Inequality Breeds Unrest

By Raffique Shah
November 13, 2011

Raffique ShahAS I watch the “Occupy Wall Street” phenomenon spread its wings of protest across much of the developed world, I cannot help but feel nostalgic.

Those of us who experienced the global rebellion of the 1960s and 1970s must also feel a sense of déjà vu, of having been there, done that. I ask myself: is this a generational upheaval that has erupted to complete unfinished business of that golden era of humanism?

Maybe we in Trinidad and Tobago are too preoccupied with the State of Emergency, exuberant over the lifting of the curfew, to think about what other people are doing in pursuit of social and economic justice. I was amused more than surprised when I saw images of mostly young people celebrating the end of the curfew with the most expensive drinks money could buy. It was as if “freedom-ah-come” for an enslaved people who had acquired champagne taste on mauby pockets.

Whether or not they realise it, the youth of today will experience the hardships of tomorrow more than my generation did. We are in the departure lounge of life. Whatever the ‘morrow brings, be it declining health and medical bills or shrinking sustenance as food costs soar, we will have little choice but to endure it.

We endured poverty when we were young. In my own case, much like most of my relatives and friends, we weren’t dirt-poor. We enjoyed at least two decent meals a day, and we had no fewer than three sets of clothing and one pair of shoes. Others, less fortunate, were lucky to have one meal a day, and many children attended school barefooted.

Our parents’ dogged determination to see their children rise from a state of persistent poverty to enjoy reasonable standards of living, saw us strive to gain an education or master a trade that would be our ticket to comfort. Most of us seized the opportunities and were able to lift our living standards, and by extension, our children’s.

Also, there were jobs at the end of the education tunnel. In instances, they didn’t pay well, like the “packages” today’s educated enjoy. But we had learned to “eat a little, live longer”, a mantra hammered into our heads by our mostly illiterate elders. It’s why, today, I can eat bhagi-dhal-and-rice and feel contended.

More important, as we travelled through life facing its many challenges, we had learned to save something, however small, from our paltry pay packets. We also learned the value of hard work. The ordinary jobs we held carried with them retirement benefits that, while they are not generous (in most cases—there are exceptions), they enable us to survive in our autumn years.

What of Generation X? Mostly, they are better educated than we were. Many of my contemporaries might disagree with that notion, and they do have a point: let’s say they have more certificates than we did. They enjoy the advantages of modern technology that have advanced light years in our lifetime. Most of those who successfully complete the paper chase hold down jobs that pay well. They are the ones who can afford a $40 shot-drink to celebrate the end of the curfew.

However, they live in very uncertain times, in a world that is becoming increasingly polarised as the rich-poor gap widens. Even as they enjoy the good life, as they might describe it, serious dangers lie ahead that could make their latter years living hell.

Which is what the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is about—fighting against gross inequalities that make a mockery of democracy. The top 20 per cent of Americans control about 84 per cent of their country’s wealth. According to a Guardian (UK) report in 2010, the top ten per cent of Britons’ average wealth stood at £853,000; the bottom ten per cent average £8,000—one hundred times less!

I don’t know what the numbers are for our country, but I am sure they are little different to what obtain in developed countries (hey, we recently got promoted to this exclusive club!). That disparity in wealth may not trigger outrage among our young people, not just yet. But systemic inequality breeds bitter unrest.

In North America and Europe, tens of thousands of young university graduates cannot find jobs that are consistent with their qualifications. Many of them, recognising that a first degree guaranteed them nothing, did post-graduate work to better equip them for the job-market. It did not quite work out that way. They remain unemployed, or under-employed.

To top off their woes, they see the wealthy get away with taxpayers-funded grand-theft, almost literally. Bankers and financiers who misled institutions into disarray, partly triggering the crash of 2008, have received generous bailouts from governments, and are bold enough to claim handsome bonuses—even as ordinary citizens starve.

Here, the enquiry into the collapse of CLICO and the HCU has put in the public domain grave disparities in income distribution. When a UWI graduate who remains unemployed (and there are many such youngsters) hears about managers making $5 million a month or more, by dubious, maybe devious, means, how does that person feel?

Worse, when the so-called white-collar criminals escape paying for their misdeeds though the complexities of a legal and judicial maze, what message is being sent to the young, qualified and ambitious?

Our young and deprived have not yet rekindled the mood and spirit of the 1960s, when we fought for less. But they will lash out sometime soon if we do not take concrete steps to re-draft the social contract.

8 thoughts on “Inequality Breeds Unrest”

  1. Corporate America was spared the pain of bankruptcy while so many Americans lose their homes in the mortgage crisis. The US government gave Corporate America massive loans, which to this day many repaid. In response people expected to get a compassionate response from Corporate America,ie lower interest payment etc. Instead they look on from the outside as CEOs were given unreal bonuses and all kinds of nifty perks. Wallstreet fiddled as the American economy suffered from massive unemployment and bankruptcy. In T&T, Trinis loss massive amounts of money from investments with CLICO and HCU.

