2017 is almost done. Many things have changed in the world whilst others remain the same. Capitalism and greed are still rife. Those with huge amounts of money are still trying to get more into their coffers. How much money is enough? How much can a person spend in a lifetime? Others have so little and even that is being eroded by the bottom line of some companies who have forgotten that they are in the ‘service industry’. Prices for utilities rise almost continuously whilst people are cutting their usage back in order to be able to pay their bill. We have seen the rise of ‘heat or eat’ platitudes.
In the US over a million people found themselves with no income at all on midnight 31st December 2013. Why? Because Republicans don’t want to support the ‘lazy’ who cannot be bothered to get a job. Nor does it wish to support low paid employees who do not have enough to make ends meet. Why do they not have enough? Business will not pay a living wage because it wants to keep that bottom line increasing as fast as possible. Never mind that there will come a point whereby the bottom line will begin to decrease as more and more people will either stop buying the product or service or further significantly reduce their expenditure on such items.
Short-termism appears to be the order of the day. Who is concerned for the future when everything is geared to the now? Sadly, a minority!
A land of opportunity is not much good if the economic constraints are so big that the little man can no longer be economically or socially upwardly mobile. The idea of ‘trickle down economics’ was much embraced by both Reagan and Thatcher and it was this economic policy that led many of us to support rampant capitalism before we realised that this was a tool to allow the rich to become richer and the poor to become poorer. Pope Francis phrased it beautifully in 2013, when he said: “The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that WHEN THE GLASS IS FULL, IT GETS MAGICALLY BIGGER – nothing ever comes out for the poor.” (My capitals). You may well argue that this Marxist like statement is wrong. Certainly the ideology of materialism encapsulated within Marxism is not particularly attractive but its criticisms of capitalism are surely justified.
When wealth forgets the little man it forgets to be philanthropic too. It also forgets the human struggle which many of us, not rich people, endure. When one is working two or maybe three jobs and still cannot make a living wage then surely the system is broken.
Wealth of course has a response to everything. The counter argument runs along the lines of the ever growing benefit sector leeching off society. There is probably an element of truth and belief in the idea that all benefit claimants are scroungers. However, those who are genuinely unable to work become tarred with the same brush. Nobody should begrudge the disabled or the genuinely sick their support. In fact, I would hazard a guess that many would be happy to see these claimants receive more money in order to have a higher standard of living than they currently have.
It is those claimants that have spurious excuses – such as ‘I have young children’ or ‘there are no jobs I fancy’ – who are trying the patience of even the most generous of souls. However, if these parents of young children were really parenting properly, by which I mean that they are pushing their children toward emotional security, that they are ensuring academic achievement by fully supporting schools, that they are instilling a ‘can do’ ethos into their offspring, that they are instilling self reliance, morality and responsibility to self and others, then perhaps one could feel it was worth paying them to stay at home. Of course it has to be recognised that many benefit claiming mothers and fathers do undertake these non-negotiable parenting standards.
By the way, my own upbringing was not a ‘silver spoon’ experience. I have a father who worked two jobs to ensure that each of his five children had access to a good education. Two of us are degree holders who had successful careers in teaching and the NHS respectively; the remaining three have good careers in insurance, the NHS and in the DWP respectively. Our mother began working two jobs as soon as my youngest sister started school to assist with the financial cost of three daughters at grammar school. We were not allowed to not study, to not do chores, to not understand our responsibilities to others. In short, we were taught to be good learners and subsequently good workers. We were imbued with a solid Protestant work ethic. Benefit living was never an option and certainly not a career choice!
Having said all that, Pope Francis has a point. Wealth held in a few private hands is not conducive to a healthy society. Social and economic mobility is a prized option for many. Pope Francis has continued to raise these issues of greed creating poverty.
So, reasons to be cheerful in 2017. At first glance there do not appear to be many! Trump has been elected as President of the United States; Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU and this year began the long process of ‘Brexit’ without the slightest indication that the Tory government has a plan; the far right AfD party has won some 90 plus seats in Germany’s Bundestag; the French Front National made a strong showing in elections earlier this year. The list of negatives go on and on.
In contrast to these we have seen Macron elected to the French Presidency through his new political party, En Marche; the far right candidate, Geert Wilders, having promised to bring a ‘populist revolution’ to the EU, was defeated in the Netherlands; Corbyn is firmly in place as leader of the Labour Party in the UK; Mrs May’s Tory government lost its significant majority in an ill-advised snap election and Mrs Merkel retained her grip on the Chancellorship of Germany.
How will the rest of 2017 pan out for the world? There is terrible unrest in the Middle East causing a large number of refugees to flee their war-torn countries; Myanmar’s appalling behaviour has caused the Rohingya people to cross the border into Bangladesh and some into India. Effectively ethnically cleansing their presence from the country despite UN disapproval. America has had yet another mass killing by a lone gunman who managed to stockpile a veritable arsenal of guns.
And yet there is still good in the world. Random acts of kindness and humanity occur almost daily. Donations to a fund to help victims of Hurricane Irma have surpassed $9 million, thanks to many kindhearted individuals donating small amounts in amongst larger donations from celebrities. Narbeth in Wales, along with other Welsh communities have sponsored the resettling of Syrian refugees in accordance with the National Assembly committee’s desire to see Wales as a ‘nation of sanctuary,’ thus setting a lead for the UK government to follow. A young American schoolgirl has set up a club so that no student has to eat or be alone during lunch break. People in London and Manchester opened up their hearts and homes to help people caught up in the aftermath of atrocious attacks whilst the Grendel Tower inferno saw ordinary people turning into heroes as they supported the survivors.
These types of acts are replicated and multiplied across the world every single day and, although they often appear to be against the norm, it is these acts that really do give us something to be cheerful about. It is these acts that should define us and encourage us to make governments, the wealthy and business accountable to society in order to improve the lot of every human being on earth. Let each and everyone of us not only make 2017 the year when doing good becomes our priority and the norm but carry this ethos into 2018 and beyond.
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This post was written by Susan Walpole