Socioeconomic inequities have been discussed in this book a great deal, but exactly how wealthy the wealthiest few are and how poor the poorest masses are has not, and the numbers are obscene. The richest people in the world are mostly Americans in positions of massive corporate or political power or both. The most lucrative companies in the world are almost all American companies. They are glorified as the “Fortune 500” in Fortune Magazine and other capitalist media. The most lucrative corporation on Earth in 2009 was Walmart (see chart below) which banked $421 billion in 2010 and $466.1 billion dollars in 2012.1 They make most of their money by outsourcing. Just about everything sold in Walmart is made outside of America. 70% of their products are exported from China and Walmart’s imports from China have contributed to America’s trade deficit with the state.
Walmart’s revenue in 2010 was about equal to the combined GDP of 41 of Africa’s 53 countries. If Walmart’s 2016 revenue ($485.87 billion) was distributed evenly among its 2.3 million employees in 2016, each employee would have received $211,247.82, yet most are paid the federal minimum wage of just $7.25 per hour. (Undocumented workers in America and abroad hired by Walmart are often paid even less.) The paycheck for a forty hour work week at that wage is $290 per week. The annual salary at that wage (without vacations) is $15,080 before taxes.
Christy Walton, the widow of John T. Walton, son of the founder of Walmart (Sam Walton) was the richest woman in the world in 2011 with a net worth of $26.5 billion. Jim Walton, another son of Sam Walton was worth $21.3 billion that year. Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton, was worth $21.2 billion. (She also killed someone with her car and never served jail time because money affords freedom.) S. Robson Walton, the eldest son of Sam Walton and chairman of Walmart was worth $21 billion. Collectively, the Walton’s have more than enough money to end world hunger.
Top 10 Grossing Corporations in 2016:
|4||China Natural Petroleum||$262,573,000,000.00|
|7||Royal Dutch Shell||$240,033,000,000.00|
The Fortune “Global 500″ ranks the most profitable corporations in the world. Many of the companies on the 2016 list were not surprisingly headquartered in America, but there were more collectively in Europe. However, according to IMF data, the European Union had a nominal GDP of €16.5 trillion in 2016 while America had a GDP of $18.57 trillion, and America remains the far more dominant economic and military empire. (Factoring in the average 2016 exchange rate for USD to Euros, the European Union’s GDP that year was equal to about $18.315 trillion USD.) Royal Dutch Shell headquartered in the Netherlands and ranked 7th in 2016 as above had 93,000 employees that year and is planning on drilling for oil in Artic (because melting it just isn’t enough apparently). They expect the Artic to be the largest source of crude oil for the next few decades, and they may be unless we stop them. They had revenue of $484.489 billion in 2012 while Exxon Mobil’s revenue was $452.926 billion.2 Oil companies consistently make the list of the top ten grossing corporations in the world as oil and gas is currently the most profitable industry in the world.
In 2012 132 of the Global Fortune 500 companies were headquartered in the US. 73 were headquartered in China and 68 in Japan. Some corporations in China and Japan surpassed many of America’s in 2012. Toyota, Japan’s most profitable corporation, had the tenth highest revenue in the world. Sinopec Group, a state-owned Chinese oil company had the fifth highest revenue of $375.338 million, and China Natural Petroleum had the sixth highest. Sinopec was the highest grossing oil company in the world in 2015. Out of the ten corporations in the world with the highest revenues in 2012, six were oil companies. Walmart was the only corporation not related to energy, although Walmart uses tremendous amounts of energy and its carbon footprint was 22 million metric tons of C02 in 2012, excluding emissions from “international shipping, land development, store construction, and manufacturing of store-brand products.”3 Further, only 4% of their energy came from renewable sources that year.
The rest of the global Fortune 500 companies of 2012 were scattered mostly throughout Europe. Russia had a seven. Its most profitable corporation was Gazprom, of which the Russian government owns 50.01%. South America had several, but its most profitable was Petrobras, another oil company headquartered in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, which has had a monopoly on gas products in the region for decades. Australia had nine of the global fortune 500 companies in 2012. BHP Billton, a petroleum and mining corporation, was the most profitable among them with a revenue of $71.139 billion. Its major management office is in London and it is traded on the London Stock exchange. Africa had none of the fortune 500 companies in 2012.
The combined revenue of all the global fortune 500 companies in 2010 was $22.5 trillion, which was more than one third of world’s $62 trillion dollar GDP that year. It was also more than double the combined GDP of Africa, South East Asia, and South America. Further, Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent on Earth, yet its GDP was only 2.3% of the world’s GDP in 2010.
