For as long as society has existed there has been an unequal balance between poverty and wealth. However, the gap between the rich and the poor worldwide has never been wider than in today’s business world. The few wealthy in society live a lavish sedentary lifestyle while millions of poor individuals are forced to endure the daily realities of poverty. In the U.S which holds the highest number of billionaires, the disparity between the ultra-rich and middle class is at 50 years high. The rich one percent own 42 percent of the wealth while 0.1% of the population earn almost 200 times as the remaining 90% (Cowell, Nolan, Olivera, and Van Kerm, 2017). The share of national income captured by the wealthiest one percent has doubled since 1980 to 20%.
The portion grasped by the richest 0.01% has quadrupled especially during the Covid19 pandemic. 40 million Americans filed for unemployment and were struggling to get by on government schemes. At the same time, billionaires registered an increase of their net worth by half a trillion dollars rising their fortunes by 27 percent. This implies that half of the nation’s capital is in the hands of a few individuals. The two philosophers, Marx and Engels, have both touched upon these issues with their works, both having their own opinions.
Points for Thesis
The growing gap between the rich and the poor means that there are people who have a lot of wealth whereas others can barely sustain their livelihoods. The issue is one that has been drawing the attention of many analysts and sociologists. Many suggest that it is a worrying trend that could have serious implications on the lives of future generations. The gap keeps on getting larger as those who own the top one percent become more affluent and those on poverty extreme levels continue to succumb to hardships, lack of quality education and, access to healthcare. The rich-poor gap also acts as a breeding ground for social unrest and political instability (Buttrick and Oishi, 2017). The poor perceive the rich as a hindrance to the attainment of wealth a precursor for social anarchy. The widening gap regarding income and wealth is also helping the rich lead longer lives while cutting short the lives of the poor mainly due to the affordability of quality healthcare.
The worsening economic inequalities are influenced by a variety of factors such as racial discrimination, shifting tax policies, and capitalist government policies. Income and wealth disparities are higher in the U.S. than in most of the other countries in the developed world. However, unlike many other nations’ aspects of income disparity is based on race. Income disparities between blacks and whites have remained virtually unchanged since the 1960s where the average African American income was about 56% of a white person (Siripurapu, 2020). The government market-oriented policies tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. They include slapping more taxes on commonly used consumer products, imposing more fees on utility bills such as power and water. They also allow contractual jobs that provide measly pay and deprive workers of benefits and peg wages at low levels further widening the economic sustainability rift.
Karl Max and Fredric Engles introduced the idea of class struggle and capitalism ills. According to Karl Marx, modern society only has two classes of people which include the rich and the poor. The rich are capitalist and exploit the poor since they work for them. He believed that the poor would have to come together and revolt against the rich. Marx believes the real issue is the private ownership of the means of production. In a country where vital resources, factories, and technologies are owned by few individuals and production is governed by the policy of capital accumulation and not society needs, a capitalist crisis such as a widening gap between rich and poor will always occur. Karl Marx’s capitalist society was generally divided into two classes; bourgeoisie and proletariat.
The capitalist bourgeoisie owned and controlled the means of production while the proletariat was the working class selling their labor to the capitalist (Dallman and Leiter, 2019). There is no middle class. By controlling the means of production, the bourgeoisie limit staff’s ability to produce and obtain what they need to survive. The capitalist view labor as a mere means of production used to further financial gain; thus, in the process of profit maximization, business owners overwork the laborers for meager pay. They also own the end product and surplus value which they use for reinvestment adding to their net worth (Keeley, 2015). The capitalist maintains their position of power by using the government as an instrument of oppression and exploitation through the enactment of policies that favor them and suppression of awareness among the proletariat.
The financial institutions facilitate the bourgeoise consolidation of factors of production through exploitive debts to the proletariat and producing financial crisis ensuring unemployed rates go high thus lowering the cost of production. The capitalist aim is to acquire more resources while the working class is focused on basic survival due to continued exploitation. The exploitation and eventual upholding of economic inequality are revitalized by the proletariat’s false conscience, where they deem the capitalist as having their best interests (Menand and Menand, 2016). This notion prevented the working class from realizing their full potential as human beings, intellectually, and aesthetically. As the rich got richer, the alienated workers would develop a sense of shared identity based on the exploitation by the capitalist. The workers would thereafter unite and revolt against the capitalist thus acquiring means of production ushering in communism.
