Off with their heads!
Megan Cornish
volume 38
issue 2
April 2017

Megan Cornish

So, did you hear the one about the eight richest men in the world? Unfortunately, it was no joke. Obscene and surreal as it is, they own more than half of the global population does.

That’s over 3.6 billion people.

This from a report that Oxfam, the international anti-poverty organization, publishes before the World Economic Forum held yearly in Davos, Switzerland. The facts aren’t in dispute — the wealth valuations come from Forbes Magazine and the global poverty info from Credit Suisse Bank.

The number whose fortunes equal half of humanity’s possessions dropped from 62 in last year’s report. For two reasons. First, the fat cats get richer every year. Second, the poor are even poorer than the experts thought last year. Most of the bottom 10 percent have “negative wealth.” Translation: they have more debts than belongings. Geez.

The top 1 percent owns more than the rest of us combined. In the USA and many other countries, the millennial generation has worse financial prospects than their parents. This is because workers are getting an ever smaller portion of the fruits of their own labor. And naturally, income inequality impacts women disproportionately.

“Tsk, tsk,” says the ruling class. Both the World Economic Forum and International Monetary Fund have opined that income inequality threatens the global economy. The ultra-rich will do what they always do about such facts. Nada.

Nor do any of them acknowledge the human misery embedded in this reality. Like the one of every nine humans who are hungry.

Nothing could show more clearly the bankruptcy of the capitalist system. There are other proofs: ever widening wars, galloping climate change, rampant racism and sexism and homophobia, and rising fascist movements. But fewer than a double handful of people owning more than half of humanity does? That takes the cake — literally.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels had it right in the Communist Manifesto, written 169 years ago:

The modern laborer, ... instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper. ... He becomes a pauper, ... [a]nd here it becomes evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society ... because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery.

How much more true these words are today than when they were written!

And spare me the argument that “some of these people give a lot of money away.” That cash goes where their priorities lie, and serves to bolster the system that makes them ever richer. They still suck up into their private pocketbooks a huge portion of the wealth that workers create collectively. If that wealth were publicly owned, the decisions about what to spend it on could be made democratically, and according to human and planetary needs.

This inequality is not just about the moral bankruptcy of capitalism. It is a systemic sickness. Turns out that human misery means doom for the profit system. Capitalism runs on profit alone. And profits depend on consumers having enough money to buy products. The ultra-wealthy simply can’t consume enough by themselves to keep the entire economy going. Capitalism is getting too top heavy to be sustainable.

This imbalance is the root cause of the instability we see on the rise in the world. Many of the oligarchs get that, but it only causes them to spend their time looking for more ways to stay in power.

A portion of the rulers has lost confidence in things like bourgeois democracy to keep laboring people in line. That’s why the moneyed right wing put so much effort into dividing the working class — in order to keep it from feeling its own might.

Hence the drive to bust unions. Hence the demonizing of African Americans. Hence the scapegoating of immigrants and Muslims. Hence the comeback of racist voter suppression. Hence the promotion of white nationalism and attacks on civil rights and individual liberties.

This sickness cannot be reformed away. The real solution is for working people to recognize that our only salvation is in each other, and to organize together, in solidarity with those on the bottom.

We can — and must — take the reins and change the game fundamentally. For the survival of us all.

Megan Cornish lives in Washington state, which has the most regressive taxes in the U.S. and is home to two of the eight richest. Contact her at