3.8 The Stock Exchange: A Crooked Casino
Much of the wealth the richest of the rich lay claim to originates from the stock market. The stock exchange is truly the world’s largest casino but the corporate media, corporations more broadly, and politicians attempt to legitimize it, so it is widely regarded as a respected, legitimate institution, despite the fact that it produces nothing but debt for the poor and wealth for the few. The stock market also exemplifies their ideology on money. The richest few treat money like a toy, and the stock exchange is just their card game. But they pull the strings of the world’s economy, so many only appear to be betting. Stocks, bonds, derivatives, loans, and liens are essentially ways to bet on intangible and even nonexistent assets in some cases.
In the case of loans and liens, banks bet that the borrower will be able to pay back the money loaned. But it’s a bet with a guaranteed return because banks often profit even more if borrowers are not able to pay them back as their debt will accrue interest and their assets (like their homes) can be seized, forcing them into homelessness and sometimes life-long debt and poverty. This is all the more lucrative when done on an international scale. When individuals who want to take advantage of institutions that provide insurance, these companies and funds that are supposed to act as economic safeguards and prevent economic collapse can also go bankrupt and affect many other industries.
Buying a share of a stock is much like making a bet in a casino. It is a bet or a calculated estimate of the future decisions of other shareholders and future shareholders. Individuals invest in a stock if they believe the company will be financially successful and more shares will be bought than sold. But everyday investors are often at a disadvantage since they do not know everything CEOs know about their companies, nor do they have much say over what the company does. CEOs can predict economic trends best because they and their circles of rich friends affect these trends the most with their own financial decisions.
A stock is an equity stake of a corporation. A company’s stock is divided into shares and each share represents a piece of ownership of that company. Only majority shareholders can make decisions about the future of the company and they are the usually the managers of the companies themselves. When a company files for bankruptcy (chapter 11), its stock will be worth whatever is left over when it pays offs its creditors and all of its debt claims. Most of the actual money flows to the largest shareholders and if they file for bankruptcy creditors are paid in order of their seniority. Shareholders are the last to be paid after unsecured creditors and holders of “preferred stock.”4 Shareholders receive nothing if creditors are not paid in full.
Aside from typical stocks, there are also many other complex financial instruments like derivatives that mostly benefit large shareholders and the already wealthy. There are many kinds of derivative transactions like options, collars, floors, caps, futures, debt obligations, and interest rate derivatives. (In June 2009, the Bank for International Settlements estimated that the notional value of all OTC interest rate contracts was $437 trillion and the combined notional value of all interest rate swaps was $342 trillion. Both figures are far beyond the entire world’s entire GDP.) They are all just contracts and their value is determined by the performance of underlying market factors like currencies, debt, and market securities.
Stock options give the parties involved the ability to buy or sell an asset or financial instrument at a specified price or before a specified date. Usually, this is not an obligation, but an available choice. An option that gives one the ability to buy an asset is called a “call” and the opposite is called a “put.” Some of these transactions are done “OTC” or “off-exchange,” which means they are private exchanges that do not take place at exchange trading facilities. Like OTC medicine, OTC trading is not subject to authority. These exchanges do not incur the same fees and taxes that traditional exchange trading does, and they can allow for more freedom, as well as exploitation.
Wall Street likes to use secret jargon to disguise what the stock exchange does and its value. But they are all just greedy gamblers. They bet on money being traded, not being traded, loans defaulting, future prices, and bets on bets on bets that become so abstract they lose all real meaning. The ultimate goal becomes to confuse and deceive. When one man’s loss is another’s gain (also called a zero-sum equation) as in the stock market, this is likely to happen.
Even with all of this virtual wealth floating around, every officially recognized country in the world is in debt because large banks, other transnational corporations, large governments, and the financial institutions that print the money decide how much money and debt should exist. America and the European Union have the most debt, but paradoxically they are also the world’s wealthiest regions. Part of the reason they are so wealthy is because they can “borrow” money without any intention of paying it back and not have to worry about any negative consequences due to their military superiority. Both had about $16 trillion in debt in 2013 while their GDP was about the same. China and India both have more than one trillion in public debt according Economist Intelligence Unit data from 2012.
