We are living in an era of unprecedented wealth coupled with unprecedented inequality. Eight men control as much wealth as half the world’s population. One percent of the world’s population own more than the other 99%. Sixty nine of the largest 100 economies in the world are corporations and 10 corporations are richer than 180 countries combined. This concentration of wealth is fueled by an extractivist economy that prioritises consumption, growth and profit over social and environmental good. Consequently we are experiencing a climate crisis that threatens humanity and has the most catastrophic consequences for women in the global south.
There are many reasons for this growth in inequality. One of them has been the growing percentage of wealth gained from capital. As French economist, Thomas Picketty, has shown, returns on capital are much higher than economic growth. One of the sources of this increase in capital profit has been the cut in wage share as a percentage of profit. In 1965 a CEO in the US earned, on average, 20 times more than average workers. Now they earn 345 times more. As large as that difference appears, it actually masks an even larger difference. In 1965 workers and CEOs were mainly employed within the same corporate structure. Globalisation facilitated a race for the cheapest labour and conditions. The CEO of Walmart, for example, now earns 22,600 times more than a Bangladeshi garment worker making the clothes Walmart profits from selling. Even this doesn’t reveal the enormous global disparity in wealth because capital is where the real wealth is. The wealth of the founder of the fashion chain Zara, for example, is more than 82 million times the income of a Bangladeshi garment worker making Zara clothes. She is not likely to hold wealth equivalent to her meager annual salary so the differential is likely to be even greater.
This neoliberal economic model has also led to a crisis of democracy. Nominally democratic governments rarely make policy decisions that do not advance the interests of corporations or the wealthiest. A study by Princeton University researchers (Gilens & Page, 2014) concluded that public opinion and peoples’ movements have no impact on government decision making when corporations or economic elites are lobbying for a contrary position. They concluded that the US is effectively no longer a democracy, it is an oligarchy.