Predictions of an Economic Hit Man
Most people in the United States know that a transit strike crippled New York City. Fewer are aware that seven South American countries, representing over 80 percent of the continent's population, recently elected presidents with anti-American sentiments. The former has an immediate effect. The latter will impact our children for decades to come.
In December 2005, Evo Morales buried seven challengers -- taking 54 percent of the vote -- in what the New York Times referred to as "the most important election since Bolivia's transition from dictatorship to democracy a generation ago." His platform appealed to the poor, including farmers whose main source of income, coca plants, caused them to suffer brutal treatment at the hands of U.S. drug agents. Although U.S. politicians and the media have denounced coca because it is used to produce cocaine, the fact is that it is extremely important in the Andes as a legal remedy for altitude sickness, digestive problems and other illnesses.
Evo Morales is the latest in a long list of democratically elected Latin American presidents whose primary appeal is their opposition to U.S., IMF and World Bank policies that favor foreign corporations with reputations for exploiting natural resources and local labor. Bolivia joins the ranks of previously pro-American countries that have recently turned against Washington and Wall Street, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Argentina's President Kirchner recently announced what has been hailed as an "anti-IMF rebellion." He paid off nearly $10 billion in IMF debt in order to get out from under a burden that, he said, "caused poverty and pain among the Argentine people."
Venezuela's President Chavez has become a popular spokesman for anti-U.S. sentiments around the world.
Ecuador's President Gutierrez was thrown out of office by a popular grass-roots uprising when he capitulated to economic hitman threats and bribes, and went against his campaign promises to force U.S. oil companies to pay more to the Ecuadorian people for Ecuadorian oil. An Ecuadorian friend told me, "If a democratically elected official does not honor his campaign promises, democracy demands that we replace him."
In the past year, a rising tide of people throughout the world has been rebelling against policies they see as unjust. This has occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, as well as in the United States, where New York transit workers fought to defend their economic well-being. As one transit worker told me, "We're sick of being told that our families must sacrifice while huge corporations and their executives receive tax breaks."
This rebellion is facilitated by the internet, cell phones and satellite dishes. People in places once considered remote are increasingly aware of statistics such as these:
- Transnational corporations have taken control of much of the production and trade in developing countries: For example, 40 percent of the world's coffee is traded by just four companies; the top 30 supermarket chains control almost one-third of worldwide grocery sales.
- A trade surplus of $1 billion for developing countries in the 1970s turned into an $11 billion deficit by 2001.
- The income ratio of the one-fifth of the world's population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth in the poorest went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995.
- Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations; of those, 47 are U.S.-based.
- The overall share of federal taxes paid by U.S. corporations is now less than 10 percent, down from 21 percent in 2001 and over 50 percent during World War II; one-third of America's largest and most profitable corporations paid zero taxes -- or actually received credits -- in at least one of the last three years (according to Forbes magazine).
- Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned 40 times as much as the average manufacturing employee. For the top tier of American CEOs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, in addition to income, were taken into account. By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1.
- Pre-Civil War slaves received room and board; wages paid by the sweatshops that today serve many U.S. industries will not cover the most basic needs.
Unrest in New York and Latin America, as well as in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East are harbingers of the difficulties that will haunt future generations -- unless we take heed. They serve notice that if we want a peaceful and prosperous future for our children, we must recognize basic human needs; we must insist that all people -- not just those at the top -- have the right to justice and dignity. Bolivian voters, NYC transit workers and democratically elected presidents of other countries are warning us that the bottom line of the corporate balance sheet is not the final statement upon which our society will ultimately be graded.