The largest empires and their proxy governments that once openly controlled “weaker” territories with force are most in debt. In 2011 Australia was about $395 billion in debt and Austria was $300 billion in debt. That same year the world debt was about $50 trillion, equivalent to five-sevenths of the 2011 global $70 trillion dollar GDP.5
No empire wants to pursue the largest financial crimes and imprison the richest people in the world because they would be jailing themselves. As stated, the owners of the system benefit the most from current economies worldwide. The rulers of the largest corporations, governments, and even religions have the most impact on major world trends, changes in global economies, and social movements. Therefore, they often have the best ability to predict them, which gives them a significant advantage in the stock exchange and with trading of all kinds. However, this system can be used against them. If individuals who have little capital or power can predict the future better than these rulers can, then they can bankrupt the stock market and spread the wealth. This can be done by organizing and containing information about stocks and shareholder plans among those committed to this cause. But we ought to be mindful about what we want to bet on. Foreclosures, inherited debt, environmental destruction, bankruptcies, and even deaths often benefit certain investors because there are people willing to make bets on them. Investors can also bet that the value of a country’s currency will decrease if an oil spill occurs or a large portion of the population dies from disease or violence. In a system that is purely for-profit, any outcome can be profited from, no matter how negative. These are often seen as “inevitable externalities” that are of little concern to the rulers of these institutions.
Even when a country’s currency becomes more valuable very fast, this can be due to negative externalities. Of course, economic growth can be the product of moral business practices, sustainability, efficiency, collaboration, new ideas, and the employment of underemployed or unemployed people, but unfortunately it is usually not. Growth is mostly achieved through policies of low wages, long hours, poor working conditions, environmental destruction, extraction of natural resources, prison labor, and slave labor. Efforts are also made to increase the working population (regardless of age or handicap) and to stress the importance of “good work ethic” in order to increase profits for the rich at the cost of our welfare. All of this decreases the costs of operations for corporations and increases demand for their exports, which increases the value of their currency in the global marketplace. (Most transactions between countries involve money, not barter.) A large discovery of a natural resource like oil or precious metals can also substantially increase the value of a country’s currency. Most countries likely to experience an economic boom within the next 10 years like South Africa, Japan, China, Brazil, India and others will grow at the expense of their working class citizens and their natural environments. The rich will benefit most while the rest of us will suffer.
The US economy only affords a select few great wealth because tycoons of industry make their money via inequitable transactions. Many of the products most Americans use every day are made by slaves, children, vastly underpaid workers, prisoners, and indentured servants. Workers are easy to exploit where there is massive economic disparity, people have little means to defend themselves, and there is no oversight. America is home to the richest people on Earth only because the corporate state robs the rest of the world (and common hard-working Americans). The United States is becoming a larger exporter as the prison labor industry expands. But its trade tariffs (import and export taxes) remain low, which means it cheaply exports products and cheaply imports them, giving it an advantage both in terms of exports and imports.
Most currency exchanges in the world involve Euros, British pounds, or US notes and most currencies are worth far less than these three. For example, in 2013 one central African Franc (one “dollar” in Africa) was worth about two tenths of one American cent or $0.0022.6 One Afghani dollar was worth about two American cents and a flight from Kabul, Afghanistan to New York City costs about $1300-2500 USD or 65000-125,000 Afghani dollars.7 A flight from the Congo to France costs about $5,000 or about 2.2 million Central African Francs, so it is not as if leaving is an easy option for common people in these countries and improving their own conditions is an even more difficult process. In the slightly wealthier country of South Africa, a plane ticket from Johannesburg to France costs about $1,200 or 8182 African Rands8
It is necessary to rid the world of fiat currencies. They only uphold the power of corporate states, favor the already wealthy, and ensure the impoverished stay poor. People generally need some money to make money (unless panhandling), so homeless, impoverished people often cannot find a way out. But resources can be traded directly and ought to be as they are truly valuable unlike fiat currency. Fiat currency is merely representative of true value. It is common sense to value real-world resources like clean air, potable water, organic, sustainably grown food, biodiversity, and land over paper representing that value, and a resource based economy without fiat currency could lead to that change in values. A social currency could also be implemented wherein we accrue informal debts and credits decided among ourselves for individual exchanges of products, resources, and services. We do not need fiat currency and it is, in fact, one of the most destructive inventions of humankind.
