One of the greatest causes of concern among society has been the extreme level of poverty suffered by millions upon millions of citizens. Indeed, statistics show that almost 25% of the population in the average developing nation earns less than one American dollar per day. In areas like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, these figures are well above 40%. While many suggestions and efforts have been made toward the alleviation of poverty, very few have been at all successful. What our society has failed to realise, however, is that in order to address the problem of extreme poverty, the issue of extreme wealth must first be addressed and tackled. Extreme wealth is currently prevalent on the individual, corporate, and national levels; and in all cases it blatantly manifests excess, severely imbalances resources and economy, and serves to hinder the lower class from improving its financial situation and level of equality.

On the individual level, extreme wealth is a particular problem; especially in the United States, which suffers from a more severe economic imbalance than any other of the so-called developed nations. At present, the richest 1% of American citizens have as much money as the bottom 95%. The world’s wealthiest citizen, Bill Gates, has had a net worth as large as that of the poorest 120 million Americans; more than 40% of the US population. Any time an individual or small number of individuals is allowed to have such a great concentration of wealth, it inhibits the ability of the poor to improve their financial situation. Because the economy contains only a certain amount of wealth at any given time (due to inflation), the large excess possessed by the rich becomes wealth that is unavailable to the lower class.

Under our current system, a very small, extremely wealthy portion of the population has a great deal of power to endorse and fund political campaigns, while the vast majority are powerless in this regard. When such imbalance and extreme wealth become prevalent, the ideals of the American constitution become meaningless. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have a democratic society or we can have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”

In order to protect the values of equality and opportunity, our government has the responsibility of taking measures aimed at curtailing such extremes of wealth. While such an idea may be viewed as radical at the present time, we should consider the possibility of instating an asset limit or maximum wage so as to put an upper limit on the amount of money an individual can earn and/or accumulate. We must also structure political campaign laws in a manner that prevents those of higher income from having disproportionate political control.

While economic inequality is a very serious issue when faced by individuals, it is potentially far more dangerous on the corporate level. Ever since the industrial revolution, businesses have been slowly consolidating and expanding, forcing out their weaker competitors. Small business, representing the will of the proletariat, has severely declined as a result of this unchecked sort of corporate Darwinism. Nowhere is this more apparent than with regard to the communications media and the agricultural industry; inarguably two of the most essential resources within our society. In the media, massive consolidation has led to the domination of 90% of the market share by a mere eight corporations: those such as Disney, Time-Warner, Fox, and NBC. This also poses a very serious threat to the democratic process in that the media plays a very large role in shaping and influencing the opinions of the masses.

Agriculture, the world’s most important industry, has likewise been the victim of consolidation; a consolidation that is increasingly causing the few remaining small farmers to become trampled underfoot. While corporate assimilation in this area has been occurring since the invention of automated farm machinery, small farmers are now facing a new threat from the biotech revolution. Genetic engineering corporations, namely Monsanto, are not only hampering the success of small farmers who cannot afford to develop genetically-engineered crops, but are bullying those attempting to publish research on the consumer safety of such crops.

Massive corporations can also pose a threat to the democratic ideal, both in America and abroad. While our government is bound to some semblance of democracy by the US constitution (guaranteeing freedom and equality, et cetera); corporations, which are necessarily self-interested, are bureaucratic and hierarchical. Thus, whenever such corporations become excessively large; they subvert their own employees as well as any smaller corporations competing for the same share of the market.

While abusive behaviour is regulated to some degree within the US, this is usually not the case in developing nations; which is much of the reason so many of these businesses choose to conduct operations out of countries like Guatemala and Bangladesh. Such nations not only allow for cheap labour, but permit these corporations to utterly exploit their weaker economies, and often brush to the wayside these countries’ traditional ways of life. Nowhere is this more apparent than when based on the actions of Chevron Nigeria Limited. In the past five years, Nigeria’s branch of the US-based Chevron corporation has caused several major environmental disasters, and has collaborated with the Nigerian government for the arrest and execution of dozens of protesting citizens.

What is perhaps most shocking of all, however, is that the American government actively contributes to such globalisation endeavors, thereby creating an imbalance of wealth on the national level. Currently, the US has a great deal of influence within the United Nations, influence with which it can wield components like the World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank to serve its own purposes. American corporations, often more powerful than third-world governments, exploit the limited resources available in impoverished nations as fuel for the US economy. As a result of this, the world economic distribution is severely imbalanced; the US along with the European Union and a few other countries like Canada and Japan controlling a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth. Ultimately, this will harm the developed nations just as it will third-world countries; but as to when we will recognise this is a matter still uncertain.

In the long run, the issues facing the world can only be addressed by means of balance, a balance that is very difficult to attain and has not been present historically. Only by attacking the issue of extreme wealth on all levels can we hope to moderate the level of libertarian capitalism being forced on the world by the US. But despite the severe economic division within America today, we can be assured that should our nation succeed in finding such a balance, the rest of the world would undoubtedly follow our example.

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