Rome – The recent G20 summit – which was to take place in Riyadh but was virtually held due to the Coronavirus pandemic – was a telling example of how the world is drifting into a leadership crisis.
It was, in a sense, a showcase. Everyone had to accept the view that the host of the meeting, the sick King Salman of Saudi Arabia, is accompanied on TV screens by his apparent heir, Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who is clearly the mastermind of the brutal assassination, disintegration and disappearance of the body of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mohamed bin Salman got away with it, also because of the support of Donald Trump, who in his video intervention said, among other things, that no one in American history has done as much as he has done for the environment (as when he said that no one since Abraham Lincoln did as much as he did for black Americans, after which Trump immediately left for his golf course and ignored the debate.
Raison d’état, realpolitik, diplomatic restrictions have always been part of history. The fact that the G20 was virtual may in part obscure a fact: that politicians are now accepting the most ominous statements without blinking an eye, because everything has become acceptable and legal. In Saudi Arabia, Prince bin Salman is very popular and in the US, those who live in the parallel world of Trumpland follow blindly.
Praying will have a very difficult life. At least a third of Americans believe that a massive fraud has deprived their idol of the presidency. He has a high court staffed by his nominee. And unless the Democrats win the two seats for the Senate in Georgia on Jan. 5, it will remain in the hands of Mitch McConnell, who will block every single Biden project that requires Senate approval.
Add to that a permanent election campaign by Trump over the next four years, probably with his own TV channel, and it’s hard to predict that Biden’s vice president, a woman and black, will repeat his performance in 2024.
There are many solutions if there was only political will. For example, Oxfam estimates that just a 0.5% increase in taxes paid over ten years by 1% of the richest (an insignificant increase) would be enough to create 117 million jobs in strategic sectors such as health, education and aid to the elderly.
I apologize for this distraction. The real purpose of this article is to demonstrate the incredible lack of responsibility of the leaders who have virtually met, and in addition to making completely ritualistic statements about the pandemic and climate change, when confronted with the effects of Covid-19 on the poor of the world, simply decided to extend the moratorium on the foreign debt interest of the poorest countries another year. It is a debt that in many cases has been repaid generously with the payment of cumulative interests.
It is certainly hard to believe that the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, China and Canada, and the President of the European Council and the President of the European Union – United States – are ignoring the striking data on the increase in poverty provided by all international organizations.
The creation of the G7 and the G20 was the most visible attempt by the major powers to suppress material debates and decisions of the United Nations. It was certainly not because of a lack of information that they ignored the call of the Secretary – General of the United Nations, António Guterres, who acted in his intervention against the unfolding drama of the poor from all over the world, which nullifies all progress. reached the last two decades.
The data that the G20 ignored converges on two conclusions: the impact of the Covid-19 virus is stronger than expected, and it will create a global social imbalance that will have a lasting impact on millions of people – in reality about 300 million people.
This comes on top of an already dire situation. According to the World Bank, 720 million people will be living in extreme poverty (less than $ 1.90 a day). Of that, 114 million are the direct result of Covid-19: that is 9.4% of the world population. According to the UN’s World Food Program, more than 265 million people are already starving, and many will die. And according to the International Labor Organization, 200 million will lose their jobs.
Let us not forget that half the world’s population – 3.2 billion people – live on less than $ 5.50 a day. It is in the global South, as well as those in rich countries that are close to the conditions of the poor countries. The extent of this condition is much greater than we normally think. In the United States, 11.1% of the population (49 million people) can be classified as poor according to the U.S. Census Bureau; but Covid-19 is likely to add another 8 million people.
A staggering 16.1 million children live in food parity, while more than 47 million citizens are dependent on food banks. The National Center on Family Homelessness estimates that in 2013, 2.5 million American children experienced some form of homelessness. Finally, the American Journal of Health Affairs confirms that in 2016, the United States had the highest percentage of child deaths in the 20 OECD countries, while life expectancy shrank by three years, according to the US Census Bureau.