3.9 The Poorest of the Poor, Their Health, and Spending on Social Services Versus Military Spending
What is most disturbing about the richest corporations and people who hoard their wealth is that while they spend billions on resources, products, and services they don’t need, the majority of the world does not have enough money to eat. More than three billion people (almost half of the world’s population) live on less than $2.50 (US dollars) a day, and about half of them are children.9 80 percent of the world lives on less than $10 a day, and 40 percent of the world receives just five percent of the world’s income while the richest 20% make three-fourths of the world’s total income. In 2013 the richest 10 percent in America held 76% of all family wealth in America according the Congressional Budget Office.10
Poverty is by far the most common cause of death, disease, and general poor quality of life. (This is not to say money equals happiness by any means. The financial rulers and richest of the rich simply deprive common people of essential resources and services by privatizing everything to increase their own wealth. Money, if anything, is the root of most of the evil in the world.) Most people who live in the poorest countries live substantially shorter lives than the rest of us. According to World Health Organization reports of 2011, only one percent of the people who died in high income countries were 0-14 years old. 28% were 15-69 years old and a massive 71% were over 70 years old. In middle income countries, however, 15% of the people who died were 0-14 years old, 45% were 15-69 years old and only 40% were over 70 years old. The statistics from low-income countries that year were even worse. 40% of the people who died in low income countries were 0-14 years old, 43% were 15-69, and a mere 17% were over 70 years of age.11
Most of the deaths that occur in middle and low-income countries are easily preventable, and many are caused by starvation, dehydration, and diseases that scientists found cures for long ago. The etiologies of these problems are unsanitary, unhealthy, or insufficient food and water, living conditions, anthropogenic climate disruption, and insufficient or inadequate medical care and medicine. Government subsidized tobacco and alcohol consumption is also a large contributor. According to the National Association for the Prevention of Starvation, on average about 34,000 children younger than five die every day from starvation.12 According to a UN report of 2007, about 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are stunted or underweight.13
While this is not a pleasant topic to read about, it is an important one because understanding the most common causes of death can help us prevent them and save lives. The WHO reported the leading cause of death in low-income countries in 2008 was lower respiratory infections like pneumonia, bronchitis, and lung abscesses. 1.05 million died from lower respiratory infection in 2008. These infections are caused primarily by polluting industries and tobacco use. 760,000 died from diarrheal diseases and HIV/AIDS killed 0.72 million in 2008. Diarrheal diseases are mostly caused by drinking contaminated water. But they can also be caused by eating contaminated food, unsanitary removal of human waste, and poor personal hygiene. The most common way that people develop these diseases is by drinking water that is contaminated with human waste. Many very poor, populated regions don’t have compost toilets, sewer systems, water treatment plants, or even running, potable water, which is why these diseases are common there. Diarrhea can be caused by over 100 different bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, and some are present in waste. The most deadly of the diarrheal diseases are cholera, bacterial dysentery, and typhoid. Hepatitis and gastroenteritis can also develop from the ingestion of water contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria. Only individuals in low-income countries die of these diseases in large numbers because richer countries have cleaner waterways and access to potable water and food.
Diarrhea can kill us because it depletes the body of water and electrolytes like sodium, which can cause severe dehydration. If the body loses 10% or more of its fluids, death can occur. When those with diarrheal disease need to re-hydrate, if they only have access to contaminated water, drinking more of it will only cause them to lose their bodily fluids faster, making death more imminent. It may be one of the most unpleasant ways to die, and sadly, it kills mostly children.
Pharmaceuticals also contaminate many waterways, and some have major side effects. Water has also been contaminated with herbicides, oil, dioxins, chlorine, fluoride (often used to kill pathogens in water), and sulfuric and nitric acids from acid leeching and acid rain. Excess heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium also contaminate some drinking water. Botulinum toxin has been found in municipal drinking water, consumption of which can lead to botulism. Excess nitrates, phosphorous, and many other elements and chemicals can also contaminate drinking water, but nearly everything in excess can be lethal. Chlorine is used in very small concentrations in most municipal water systems in the world. But if too much was used it would be lethal. (Even consumption of small amounts may have as of yet unknown long-term consequences.) Consumption of water high in nitrates reduces the amount of oxygen carried to the brain, and it can cause the “blue baby syndrome” in infants less than six months old. Consumption of water with moderate levels of nitrates also increases the risk of developing insulin-dependent diabetes.
Not all solutes in water are undesirable, however. Electrolytes, glucose, and other simple sugars are needed in small quantities in water for muscle, myocardial, and brain function, specifically for oxygen delivery, osmosis, and maintenance of healthy blood pressure. However, excess solutes including electrolytes can be fatal.
The body requires a healthy electrolyte balance inside and outside of cells. Intracellular fluid or cytosol is body fluid inside of cells and extracellular fluid is found outside of cells. Extracellular fluid is made up of interstitial fluid, blood plasma, and a small percentage of transcellular fluid. Excess water dilutes the body’s salt balance through frequent urination and kidney filtration. The result can be kidney failure, brain damage, hemorrhage, and death. Salt water is not consumable without being desalinated because large amounts will cause hypernatremia, an excess of sodium in the blood, and this condition can also be lethal.
