The conservatives of feudal times warned that the advance of capitalism would be the end of civilization. They were wrong, and for all its flaws, capitalism was a progressive step forward. Whatever of the old order was serviceable to the new was kept and cultivated. What was destroyed was aspects of feudalism's rule that obstructed progress.
Under capitalism invention and industry flourished as never before. Our ways of producing and living have changed faster in the last two hundred years than in the previous two thousand. Each worker's capacity to produce is at least a hundred times what it was when capitalism first took over from feudalism.
However, because our standard of living has not kept pace with invention, and cannot keep pace with it as long as capitalists control industry, the possibilities of abundance and leisure are wasted in artificial created shortages, depressions and wars.
Modern economic development has made the activities of the few who control industry unnecessary. It has also reduced the number of people in the capitalist class. The growth of large corporations requires either the closing of a large number of little businesses or their absorption as subsidiaries of larger corporate conglomerates.
At the apex of this economic pyramid, sits the few, the wealthy, and the powerful. They are an oligarchy who exercise nearly unaccountable authority over the economic functioning of the world, and pursue their private interests at the expense of the vast majority of humanity, and often at the expense of the very ecological vitality of the Earth which sustains us all.
In the face of little organized resistance, capitalists' greed knows few limits. In the United States, recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that one fifth of the population receives nearly half of all aggregate income generated in a year. Between 1989 and 1996 the wealthiest five percent of the population in the United States experienced a ten percent rise in annual income while eighty percent of the population had negative income growth. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the rich have gotten richer while working people's incomes have stagnated or declined.
In countries other than the United States, the controlling clique is often a considerably smaller proportion of the population. Capitalists of every country coordinate their activities to extract the greatest profit from the labor of working people everywhere.
Through cartels and multinational corporations, a handful of people plan and control the economic life of the world. According the United Nations' Human Development Report 1999, the world's 200 richest people more than doubled their net worth between 1994 and 1998 to more than 1 trillion dollars. That was more than the combined income of 41 percent of the world's people.
In 1999 the assets of the top 3 billionaires were more than the combined GNP [Gross National Product] of all least developed nations and their 600 million people. Nearly 1.3 billion people lived on less than a dollar a day, and close to 1 billion could not meet their daily consumption requirements.
The few people who control the world's resources have many servants, but few friends. Only these few would have their privileges decreased if the control of industry were taken out of their hands. The rest of us would be much better off.
Next page: Who Should Control?