    People are disillusioned about government and corporations. Corporations are seen as greedy (gas prices keep going up) and they are bringing in billions of dollars on the backs of tax payers. Corporations exist to make profit but there is a fine line between profit and greed. Often time it is crossed with impunity. Ordinary citizens feel as though the government is in “bed” with these corporations, no wonder the anger and resentment. As they say money and power talks.

  2. Even if the cynic in me is on high alert, I would instead ,bite my tongue ,and pay a well deserve compliment, by saying the following:-Excellent analysis mamoo. Glad you can see the commonality of corporate greed, self serving lobbyist , cronyism, and runaway profiteering on people , as existing across the global North / South divide.
    Keep this up , and trust me , we just might be able to pull something off , as far as taking the necessary, tentative steps, towards ‘authentic,’ sustainable development.
    Luv humanity, and while at it ,appreciate, beyond old talk , ‘Sweet , Sweet, T&T ,aka Jambalaya / Calaloo Country,’ yes?
    We wish our people well!

    1. “Sakal confirmed that Ibis Management– a company linked to CLF director Bosworth Monck; alternate director Evan McCordick and Duprey– was paid $2 million a month (GBP 200,000) for consultancy work. They drew up a dividends policy, she said, but it was useless and was never implemented because it could not be understood.” Newsday.

      This is an example of why people are so outraged. The corporations take poor people money and do their own thing without any kind of accountability. The government have to change that by constantly having auditors in these companies because they promise big payout to their clients only in the end to realise it is nothing but a “ponzee” scheme. So many citizens lost their money in these incredible interest returns. If the returns on investment is too high please take note… The sad part about it is these corporate thieves walk free. Government standard and regulations is vitally important in protecting citizens from these unscrupulous people who have NO conscience.

      1. The problem mamoo ,is that in order to initiate meaningful changes , along the continuum of real transparency ,in government in business, then we the people, traversing social media,or others masquerading as objective journalist on main stream media, cannot practice selective outrage, when it suite us.
        Those pretending to be authentic intellectuals , and culturally moral souls , must refrain from tiptoeing around the truth , as you are now showing.
        So if you wish for the death penalty for all CLICO officials , then HCU bums,such as Harry Harnarine,who ripped of poor CARONI workers in back door deals, as well as Panday’s political pals Nish , and Ish, must also go to the gallows.
        If you think Canadian Hart, was the worst human being on the planet, and his Malaysian Chinese wife, was a user of a certain local Chicken farmer millionaire from Central, then you must not be afraid to call to task all slippery business , and high end ,operations between foreign countries, conglomerates, and fake experts placed in charge of our governmental departments.
        Talk about fox and hen house syndrome . If you think that PNM blokes ,led by their PM Patios ,had a hand in seeing scholarship, and state’s resources ,only go towards enhancing Afrikan kids lives , but not Indians , then you cannot ‘skin , and grin,’ as Sat Maraj , de Hindu War lord ,give the middle finger ,to folks who want answers ,as to alleged discriminations, against Afrikan kids, from his state supported diminutional schools- all the while , as he still gives advice to Her Majesty Queen K, and her most controversial , and strident ,’Afrikan genocidal denouncer ,’ Dr Gopeiesing – our present Minister of Education.
        You are justified in thinking that Patrick Manning should be fed to the starving , Emperor Vally Zoo lions ,for any of his corrupting ways,but cannot think that Basdeo Panday ,should be spared the wrath of our law,or the piranha ladened pond near de Beetham mang ,due to his actions,in the lucrative airport deal.
        There are those with evil intent,that have laschievious fixations,on our natural resources,and so,would inflate our images,via fake accolades,across the global media, for the returns,that might accrue.
        Luv humanity.

        1. The government needs to set up an independent financial monitoring department that can keep tabs on what these investment companies, banks and other financial institutions are doing. They can monitor and step in at times and order an audit or make suggestions in the way the company is handling it’s affairs. Tight regulation is needed or government will be sending tax dollars to rescue dead management. The PNM sent $5 billion in the CLICO sinkhole. Why??? That could have been prevented if CLICO financial activities were being closely monitored along with the HCU.

        2. We are on the same page my brother.Let’s therefore continue to do our part to not only keep our respective leaders honest , but make this ‘Lil Twin Republic Haven,’ the emerging gem , that it can be, where brain drains,are a thing of the past, and more importantly, those of us stuck in so call developed industrial lands,can feel inclined to return ,and play our part ,to see it assume it role as a regional leader, yes?
          Luv humanity!

  3. Well I will be dar…, and is finally in Her Majesty’s corner , if she now wishes to fire our entire Police Service ,from captain to cook, outside of course , our noble Alberta Commissioner of Police, and instead replace them all, with Canadian , and British blokes.
    Better yet , will be the first to applaud , if there is a return of de much cherished ,curfew,and don’t let up with her feet on the necks of citizens ,long until after the end of Carnival 2012.

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