Pollutants are the result of the mismanagement of our fresh water, waste, and other resources and they are often worse in the poorest of countries. “Raw wastewater is 99.9% water to 0.01% waste.”14 This ratio tells us we are wasting huge amounts of fresh water. To conserve fresh water we must cut our consumption and waste of water. We also have to mix as little fresh water with waste as possible. Replacing sewer systems with compost toilets would be a great start to this end. In 2014 in America alone “41,266 rivers, lakes and estuaries [did] not [meet] the recommended water quality standards and this excludes more than 60% of the US waters that have not been assessed at all.”15
Potable water deficiencies are not caused by a scarcity of fresh water on Earth. Rather, the world has more fresh water than we need, but it is that is not distributed based on need. It is treated like another other commodity and not a right by corporations like Nestle that make billions by privatizing water, extracting it for six to eleven cents per bottle, and selling it for 1900 times the cost of tap water)16. Chairman and former CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck, infamously said in the 2005 documentary, We Feed the World, he doesn’t think water is a human right and that “water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value.” In 2006 alone Brabeck made approximately 14 million Swiss francs. Food is treated this way by the plutocratic parasites of the world like Brabeck as well and as a result sadly billions have died from malnutrition, dehydration, and dilutional hyponatremia, a condition caused by insufficient sodium in blood plasma. Meanwhile, these corporations pollute fresh bodies of water, soil, and food with their poison, making survival even more difficult for all of life.
According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion lack access to safe sanitation services, out of whom 2.3 billion have no sanitation services at all.17 According to Environmental Science, annually “more than 1.8 million deaths are traced to waterborne diseases (mostly in children under five).” Water has been privatized by governments so large corporations and states have become many people’s only source of water and if we don’t have the money for it, we can die. This has happened in Guatemala and many South American countries as mentioned.
Water may be the most important, life-giving resource that exists, but because it is treated like a commodity like food, it is distributed to the highest bidders rather than those who need it most. Ninety percent of the world’s food comes from land-based agricultural systems, and we use 70% of our water on crops while we drink only 10%. Most food that is grown is fed to livestock because the meat industry is so profitable, even though this food could feed starving people. Much of our fresh water also goes to grow lawns and other turf for aesthetic purposes. It is then cut and often not composted and instead hauled off to a landfill, taking those nutrients out of the life cycle of plants for the foreseeable future. This is all absolutely mindless.
Groundwater is not established as public property by US laws, so large corporations like Nestle can buy state, federal, and private land with aquifers, deplete the groundwater, sell the property back, and suffer none of the ecological consequences of draining them. Aquifers take time to recharge, and if they are pumped too rapidly, the underground ecosystem can be destroyed and the land can become eroded, resulting in less biological diversity above ground. In Maine the law of “absolute dominion” applies, which dates back to middle ages, and it gives actors with the “biggest pumps” the ability to extract as much water as they please as long as they have legal access to the land.
Nestle made $3.6 billion from the sale of bottled water in 2008 alone and Americans bought more than 29 billion bottles of water the year before. Nestle has taken much of its water from the US. Fyreburg, Maine, for example, was without water for 1 ½ days and residents there were forced to rely on one well because of the Fryeburg Water Company’s overexploitation of the town’s aquifer. (The fire department had to bring water to a local nursing home to prevent the deaths of its residents.)The company sells most of its water to Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestle for a substantial profit. Nestle has also extracted water from aquifers in Arkansas River Valley AR, Chafee County CO, California, Michigan and many other states, resulting in large protests over water rights.
Financially poor, hot, and arid countries have the worst water problems by far. Despite the problems mentioned, the US has more clean water than most other countries. In fact, 92% of America’s water that has been tested (again 60% hasn’t been tested) meets the drinking water standards while 70% of Somalia’s population lacks access to clean water.18 Legislation in America on clean water has made large improvements and other countries would benefit from similar legislation so long as governments continue to exist. (Destruction of the parasitical corporate state would always be better, however.) According to Environmental Science, “Although 40% of rivers are still unsafe to swim in, this is an improvement on the 70% of rivers that were unsafe when the Clean Water Act was first implemented 25 years ago. Many individual rivers and bays are now much cleaner than in the past: examples include Long Island Sound, Tampa Bay, Galveston Bay, and San Francisco Bay.” However, the US and the most of the rest of the world is far behind on laws on fracking, which pollutes groundwater and ought to be criminalized so long as governments exist.
Ischemic heart disease (IHD) killed 570,000 people in low-income countries in 2008.19 IHD reduces blood flow to the heart through the buildup of plaque, cholesterol, and other obstructions. Poor diet, smoking, and drinking are the most common causes, and it is a much more common cause of death in middle and high-income countries.
The numbers were worse for low-income countries in 2004. That year 2.94 million people died because of lower respiratory infection in these countries and 2.47 million died because of coronary heart disease. Both of these diseases cause far fewer deaths in middle and high income countries. 1.81 million people died from diarrheal diseases in low-income countries and 1.51 million died from HIV/AIDS in 2004.20
HIV and AIDS are largely seen as African problems because they mostly affect Africa, but HIV and AIDS are actually serious problems in America as well that affect a disproportionate number of poor individuals and minorities. America is home to the most AIDS victims of all industrialized countries, despite the fact that it is the richest country in the world. There are over one million people with AIDs in America, but far fewer people die from it in America than in Africa because the treatment here is relatively better. In 2009 17,000 people died from AIDS in America21 while about 1.4 million died from AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa that year.
