Why are billionaires making trillions of dollars in a pandemic?
A recent Oxfam study found that since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s richest 10 billionaires have seen a wealth increase of half a trillion dollars – enough to pay for every person on the planet to get a vaccine. In this UpFront special, Marc Lamont Hill discusses with Yanis Varoufakis what is driving the staggering wealth inequalities and how governments are offering socialism for the rich, and austerity for the rest.
There seems to be a huge gap between what the markets are saying and what reality is saying — why?
“Capitalism has morphed into what I call ‘Technofeudalism’ — you don’t have a competitive capitalist economy, with boisterous competition, you’ve got some very few, platform companies that effectively own the market. They don’t monopolise it, they just own it. Like Amazon for instance, once you are in Amazon or Facebook you’re not in capitalism, you’re in a kind of soviet regime owned by one man, really. The rest of market economy is shrinking, it’s in stagnation. Money is being pumped by central banks struggling to keep the whole show on the road. The money ends up with the large corporations that already have savings that they are not investing (…) so they go to the stock exchange and buy back their own shares.”
If technology companies are the ones with all the power, and they are not accountable to any electorate, what’s the solution?
“We get organised. It’s the way we got out of authoritarian regimes in previous centuries. It’s the way that we imposed democracy on the ruling classes. Remember — the ruling classes never wanted democracy. Even the liberals of the 19th century. (…) We are condemned to fight the same struggle again and again for democracy.”
“The interesting aspect of the Gamestop episode is that indeed as you mentioned you has 4.4 million people getting together — to make money, right, it was not purely ideological of course — but a substantial proportion of these millions of people didn’t care so much about making money, they didn’t even mind losing the money they put in it, they wanted to sock it to the hedge funds. So there is an element of ideology there, there is an element of collective action.”
What would make [the Reddit action] a full fledged movement, and is it replicable?
“Two things are missing. The first is a manifesto, a vision — what do we want to put in place of these financial systems that are broken; they are not working for humanity, they are working for the financiers. What would markets look like if you removed this virus of financialisation from it. The second thing that we need is an alliance between different kinds of people and different movements. It is when the Reddit crowd get together with trade unions, get together with climate change activists, in order to pursue a vision for the world — that is when we are going to have a revolution.”
Stimulus spending in the US was actually much bigger than it was in Europe. Why is the EU spending much less by comparison?
“I think the EU has always been more conservative when it comes to public spending in comparison to the US. Remember, the Americans have no deficit phobia.”
“Every time capitalism goes through a spasm, America always responds in a more Keynesian fashion if you will — even Ronald Reagan was a Keynesian president compared to anything that we’ve seen in France or Germany. The result is that every global crisis leaves Europe weaker and more injured and wounded compared to the US than the previous crisis.”
According to the UN, the pandemic will have a disproportionate impact on women. How would the solutions that you believe in remedy the various forms of gender inequality that we see globally?
“When you have a deep recession, the first people that are hit are women, ethnic minorities, generally the weakest; the young, under 20, the very old (…) Any delay in responding to a spasm of this financialised Technofeudalism that we have by Keynesian means exacerbates the pain that the victims of patriarchy have been suffering.”
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