Friedrich Engels suggested that over time, the workers recognize their position and unify against the capitalists (Cowell, Nolan, Olivera, and Van Kerm, 2017). This is something that could happen in the future if the level of inequalities in society is not addressed. Inequality of income and wealth is disadvantageous for a nation’s economy since capital inputs are consolidated in a few individuals thus depressing demand. Engels was the product of the capitalist regime as his father was a factory owner. He experienced first-hand the horrors of the gap between the rich and the poor. He enjoyed the privileges of the rich dining expensively while the worker’s children were forced out of school to supplement the family income. Engels believed that the bourgeoisie would be replaced by the working class just as feudalism and aristocracy were replaced by capitalism.
Social stratification was based on control of means of production where the bourgeoise enjoyed all the leisure and the poor lived in hardship. For the equal distribution of resources to be envisioned, the poor had to seize the factors of production themselves. Engel hypothesized that the poor workers who were growing larger and more powerful would develop a sense of shared identity brought by the common exploitation by the bourgeoise (Egan, 2020). The workers would be united by enlightened leaders who fathom the class struggle therefore raise awareness to conjure up a rebellious conscious. The alienated workers would rise against the bourgeoisie and seize control of the factors of production in a bid to control the spiraling gap between the rich and the poor.
As we can see today with the “Black Lives Matter” movement people are willing to band together to “protest” for what they believe in. The primary cause of most political unrest worldwide is the soaring inequality regarding wealth and income. People around the world are anxious for change driven by the sharp divisions between the rich and poor. In Latin America, countries such as Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina have been rocked with protests against the government austerity measures which raise the cost of living for the working class (Power, 2018). In Chile, the widening wealth gap has led to protests catalyzed by the increase in fares. Chile one of the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for prosperous nations (OECD) has the highest levels of inequality where the economy is dominated by rich oligarchs. However, working Chileans grapple with meager wages, paltry pensions, and increased utility costs.
In Lebanon, where the top 1% of the population control over 25% of the national income, protesters argue that the country’s elite should foot the increasing country’s bill instead of the working class. The protests were ignited by a tiny tax on WhatsApp app calls. In Iran and Ecuador, protests were escalated due to slashed fuel subsidies. In the U.S, the constant push for tax cuts and weakened union bargaining rights has sharply increased income inequality led to protests as the workers preached fairness in wages. Worldwide, people have been fed up with the cost of living that protects the rich and penalizes the poor.
The widening gap between the rich and the poor, a product of capitalism relentlessly worsens economic inequalities. The disparity in wealth has been an ongoing issue that continues to be a problem throughout modern society. According to Marx and Engels, the issue is only reversed when masses of poor working-class revolt against it. The philosophers Marx and Engels believed that for change to occur the people must come together and fight against the big corporations. In 2011, when the U.S was reeling from the effects of the financial crisis in 2008, the alienated working class began the Occupy Wall Street movement aimed at raising the issue of economic inequality. The 1% of the population had amassed huge wealth at the expense of the 99% most of whom went bankrupt during the global financial crisis. In 2013, workers arranged walkouts in support of a higher minimum wage. This growing trend of dissatisfaction among the poor majority shows signs of an era of exploitation as the workers join to demand equitability in economic benefits.
Buttrick, N. R., & Oishi, S. (2017). The psychological consequences of income inequality. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(3), e12304.
Cowell, F., Nolan, B., Olivera, J., & Van Kerm, P. (2017). Wealth, top incomes, and inequality. National wealth: What is missing, why it matters, 175-204.
Dallman, L., & Leiter, B. (2019). Marx and Marxism. The Routledge Handbook of Relativism.
Egan, D. (2020). Friedrich Engels and the Strategy of “Siege Warfare”. International Critical Thought, 1-16.
Keeley, B. (2015). Income Inequality. Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Menand, L., & Menand, L. (2016). Karl Marx, yesterday and today. The New Yorker, 10.
Power, S. A. (2018). The Deprivation-Protest Paradox. Current Anthropology, 59(6), 765.
Siripurapu, A. (2020). The U.S. Inequality Debate. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-inequality-debate
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