The 2011 US federal budget request for AIDS treatment in America was $20.4 billion. 69% of this money was allocated for care, 14% for research, 13% for housing assistance, and 4% for prevention. The US budget allocated to AIDS prevention and treatment in Africa was far lower, even though an estimated 22.5 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa have HIV, which is around two-thirds of the global total. If AIDS became an epidemic in America as it is in Africa, there would be much more media coverage on the condition and far more money allocated for treatment, but borderlines, the greed of pharmaceutical companies, for-profit hospitals, and politicians are the cause for the differences in treatment.
HIV prevention is most important in Africa. Free contraceptives, spermicides, sex education, regular blood tests, and well-trained doctors in reproductive health care would be most helpful. Many people in Africa with HIV and AIDS do not know they are infected, because there are far too few clinics that provide free testing. (HIV tests can also produce negative results, even when blood is positive for HIV within the first six months after transmission.) Some who know they are infected don’t tell their sexual partners, and this further spreads the disease. Religious taboos, rape, (which is widespread in many conflict-ravaged regions of Africa) and a lack of reporting about all of these issues also contributes to these conditions.
More clinics need to be established in Africa and more doctors must volunteer to alleviate the problem. Classes on rape prevention and self-defense, along with support groups for victims would also be very helpful. Everyone with HIV or AIDS at the very least should know they are infected to prevent these conditions from spreading and so that they can treat themselves. While there is no known cure for either, antiretroviral drugs can slow the progress of the diseases and prevent them from spreading.
HIV and AIDS are spread mostly through vaginal and anal sex. They cannot be transmitted through saliva but they can be spread by blood when infected needles are shared. Infected mothers can also transmit the infection to their newborns, and 70,000 infants are born with HIV every year.
Antiretroviral drugs can be used to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but it is best to avoid having your own children if you are infected with HIV or AIDS. There are, however, many orphaned children around the world who could benefit from supportive and loving foster parents. For soon-to-be mothers with the infection, the WHO recommends taking the antiretroviral drug Zidovudine 28 weeks after becoming pregnant and taking Nevirapine during labor to prevent transmission. They also recommend taking Zidovudine and Lamivudine one week after the birth and administering a single dose of Nevirapine to the baby immediately after birth and Zidovudine daily for one week after birth. (This is not an endorsement of these drugs.)
HIV and AIDS can also be transmitted through breast milk, so mothers with the infection should not breastfeed, but instead use formula or breast milk from a healthy donor. (The latter is the healthier option.) Caesarean sections can also be performed on soon-to-be mothers with HIV or AIDs to reduce the chance of transmission. But cesarean sections are costly and they can be very dangerous without the proper medical equipment, trained doctors, and a sterile environment. Maternal mortality rates are already high in many parts of Africa and other poor regions, so cesarean sections can add to the danger. Sierra Leone has had the worst maternal mortality rates in the world for decades. In 1994 and 1995 the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone was 2900 per 100,000 births22. It has since dropped to 1560 per 100,000 births in 2015 but remains the worst in the world. It also has the world’s highest infant mortality rate of 83.3 per 1000 births in 2016.23 (In 1960 it was a staggering 222 per 1000 births. Afghanistan’s rate was even worse that year at 245.7 per 1000 births.) Africa’s Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, and South Sudan have had the next worst maternal mortality rates in the world. Afghanistan also makes the list of the top ten worst but has improved considerably since 1990. In 2015 the United States only had 14 maternal deaths and Canada had 7 per 100,000 births. Most rich, semi-socialist European countries have even lower infant mortality rates (Iceland and Finland had 3 per 100,000 in 2015) because many of them have better healthcare systems and healthier lifestyles.
Stroke and cardiovascular diseases caused 1.48 million deaths in low income countries in 2004. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) killed 940,000 and tuberculosis killed 910,000 that year in low income countries. Many of these deaths are also caused by tobacco-related illness, poor diet, or both. In low income countries, neonatal infections were responsible for 900,000 deaths that year; malaria was responsible for 860,000 deaths, and prematurity and low birth-weight were responsible for 840,000 deaths. These are all easily preventable maladies and they almost never occur in middle income and high income countries.
