the global population — around 3.5 billion people — are responsible for only around 10 percent of total global emissions attributed to individual consumption, yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
Around 50 percent of these emissions meanwhile can be attributed to the richest 10 percent of people around the world, who have average carbon footprints 11 times as high as the poorest half of the population, and 60 times as high as the poorest 10 percent. The average footprint of the richest 1 percent of people globally could be 175 times that of the poorest 10 percent.
So putting this all together, we are just about to end a year where we learned that global plutocracy is becoming more and more firmly entrenched and that the beneficiaries of that very system are not just responsible for an immoral level of economic inequality and human suffering but also for speeding us toward an apocalyptic end to the climate crisis.
Why this news appeared as a blip on the radar screen rather than dominating the media landscape is no accident. When the same oligarchy that benefits from our rigged system own the corporations that run our mass media, it is not surprising that bad news for the vast majority of us is not worthy of occupying the heaven of the spectacle for more than a fleeting moment.
As I noted back in October, with corporate news coverage like this, it’s hard to be too critical of the average American voter for being led astray by the use of divisive cultural issues in the service of what Thomas Frank has called “backlash populism” that ignores economic privilege while obsessing over the sins of a mythic “cultural elite.”
If both parties are pigging out at the corporate trough and courting donors from the top 1% while our information system is owned by that very same elite who don’t consider their growing domination of the global commons news, how are regular folks going to get the tools they need to draw an accurate cognitive map of power?
The answer to this question is that unless they are staying up all night to monitor obscure cable news, most people are being left in the dark about just how bad things are getting and why.
This is how we get the Trumps of the world and why the only Presidential candidate talking about the most important issue for the vast majority of us gets thrust to the margins even as his critique rings truer and truer every day.