SAO PAULO â€"Â Two studies published in recent months show how inequality around the world is becoming even more obscene than before.
One suchÂ studyÂ is the UBS report on the rich that focuses on capital. TheÂ figures involved are predictably shocking, but one element in particular caught our attention: The wealth owned by the ultra-rich (thoseÂ owningÂ at least $30 million in assets, who represent just 0.004% of the worldâ€™s adult population) grew by an average 6.6% every year between 1992 and 2012.
These people saw their wealth rise at a similar rate as the booming Chinese economy, despite the fact that during part of this period of time, between 2008 and 2011, mostÂ of the world was mired in a deep financial crisis.
As for the workers, on the other hand,Â John Evans, a top officialÂ on trade atÂ Paris-based OECD commented in a recent forumÂ thatÂ â€œGovernments and international institutions are not changing a business model drivesÂ profits up but still wonâ€™t provideÂ a minimum living wage of $177 a monthÂ in Cambodia or $120 in Bangladesh."
SharanÂ Burrow, the International Trade Union Confederationâ€™s General Secretary went further and said that â€œthe rule for working people isÂ uncertainty: low income, insecure jobs with little or no social protection are the reality for too many families.â€
None of this is new, of course. But it's stillÂ shocking, especially when we take a closer look at the data for Brazil.Â Despite still being generally consideredÂ a poor country, Brazil ranks tenth for the number of millionaires, higher than rich countries such as Spain or Switzerland. .
Brazil v.Â USA
What's even more obscene, that group grew faster than in any other country in the world between 2013 and 2014, except for China. In that period, the number of millionaires shot up by about 350%. For the sake of comparison, in the United States, where the concentration of rich and ultra-rich is still higher than anywhere else on Earth, that number grew by a mere 20%.
Again, weâ€™re talking about a time when the economy is largely stagnating. But as we saw with the figures published by UBS, the global economic slowdown didnâ€™t even scratch those at the top.
Unbelievably,Â there are stillÂ people in Brazil who believe that Lula da Silvaâ€™s andÂ DilmaÂ Rousseffâ€™s Workersâ€™ Party has reduced inequality.Â It hasn't.
What was reduced, if thatâ€™s actually what happened, was the wage difference among different employeesÂ â€"Â but not the difference between the rate of capital accumulation and wages.
I must confess that Iâ€™m growing tired of working on this subject, but it wouldnâ€™t be honest to just walk away from it at a time when even the â€œrich-country clubâ€ OECDÂ publishes a reportÂ damningÂ its own members. InÂ the words of John Evans:Â â€œRising income inequality is no longer just an ethical or normative issue â€" it has very tangible economic costs."
Not only does a deep wealth divide preventÂ a bonaÂ fide recovery from the crisis of the last decade, it limits opportunity for a new generation.Â In other words, steep income inequality affects not just the present, but ourÂ future.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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