Wealth tax to cor­rect ‘Restern’ im­bal­ance

Pretoria News - - OPINION -

WHY is the gap be­tween rich and poor widen­ing so fast, glob­ally? The World Eco­nomic Fo­rum lead­ers meet­ing in Davos, Switzer­land, last week had no struc­tural or his­tor­i­cal sense. Grow­ing in­come in­equal­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age and ever higher fi­nan­cial-mar­ket risks have sig­nif­i­cantly im­paired our abil­ity to trans­form tech­no­log­i­cal progress and wealth for­ma­tion into a long-term sus­tain­able de­vel­op­men­tal model.

We can­not hope to rem­edy the bro­ken­ness of our mod­ern eco­nomic sys­tem with­out un­der­stand­ing the eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal driv­ers that con­tinue to dic­tate the nar­ra­tive of in­sti­tu­tion­alised poverty and glob­alised in­equal­ity.

From 1500 un­til 1800, all the mar­itime em­pire-build­ing coun­tries were West­ern European na­tions en­gaged in em­pire build­ing in the Amer­i­cas, in Africa, in Asia, and in eastern Europe and Rus­sia. The per­sis­tence of this phe­nom­e­non is the sin­gle most im­por­tant fac­tor in the Western­i­sa­tion of the world.

Geno­cide char­ac­terised much of the West­ern ex­pan­sion. As a con­se­quence of European mar­itime em­pire-build­ing, the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tions in the present-day US, Canada, Aus­tralia and New Zealand have been al­most ex­ter­mi­nated.

Peo­ple of European de­scent pop­u­lated these four for­mer European colonies, while the cul­ture, civil­i­sa­tion and re­li­gion of west­ern Europe were trans­planted. All four were de­colonised un­der con­di­tions that en­cour­aged their eco­nomic growth and the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ist eco­nomic sys­tems. Dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury, the US not only per­pet­u­ated the em­pire-build­ing of the west­ern European coun­tries. It con­tin­ues to do so in a way that is con­spic­u­ously drain­ing the coun­tries in the Restern world.

Not all coun­tries in the non-European world (i.e. the Restern world) be­came of­fi­cial colonies of West­ern coun­tries, but all of them were di­rectly or in­di­rectly ex­ploited and dis­rupted by West­ern mar­itime em­pire-build­ing.

The Rest of the world – Latin Amer­ica, Africa, Asia and eastern Europe, in­clud­ing Rus­sia – in­cludes coun­tries that are un­der­de­vel­oped. Some have in­com­plete cap­i­tal­ist sys­tems and many are not yet in­dus­tri­alised. The pop­u­la­tion of the Restern world (or the non-European world, ex­clud­ing Ja­pan) af­ter 1500 was more than 76% of the world pop­u­la­tion, and is now 86% of the to­tal.

The huge in­equal­i­ties in the dis­tri­bu­tion of power, prop­erty, in­come and lev­els of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and education be­tween the West and the Rest are among the great­est chal­lenges that face our world. The in­equal­i­ties emerged slowly over the pe­riod be­tween 1500 and 1820, but in­creased dra­mat­i­cally in the 130 years from 1820 un­til 1950.

While the West’s share of World GDP (WGDP) in­creased from 18% in 1500 to 57% in 1950, the Rest’s share de­clined from 78% in 1500 to 40% in 1950. From 1950 un­til 2003 the West’s share de­clined to 43%, while the Rest’s share in­creased to 50.5%. (Ja­pan’s share de­clined from 3.2% in 1500 to 3% in 1950 and then in­creased to 6.6% in 2003.)

Over the past 30 years the per capita in­come of Asia as a per­cent­age of the per capita in­come of the West be­came some­what greater than the 16.2% that it had been in 2003. T he cen­tral ques­tion is: to what ex­tent can we at­tribute (at least un­til the middle of the 20th cen­tury) the lack of devel­op­ment – or the “devel­op­ment of un­der­de­vel­op­ment” – and the lack of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion in the Restern world to West­ern em­pire-build­ing, West­ern cap­i­tal­ism, West­ern in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, West­ern in­dus­trial mil­i­tarism and West­ern ide­o­log­i­cal pro­pa­ganda?

The un­der­de­vel­op­ment of the black/ brown (mainly) non-European and (mainly) non-Chris­tian peo­ple should not be judged – not by West­ern peo­ple – with­out tak­ing into ac­count the sever­ity of the ex­ploita­tion, re­pres­sion and de­struc­tion by West­ern em­pires, West­ern cap­i­tal­ism, in­dus­tri­al­ism, war-mak­ing and pro­pa­ganda. We are not deny­ing the con­tri­bu­tion the West­ern world has made to the sci­en­tific, cul­tural and eco­nomic progress of the world, and that the Restern world has also ben­e­fited.

How­ever, the West­ern world’s spec­tac­u­lar progress would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the ex­ploita­tion, re­pres­sion and de­struc­tion of the Restern world. We must never for­get the im­por­tant ques­tion of the West’s his­toric guilt with re­spect to the Restern world. A wealth tax is nec­es­sary to cor­rect the apartheid legacy. Mat­ters are not helped by the in­ter­ven­tion of the Brics (Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa) and other Restern coun­tries in Africa to get hold of Africa’s nat­u­ral re­sources for their in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion.

It is time to cor­rect this im­bal­ance, not by go­ing to Davos and do­ing as the New York credit rat­ings agen­cies and Brics gov­ern­ments say, but by de­vel­op­ing a counter-force based on sound moral prin­ci­ples. Re­dis­tri­bu­tion of that looted wealth is one place to be­gin.

●Sampie Ter­re­blanche is a po­lit­i­cal econ­o­mist and au­thor of ‘West­ern Em­pires’, pub­lished by Pen­guin Books in 2014.

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