If you watch the corporate media, you’ll often hear the word ‘oligarch’ preceded by the word ‘Russian.’ But oligarchs aren’t uniquely a Russian phenomenon or a foreign concept. No. The United States has its own oligarchy.
Today, in the United States, the two wealthiest people own more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of our population – more than 130 million Americans. And the top one percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 92 percent. During the last 50 years there has been a massive transfer of wealth in our country, but it’s going in the wrong direction. The middle class is shrinking while the people on top are doing better than ever.
Further, in terms of the global economy, there is no question that we are seeing a huge and destructive increase in income and wealth inequality. While the very, very richest people become much wealthier, ordinary people struggle and the most desperate starve.
While massive levels of inequality existed before the rise of COVID, that situation has become much worse over the past two years.
Today, around the world, the wealthiest 10 multi-billionaires now own more wealth than the bottom 3.1 billion – almost 40 percent of the world’s population. Unbelievably, the wealth of these ten multi-billionaires has doubled during the pandemic, while the income of 99 percent of the world’s population has declined. The oligarchs spend huge amounts of money buying fancy yachts, mansions and great paintings while 160 million people throughout the world have slipped into poverty. According to Oxfam, global income and wealth inequality has led to the deaths of more than 21,000 people each and every day throughout the world as a result of hunger and the lack of access to healthcare. Yet the world’s 2,755 billionaires saw their wealth go up by $5 trillion since March 2021 – increasing from $8.6 trillion to $13.8 trillion.
But it’s not just the increased income and wealth gap between the very rich and everyone else. It’s a growing concentration of ownership and brute economic and political power. Something which is not talked about much, either in the media or political circles, is the reality that a handful of Wall Street firms, Black Rock, Vanguard and State Street, now control over $21 trillion in assets – roughly the GDP of the United States. This gives a tiny number of CEOs enormous power over hundreds of companies and the lives of millions of workers. The result: in recent years we have seen the ultra-wealthy significantly increase their influence over media, banking, health care, housing and many other parts of our economy. In fact, never before have so few owned and controlled so much.
Add it all together and what you see is a nation and world trending very strongly toward oligarchy – where a small number of multi-billionaires exercise enormous economic and political power.
So, in the midst of all of this, where do we go from here?
Clearly, while we face oligarchy, COVID, attacks on democracy, climate change, the horrific war in Ukraine and other challenges it is easy to understand why many may fall into cynicism and hopelessness. This is a state of mind, however, that we must overcome – not only for ourselves, but for our kids and future generations. The stakes are just too high, and despair is not an option. We must come together and fight back.
What history has always taught us is that real change never takes place from the top on down. It always occurs from the bottom on up. That is the history of the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement and the gay rights movement. That is the history of every effort that has brought about transformational change in our society.
That is the struggle we must intensify today.
We must bring people together around a progressive agenda. We must educate, organize and build an unstoppable grassroots movement that helps create the kind of nation and world we know we can become. One that is based on the principles of justice and compassion, not greed and oligarchy.
We must never lose our sense of outrage when so few have so much and so many have so little.
We must not allow ourselves to be divided up based on the color of our skin, where we were born, our religion or our sexual orientation.
The greatest threat of the billionaire class is not simply their unlimited wealth and power. It is their ability to create a culture that makes us feel weak and hopeless and diminishes the strength of human solidarity.
Yet, as a result of the horrific Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the extraordinary courage and solidarity of the Ukrainian people, countries throughout the world are waking up to the fact that there is a global struggle taking place between autocracy and democracy, between authoritarianism and the right of people to freely express their views.
Now is the time to build a new progressive global order that recognizes every person on this planet shares a common humanity and that all of us – no matter where we live or the language we speak – want our children to grow up healthy, have a good education, breathe clean air and live in peace.
What we are seeing now is not just the incredible bravery of the people in Ukraine, but thousands of Russians who have taken to the streets to demand an end to Putin’s war in Ukraine, knowing that it’s illegal to do so and that they will likely be arrested and punished.
We have seen the courage of working people here in our country who are coming together to take on corporate greed and organize for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
Sisters and brothers, right now we are in a struggle between a progressive movement that mobilizes around a shared vision of prosperity, security and dignity for all people, against one that defends oligarchy and massive global income and wealth inequality.
It is a struggle we cannot lose. And it is one that we can overcome, as long as we stand together.