Malaria is a disease almost no one dies from in rich countries because it is extremely easy to prevent and treat. It is mostly transmitted through mosquito bites and mosquito nets cost just a few dollars. Preventing it worldwide would not cost much. Doing so could save millions of lives. However, these diseases are not just caused by the deficiency of preventative measures, medicine, and medical care; they are also caused by the lack of good schools and scientific information in most regions of the world. Almost one billion people (2/3 of whom were female) in the year 2000 were unable to read or write their names24, yet it was reported in 1997 that less than one percent of what the world spends on weapons could have provided education for every child in the world by the year 2000.25 Females are usually even more widely restricted access to education in misogynist societies because rulers know they will have more difficulty helping themselves if they do not know how. Every marginalized group is restricted access to education for the same reason.
Although this is all very sobering, preventing deaths from starvation, unclean water, dehydration, and the widespread absence of education and information would cost only a fraction of what rich countries spend on things they do not need. Rich people do not have to become peasants for there to be greater equality. There are more than enough resources for everyone on the planet, but they are not distributed by need because the richest, parasitical people on the planet care more about money than they do about life on Earth, and they try to convince us to do the same.
According to the UN Human Development Report of 1998, in 1997 America and Europe spent $17 billion on pet food and $12 billion on perfume. The US alone spent $8 billion on cosmetics, Europe spent $11 billion on ice cream, Japan spent $35 billion on business entertainment, Europe spent $50 billion on cigarettes, and the world spent $400 billion on narcotics. Meanwhile, a mere $13 billion (in addition to what is already spent) would have provided basic health and nutrition for the entire developing portion of the world.26 (Human beings are actually easier to feed than cattle and other livestock because we can grow our own food.) Further, education for all would have cost a mere $6 billion more, water and sanitation for all would have cost $9 billion more, and reproductive health care for women worldwide would have cost $12 billion more than what was spent already. Collectively, they would have cost a mere $40 billion more dollars than what was spent. In contrast global military spending in 1997 was $780 billion, which is about 20 times more than what these basic lifesaving resources and services would have cost in addition.
It’s not just weapons that governments spend absurd amounts of taxpayer money on either. For example, in 1982 the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) revealed that the US military was buying screws from McDonnell Douglas (which merged with Boeing in 1997) for $37 a piece, $7,622 coffee makers, and $640 toilet seats made by Lockheed for military airplanes. The November 2000 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) entitled “Defense Acquisitions: Price Trends for Defense Logistics Agency’s Weapon System Parts” revealed that self-locking nuts were being bought by the military for $2,185 each! This is a part that generally costs under a dollar in a hardware store. Two former executives of another large defense contractor, Litton Industries (before it was bought by Northrop Grumman) were accused of defrauding the government out of $6.3 million on military contracts in 1986. According to the U.S. attorney, the company “grossly inflated prices intentionally” on 45 contracts from 1975 to 1984. In the early 1980s, current Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, (a mostly horrible human being for his other political positions, especially on abortion and cannabis) with a group of advocates for reform of the DoD revealed the military was buying $750 toilet seats, $695 ashtrays, and $6000 arm rests for Air Force planes. The military has also bought $214 flashlights from Grimes Manufacturing, $748 pairs of Boeing duckbill pliers, $437 tape measures, $435 hammers, and $265 sets of screwdrivers all from Gould Simulation Systems.
The US military also spent $2.7 billion on its Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, a fancy name for two unmanned blimps, one of which eventually became untethered and took out a power-line, resulting in a power outage that affected 35,000 Americans. According to a 2011 report by the Inspector General of the DoD entitled “Excess Inventory and Contract Pricing Problems Jeopardize the Army Contract with Boeing to Support the Corpus Christi Army Depot” the DoD EMALL (electronic mall) stated that for “a straight pin, a DLA [Defense Logistics Agency] annual consumption was 603 and the DLA had 37,352 on hand at a standard unit price of $0.04, while the 202 CCAD/Boeing contract requirement was 3 pins at a unit price of $71.01 or a 177,475 percent difference [increase]”.27
Prices of military products have only skyrocketed even further since. For example, according to the Pentagon based on calculations made by the Cost Assessment Program Evaluation (CAPE) office the total cost to develop, buy, and operate the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet will be $1.51 trillion over the next 50-plus years, including operational and maintenance costs alone of $1.11 trillion, development and procurement costs of $332 billion for the aircrafts, and $63.8 billion for the engines.28 It is time our values start to reflect our reality and our expenditures. The collective contribution of every government in the world to international aid is a mere fraction of US military spending alone.
