When Bono speaks, we disagree. At the annual gathering of global elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the U2 frontman said capitalism has taken more people out of poverty than any other political philosophy or ‘ism’. “Capitalism is not immoral, it’s amoral,” he exclaimed.
It’s a bit rich coming from someone who moved part of his tax affairs to the Netherlands.
It’s de rigueur for wealthy people who enjoy the trappings of capitalism to comment on issues that don’t affect them, like poverty or inequality. And yet…he has a point – just about.
In 1984, Bono sang “feed the world” with Bob Geldof and a coterie of rock stars. Back then, 1.94 billion people were living in extreme poverty out of a global population of 4.7 billion.
Now our population has swelled to 7.7 billion, and the number of people living on less than €1.67 ($1.90) – the poverty line, according to the World Bank – stands at around 700 million.
By 2030, the World Bank plans to eradicate poverty all together.
We’ve come far since 1820, when 90pc of the world lived in absolute poverty.
In developing economies, a middle class is emerging and thriving.
We wanted to feed the world, and now obesity is arguably as big a problem as starvation. Even so, capitalism and the free enterprise system are under the most relentless assault since World War II, and rightly so.
It’s a “wild beast and, if not tamed, it can chew up a lot of people”, said Bono. Indeed. It’s responsible for corporations having monopoly power in product and labour markets, boom and bust cycles, subordination, depletion of natural resources, radical inequalities of wealth and power, low-paid workers being replaced with AI.
According to ‘Forbes’, there are a record 2,208 billionaires in the world, worth €8 trillion between them, up from €6.8 trillion last year. The 26 richest billionaires own the same wealth as the bottom 3.4 billion people combined. The power and wealth they accumulate allows them to gain control over the political system, ensuring politicians implement policies that are beneficial to them.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, worth €120bn, Bill Gates, worth €82bn, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, worth €60-odd billion, also have access to our data. “It’s not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people,” Melinda Gates said. No, it’s not really, but that is the ‘beauty’ of capitalism.
The billionaires’ club is open to anyone. Some 67pc of the world’s billionaires are self-made. But it’s like ski jumping. Not everyone is good at it, and don’t come from the right socio-economic background. Most of us think it’s sinister to want that much money and power, so we don’t trust these elites. But, because we live in capitalist society, we can choose to stop buying products from Amazon and buy locally. Capitalism is freedom to choose, but a lot of working and middle-class people in the West are enslaved to bills and mortgages. “Western economies don’t create middle classes anymore, they suck them dry. All middle class means now is that you’re poor, but you can’t do meth,” Bill Maher speculated.
Some 46pc of Americans live from paycheque to pay-cheque. To tame capitalism, governments need to be more people-friendly. They need to tackle tax-dodging corporations to make more money available for public services.
Capitalism needs a massive overhaul. It’s the best devil we know and has not been proven inferior to alternative economic systems including socialism, communism and totalitarian dictatorships. Lenin said only an elite group of leaders, the ‘Vanguard’ consisting of intellectuals and wise men, could create a ‘new society’.
Criticising capitalism is easy, coming up with an alternative that works for everyone isn’t.