Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, in an opinion piece in the New York Times of June 22, captioned, “Notes on excessive wealth disorder” noted “the problems and dangers created by extreme concentration of income and wealth at the top.” Extreme wealth disorder: just how does it harm?
Dr. Krugman advanced that, “While popular discourse has concentrated on the “1 percent,” what’s really at issue here is the role of the 0.1 percent” or the “really tiny group of people, but one that exerts huge influence over policy”. He went on to question: “Where does this influence come from? With “campaign contributions…only one channel.”
Dr. Krugman identified at least four ways in which the financial resources of the 0.1 percent distort policy priorities:
First: “Raw corruption” which is more than “simple bribery of politicians” and “it’s almost surely a much bigger deal than we like to think.” It is enormous in Guyana.
Second, “Soft corruption…which are the various ways short of direct bribery politicians, government officials, and people with policy influence of any kind stand to gain financially by promoting policies that serve the interests…of the wealthy.” A secretive, but formidable presence locally.
Third, “Campaign contributions.” And those are being handed over (solicited) right here, right now.
And fourth, “Defining the agenda… where the 0.1 percent has an extraordinary ability to set the agenda…in ways that can be sharply at odds with both a reasonable assessment of priorities and public opinion…”
Why should any of this be important or strike some degree of resonance in Guyanese? Because it can be asserted that this is exactly where matters stand in the domestic sphere. Because the extreme concentration of wealth in Guyana, A PARTICULAR KIND OF WEALTH, wreaks havoc with clean governance and, by extension, national social welfare. Undoubtedly, there is old money and blue-chip wealth influence on politics in Guyana.
But the particular kind of extreme wealth pinpointed is the bottomless, hence measureless, amounts of cash that are traceless, and which have served the money masters well. How so?
Using Dr. Krugman’s metric of 0.1%, in Guyana that is approximately the 750 individuals that wield unimaginable power behind the scenes or to take to the extreme (the 0.01% he pinpointed) the less than 100 citizens who outweigh and overpower events for their own perverse purposes.
Though buying influence to craft legislation a certain way (consultation, it is called when public; influence-peddling when underground); or to slow down implementation; or to escape sanction for breaches of watered-down legislation.
In this election climate, it is widely heard, and largely believed that the political coffers of the major political groups have been generously replenished by the individuals with untold quantities of suspect money. Campaign contributions have not been refused; even actively solicited. Gone with the wind are any anxieties about source of funds, the givers of those funds, and potential national exposures.
Dr. Krugman argues that, “What happened, essentially, was that the political…establishment internalised the preferences of the extremely wealthy.” Prioritise is the more operative word. Too often, the hard enforcements that have to be applied to the noncompliant have not happened. As an example, tax collections are over 60% in the last few years. Thus, the question: where was the political and bureaucratic will to demand same before? Word is that political interference and official taint hampered heavily. Money talks. Politicians pressure.
Another example from today is adherence to regulations now implemented. There is stalling by the money powers and reaching for political friends to slow or reverse the flow. Only the handovers made possible by excessive wealth enable that kind of access and result. As articulated earlier, the money (and wealth) dominant here contain grave repercussions for Guyana. Local political actors pretend nonchalance and ignorance, with national peril promised.
Krugman concludes that negating the priorities of the extremely monied is “a necessary step toward a healthier political system.” Good luck, Guyana!
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