In Europe, things are going a bit better thanks to a culture of well-being (absent in the US). Eurostat estimates that in 2017, 11.8 million people lived in a household “at risk of poverty or social exclusion”. And Save the Children estimates that 28% of those under 18 are at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
We do not have estimates on the impact of Covid-19 in Europe, but the European Union estimates that poverty could increase by 47% if the pandemic lasts until next summer. This excludes the impact of the expected third wave in the winter of 2021. Caritas Italy estimates that there will be at least one million more poor children by the end of the year.
G20 leaders cannot ignore the fact that UNCTAD issued a warning in April: we must find at least $ 2.5 billion to weaken the coming social crisis. They cannot ignore the fact that the ILO has declared that the average income of informal workers in the poorest countries in the world, such as Haiti, Ethiopia or Malawi, has fallen by 82%.
They cannot ignore the political consequences of this social crisis, and how Covid-19 is slowing down the world economy. But the poor are not a priority in political choices for many reasons. Suffice it to say that there are no special provisions for the poor in the EU’s unprecedented and brilliant recovery plan for Europe. They are part of the general population and of those who have suffered as a result of Covid-19: people working in the tourism sector, in restaurant bar, in shops, and so on.
Yet we have all the information to know that they are experiencing specific problems, problems that are different from those who have lost their jobs. Structural poverty is a cage that those in it do not leave out. We have no room here to analyze why poverty requires a specific action. There are many studies on the subject, on the relationships between poverty and education, poverty and democracy, poverty and social movements, and the list goes on.
What we want to emphasize is that there are many solutions if there was only political will. For example, Oxfam estimates that just a 0.5% increase in taxes paid over ten years by 1% of the richest (an insignificant increase) would be enough to create 117 million jobs in strategic sectors such as health, education and aid to the elderly. .
The return of 10% of the capital hidden in fiscal paradise will achieve the same result. But we followed Ronald Reagan’s mantra that the poor bring poverty and the rich bring wealth, so the rich must be left to create wealth. This may seem like a joke, but the OECD indicates that the average corporate tax rate has dropped from 28% in 2000 to 20.6% in 2020.
This has happened despite the increase in the prosperity of large companies, which is accompanied by a significant decline of the middle class, not to mention workers and the spread of precarious and informal work. According to the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, the wealth of the richest Americans increased by 19.1% between March 18 and June 4 – a monumental $ 565 million. The richest Americans now own $ 3.5 billion.
Just 10% of that would be enough to save the 46.2 million fellow citizens who apply for unemployment benefits. Another solution would be to reduce subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, which the International Renewable Energy Institute estimates at $ 3.1 billion – 19 times that of renewable energy – despite the looming climate tragedy.
The same imbalance happens with the pandemic. Clearly, until vaccination becomes universal, Covid-19 is here to stay. It recognizes no boundaries and global problems can not contain a variety of local answers.
To date, pharmaceutical companies have received $ 13.1 billion to develop a vaccine: a fantastic venture, because they will now make more money in the market, with their costs already paid for by governments. A central discussion would be whether markets should make a profit on ordinary goods such as water, air and people, but we have no room for this debate.
Apart from that, the situation today is that the rich countries again according to Oxfam have 13.5% of the world population, yet they have bought in advance 51% of the doses that pharmaceutical companies will produce – in 2021 86.5% of the world will should be left with the remaining 49%. A consortium of public and private enterprises, COVAX, was established to deal with the most fragile sections of the world’s population. More than 185 countries are involved, but these are far from being the necessary funds.
What is the lesson we can learn from this incomplete analysis? That we do not have a political class that can deal with global issues. On the contrary, nationalism and xenophobia are on the way back. The attitude of nationalist leaders towards Covid-19 is similar to that of the threat of climate change: it is a leftist idea of globalists. Wearing a mask thus became a political statement.
Trump has largely lost re-election because of his stance on the virus. We can only hope that this lesson will have some impact. As far as the poor are concerned, the terms social justice and solidarity are out of fashion, but we are creating imbalances and tensions for which we are likely to pay dearly. The French Revolution was not done by a political party, but by an impoverished Third State, or the poor, who rebelled against the nobility and the clergy. This is a lesson that the richest 1% will do well not to forget.
The publisher of OtherNews, the Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio, is an economist, journalist, communications expert, political commentator, social and climate justice activist and supporter of an anti-neoliberal world government. Director of International Relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of the news agency Inter Press Service (IPS) and its president Emeritus.