The age of plutocracy

Our much-vaunted democracy is controlled by a powerful elite.

Our much-vaunted democracy is controlled by a powerful elite.

Two days after the forced resignation of John Dalli, laptops and documents relating to battles against the tobacco industry were stolen.

Our politicians are at the mercy of powerful lobbies that peddle their vested interests
- Klaus Vella Bardon

As reported in a recent issue of The Guardian Weekly, Florence Berteletti Kemp, director of the European Smoke Free Partnership, said: “What we are witnessing is the biggest tobacco industry interference in public health policy at the European level.”

In the subsequent war of words, one thing is certain: The tough new directive piloted by Dalli to curb aggressive marketing of tobacco products to young people has now been aborted.

This shabby affair must be an opportunity for ordinary people to question the power of giant corporations that use their inordinate power to usurp the democratic process and undermine the common good.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that our much-vaunted democracy is controlled by a powerful elite. Their global dominance has now led us into the age of plutocracy.

Lobbying has been raised to a fine art and is now a major enterprise in the dominant nerve centres of the US and Europe.

For instance, corporate greed is influencing public policy to suppress attempts to reduce huge subsidies to junk food manufacturers and biofuel interests. It also promotes the imposition of genetically-modified foods and the predatory practices of agribusiness corporations.

The current financial crisis should have been a wake-up call for our indolent electorates to take a hard look at what is really going on.

The sad reality is that many politicians and their parties find the easy way out by oiling their party machinery with financial support from large businesses and corporations.

Once in power, and in government, our politicians are at the mercy of these powerful lobbies that continue the process of peddling their vested interests.

Recently, public opinion in Britain is infuriated at the ridiculous levels of tax being paid by giant US companies working there.

Amazon, Facebook, Google UK and Starbucks paid taxes as low as one per cent. This tax avoidance is legal as the very complex rules play in their favour. Their stranglehold on vital aspects of a country’s economy further strengthens their bargaining power.

Meanwhile, thanks to connivance with banks, billions of dollars are stashed away in tax havens in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands by multinationals and the super-rich who avoid paying their fair share.

Only last summer, Angela Merkel’s government, which preaches austerity to the rest of the EU, undermined attempts to break the corrosive secrecy and confidentiality of Swiss banks and accepted a deal to accept just a paltry $2.8 billion (€2.19bn) for the $276 billion (€216bn) of Germans’ undeclared wealth.

Even US President Barack Obama reneged on protecting the vulnerable when the US was hit by the financial tsunami. Instead of grasping the opportunity to reform a banking system where corruption and ineptitude was rife, Obama decided to prop it up instead. Such issues are not just economic or political. They are pre-eminently of an ethical nature. The media and trade unions of the western world have grave responsibility to expose the truth about these matters.

Also, Christians and Christian organisations have to look at the wider picture, beyond assistive charity, and examine closely the causes of widespread poverty, ruthless exploitation and callous environmental degradation.

Courageous reporting has shed light on the despicable modus operandi of multinationals, especially in countries with weak social and political structures.

There are a number of outstanding people who try to raise public opinion, such as the remarkable campaigner Fr Sean McDonagh, an Irish Columban missionary, who tirelessly battles the giant agribusinesses that control the food chain.

The Guardian journalist George Monbiot is another exemplary fighter for social justice as he exposes the incestuous relationship between big business and corrupt politicians.

The current economic model of global capitalism that favours the few at the expense of the many has to keep on being challenged. More importantly, we have to fashion the right solutions.

The slogan Think Global, Act Local applies to each and every one of us. Even here in Malta, there is an urgent need to promote further the Christian economic model of Distribution, which implies the union of popular freedom and economic freedom through widely distributed ownership.

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