Higher you climb, harder you fall

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, October 26th 2008

Trini PeopleLAST week, when I suggested that the masses of poor and middle-income people across the world may yet have the last laugh in the midst of the global financial crisis, many readers laughed at me. “You can’t be serious?” several of my friends called to ask, exploding into loud guffaws. “Of course I am,” I responded. I proceeded to explain why I thought the super-wealthy would cry more tears than the wretched of the earth.

The latter have known only tough times. Hundreds of millions struggle to stay alive in countries where drought, floods or thieves disguised as political dictators reduce them to homelessness and starvation. Thousands die daily, mainly children and older people. The unemployed and working poor exist day-to-day, and this not only in developing countries. In the USA, for example, many Americans who have lost their homes in the sub-prime mess, and their jobs in the financial crisis that ensued, now live in shelters, caravans, cargo-containers, even in their cars!

Hunger pangs are not easy to cope with, especially when we hear children crying for food. Older folks, many of them suffering with debilitating diseases, quietly bear their multiple burdens until death relieves them from suffering. The working poor are forced into budgeting exercises that would make the Minister of Finance look dumb. At the middle-income level, except for those who want to live champagne lives on mauby pockets, we have mastered the art of survival. We may emerge from this crisis battered and bruised. But we’ll live to fight another day.

Not so, the super-rich. I shall not attempt to peer-beyond the fortress-like fences and walls of our local elite, many of whom must have fallen victims to their own wiles (and greed), as I suggested last week. It is in the stratosphere of global wealth that the fallout from the crisis has hit hardest. Take Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, listed fourth on the most recent Forbes magazine “rich list”. Mittal, whose net worth stood at US$45 billion in June, lost an estimated US$10 million an hour since then as share prices in Arcelor-Mittal tumbled on the stock market.

Put another way, the Mittal family shareholding in the company fell from US$51 billion to $18 billion. Of course, that would not badly affect his net worth or reduce him to a pauper. Far from it, the joint owner of English football club Queen’s Park Rangers, who also owns the most expensive mansion in Britain (valued at US$128 million), will ride out the global financial meltdown. In a worst-case scenario, should he lose 90 per cent of his wealth he would still have a few billion dollars to play with.

It seems that as Divali approaches, Maha Lakshmi has not been kind to India’s new “rajahs”. Companies owned by its five richest, India-based tycoons, lost around US$110 billion since the start of the year. The battling Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, who are worth US$43 billion and $42 billion respectively, lost an estimated $60 billion as shares in their companies plummeted. Not escaping the run were K.P. Singh (net worth US$30 billion), as well as Sunil Mittaland Azim Premj. Interestingly, while Rattan Tata’s huge conglomerate encountered problems getting his US$2,500 “Nano” car plant established in West Bengal (the natives were restless they protested its planned location), his companies were not among the big losers in share prices.

Across in icy Russia, that country’s new oligarchs face a worrisome chill that could freeze them out of business. The top 25 post-communism overlords lost some $240 billion over the past five months. Aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska (net worth $28 billion), who invested heavily in Moscow’s properties market, has lost around $25 billion. The best known Russian here in Trinidad, Roman Abramovich, because he owns Chelsea FC, lost more than $20 billion as share prices in steel producer Evraz fell from a high of $131 to $14. Like their counterparts in the USA, many of whom lost even more than the Russians and Indians did, they are now turning towards the Kremlin to bail them out. Prime Minister Putin, who still wields influence there, is not impressed.

Meanwhile, the world’s richest man, American Warren Buffet, seems to have thrived in troubled times. Known for his generosity, some time last year Buffet pumped some $20 billion into Bill and Melinda Gates’ charitable foundation. He strongly condemned George Bush when the president imposed new taxation laws that favoured the rich and hurt the poor. He screamed loudly that his secretary was made to pay more tax (on a pro-rated basis) than her boss. “It’s not fair!” he shouted. You don’t need to guess how he will vote in next week’s presidential election.

I have delved into the affairs of men (oh, there are women among them, too) whose wealth elevates them to God-like status. Mostly, they are selfish, greedy, harsh towards their employees, care nothing about the poor. If anything, the global meltdown will humble them. The higher you climb, they will learn, the harder you fall. That adage applies to the wealthy as it does to politicians.

6 thoughts on “Higher you climb, harder you fall”

  1. Raffique is spot on in his analysis as always. The events of the past few months reminds me of Sparrow’s calypso, “Capitalism Gone Mad.” Well the chickens are coming home to roost and the wealthy are reaping the wages of greed. They are the ones pulling their hair out as their share portfolios disappear in smoke, and expensive mansions tumble in value. The ordinary man on the other hand has had years of experience scrunting to make ends meet. He is best placed to ride out the bad times. He’s been eating salt fish instead of steak all his life, so what does it matter to him if Fannie and Freddie are no more. At the end of the day, what you sow is what you reap!

  2. These types of divisive remarks serve no useful purpose.


    to state what appears to be true – truism- is to be divisive?

    and even so is who cause the problem in the first place……well, we all mus’ share in the blame…. but the drivers were and are the rich.

    and they aint done yet!

  3. I have delved into the affairs of men (oh, there are women among them, too) whose wealth elevates them to God-like status. Mostly, they are selfish, greedy, harsh towards their employees, care nothing about the poor. If anything, the global meltdown will humble them. The higher you climb, they will learn, the harder you fall. That adage applies to the wealthy as it does to politicians.

    Does this writer realize that the Capitalist system creates wealth and employment.What is so evil about being wealthy?The above statements are loaded with generalizations, name-calling and assumptions.Countries and economies prosper when risk-takers and entrepreneurs boldly invest in business ventures, creating wealth and employment. The system cannot be blamed for the follies and miscalculations of a few wicked men and women,while corrupt and incompetent government officials failed to keep watch.There is no pleasure to be derived from the economic meltdown, Mr. Shah.

  4. How many poor or middle-class people does anyone hear crying about the Stock Market or their Investments or their Retirement benefits or their mortage-rates? I would say “not much.” The Individual that has all these Money Makers will suffer great physical and emotional harm, not that I wallow in pride because of their pain; but just the feeling of equality. With these sufferings the Rich Man is now Equal to me because he is now feeling the pain myself and many others have endured for years and still do. The ironic thing is that the “Rich Man” will now be looking for me or one like me to give him a bush bath and some “bush medicine” to help him feel the way I currently feel and without the bush!

    All the hard work that the poor has done much to the benefit of the “rich” has brought him to eye level with me and in some cases even lower and no amount of money can replace that which he has lost, societal displacement.

    Nothing wrong with being wealthy, if the wealth was created via hard work and honesty. Wealth comes in many forms but most of those who become financially wealthy do so at the expense of others who either through ignorance or by force. Those who are wealthy with in kindness, honesty and empathy don’t worry about finances but rather the woes of his brother, sister or parents. Most “rich men” when they die nothing good is said about them, but when a poor, kind, empathetic and honest person dies a piece of those around him dies along with him.

    No pleasure is derived from an economic meltdown but but there is pleasure in being able to sleep comfortably meltdown or not; read the legacy of Badasse Sagan Marahaj for clarification of this piece.

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