Economic inequality leads to technofeudalism

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According to a recent Oxfam report, the 10 largest fortunes on the planet have doubled their wealth during the pandemic. This has occurred while 99% of the population has lost purchasing power.

Every 26 hours, a new billionaire emerges in the world. Perhaps when you read this last figure, a negative thought crossed your mind: you're doing something wrong. Maybe you could be one of the next to hit the system's jackpot.

Although, actually, if you are reading this, you have nothing to complain about. I will give you another piece of information: economic inequality contributes to the death of at least one person every four seconds. Now you won't feel bad anymore, deep down you are a winner. For the time being.

The race of the billionaires is making the rest of us look poorer and poorer, even though we are still privileged compared to the vast majority. But we find it hard to compare ourselves with those who have less, and very little to compare ourselves with those who have more. We are evolutionarily -or involutionarily- "designed" to seek improvement and this is leading us to a dead end.

Already at the beginning of the 20th century, the Norwegian sociologist Thorstein Veblen gave a name to a phenomenon called "conspicuous consumption", which is very interesting to understand. The concept defined by Veblen helps us to understand that the problem of inequality is key. If a part of consumption is done for the sake of status, social position, the more examples of insulting wealth we have around us, the more we will envy. If inequality is as obscene as it is today, it will be easier for us to look at those who have more and try to emulate them because the gap is huge.

It's not that we all want to be Musk or Bezos - fortunately - but the greater the gap between the elite and the "subjects" the more normalized a comparison becomes that makes us feel bad, that makes us think we don't consume or own enough.

While those 10 men - therichest in the world are all men - have doubled their wealth, 160 million people have swelled the poverty statistics.

The carbon emissions of the richest 1% more than double those of the poorest half of humanity. If you can't understand the absurdity of a model that allows this to happen, let me tell you another story, which complicates things a bit more...

The other argument for trying to tackle inequality as if it were the biggest problem is that it is indeed the biggest problem. The HANDY (Human And Nature Dynamics) model tried to analyze the causes of collapse and concluded that there were two main reasons: extreme inequality and the exploitation of the environment beyond its regenerative capacity.

And this explains something else: if the elite is so unequal and ostentatiously rich, they will live on the fringes of the problems, and will take much longer to detect the signs, to feel the effects of the challenges in their own flesh, to the point that they might even take a little space walk in the middle of a pandemic and the explosion of climate chaos.

Perhaps he does not perceive with the necessary clarity the seriousness of problems that, due to his privileged situation, do not affect him so much. Moreover, the mixture of this factor with the mental effect on people who idolize and envy these people, wanting to be like them -which makes it very difficult for them to want to give up part of the cake- intertwines to provoke a cocktail that favors situations of social collapse that have been occurring in the past in so many empires and civilizations.

We are now on the verge of an ecological and energetic precipice that is unquestionable. Renewables are not enough and are full of limitations, and all other sources must be gradually abandoned so as not to aggravate the climate problem we have (nuclear power is a case apart, but suffice it to say that it is a time bomb for the next generations).

This conjunction of problems is what places us in a scenario of inevitable decrease. If in the face of all this, The reaction of the elites is not only not to share, but to double their patrimony, with apologies, we are screwed. There is no alternative without a radical redistribution of wealth to enable the ecological and energy transition to be designed and therefore planned. -whoever believes that this can be fixed by the market has either a lack of information or a serious problem of understanding- through principles of social justice.

There are the yellow vests in France, or the inspiring mobilizations that have ended up changing the political landscape in Chile.Reminding us that no solution is possible if it is perceived by the popular classes as elitist. And the ruling classes know it. Literally. The IPCC Panel III report that we leaked and that went around the world specifies it crystal clear: "Lessons from experimental economics show that people may not accept measures that are considered unfair even if the cost of not accepting them is higher".

And if there is an example of the folly that is the current economic system, just look at the economic measures with the patents on vaccines. In pursuit of the wealth of a few companies with direct ties to some governments, cooperation has been avoided at all costs. The "like-minded" vaccines have been promoted and the "rivals" have been discredited simply for the sake of profit. And this has led to a further spread of the pandemic, with multiple variants that can continue to mutate more easily in countries where people have hardly been vaccinated.

Well, that is what is happening to us with the energy and ecological transition: if we do it with the sole objective of short-term profit and with an economistic mentality, the only possible way out will be a techno-feudalism of the richest, who will be like chieftains of an impoverished world, and in the process we will have lost the best opportunity we had.

About the Author

Juan Bordera

Journalist and content creator.

February 04, 2022 — Juan Bordera

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