Adding to the health problems of the world’s poor is the fact that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not have price controls on pharmaceuticals, which allows big pharmaceutical companies to charge unconscionable sums for their drugs. For example, when Turing Pharmaceuticals received its license for the anti-parasitic drug, Daraprim, its former CEO, Martin Shkreli, raised the price by 5556 percent from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet, resulting in untold deaths. Similarly, Mylan increased the price of lifesaving EpiPens by 500 percent in 2016. From December 2014 to January 2016, Novacort’s price was increased by nearly 3000%, and the price of Alcortin A was increased by nearly 2000%. In fact, in a survey of 3000 brand name prescription drugs, it was discovered prices have more than doubled for 60 of them and quadrupled for at least 20 since December of 2014. As Noam Chomsky puts it, the US health care system “per capita costs twice as [much] as comparable societies and [has] some of the worst outcomes.” Part of the reason for this is that many medications address the symptoms as opposed to the cause of these symptoms, these drugs have side-effects, for which more drugs are prescribed, and many are over-prescribed (particularly psychiatric medications) as large pharmaceutical companies offer doctors and psychiatrists financial incentives to do so. Other causes include the prevalence of fast food in the country, the glorification of unhealthy lifestyles and obesity (“fat pride”, etc.), products that accommodate overweight people like motorized scooters, and the greed of large, for-profit hospitals and insurance companies.
According to socialsecurityworks.org“Americans pay the highest price in the world for prescription drugs―over 40% more than Canada and often three times that of many European countries. [The manufacturer of Xtandi, a prostate cancer medication produced with US tax dollars, costs Americans $129,000 per year while Canadians pay $30,000 for the same drug.] Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. residents―35 million people―do not fill a prescription each year because they cannot afford it” and yet “In 2015, the five largest drug corporations raked in more than $50 billion in profits.” Price controls should be implemented via people and nonprofits, not governments as they cannot be trusted to do really anything, except exploit the Earth and life on it. Even better than price controls, however, would be free medicine. Medicine and medical care could be made available to everyone by establishing community, nonprofit health centers wherein patients contribute what they can (not necessarily money but products and services too) on a regular basis in exchange for medical care when its needed. However, large insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, and owners of large hospitals prevent this from becoming a reality.
US antitrust laws are another problem that exacerbate the health problems of the poor. Antitrust laws are federal and state government laws, which regulate corporations to promote fair competition in the marketplace. They can prevent monopolies from forming and benefit consumers. However, antitrust laws as they are currently written affect physicians much differently. They essentially make cooperation within the medical community nearly impossible by making it illegal for physicians to discuss how much money they make. Of course, there is much more to cooperation than merely discussing pricing, but this is significant because this lack of transparency surrounding doctor’s wages allows insurance companies to pay certain doctors different amounts for doing the same procedures. This defeats the entire purpose of antitrust law as it has allowed monopolies to form out of the insurance industry. In a similar way, insurance companies can also dictate the fates of patients by deciding how much to cover and what not to cover at all. So long as governments exist, antitrust laws have to be rewritten to apply to predatory, large pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and large hospitals, as opposed to physicians. Although countries like Sweden still operate within a capitalist marketplace, they have excellent healthcare, and health care costs are actually lower there too. The cost of providing health care to everyone in Sweden is just about 9% of their GDP.
While the Affordable Healthcare Act has provided more individuals with health insurance, required insurance companies to insure customers regardless of preexisting conditions, and allowed young adults and children to stay on their parent’s health plans until they reach 27 years of age, it doesn’t insure everyone, and it doesn’t establish healthcare as a right, which is most important. The Act establishes insurance as a right, which essentially means we have the right to file claims, wait unreasonable amounts of time, suffer complications from our worsening conditions, and eventually (most likely) have our claims denied.
Owners of large, for-profit hospitals and insurance companies just care about money, for the most part, and this is the major reason health care is a disaster in America. Large insurance companies (of all kinds) don’t want to pay when someone files a legitimate claim. They along with the owners of large for-profit hospitals also don’t want to pay doctors for doing hard work, so doctors often struggle to provide good, timely care and many patients struggle to get it. Some noble doctors provide free care out of compassion, but people still die in this system that leaves many out.
Hospitals should not be for-profit. In fact, nothing should be for profit. Fiat currency is itself archaic. Medicine is a highly specialized, technical field that most are not informed about, so it’s easy to convince a patient with no special knowledge or training that they need a procedure or drug they don’t actually need. Since the motive is to create profit in some cases that replaces the whole function of the job or the purpose of the service (to heal) at least becomes secondary. Exceedingly rich insurance companies and hospitals get to make determinations about the proper balance of profit versus people without telling anyone how they make these determinations. As no outside agency (aside from the FDA, which just does their bidding) regulates them, they can essentially do what they want with no consequences.
We don’t have a single payer system in America primarily because the US government doesn’t want to pay the bill for it, even though most Americans do. And major American medical insurance companies don’t want to do it because it would put them out of business. It all boils down to their bottom line. America’s health care system is in shambles and expensive because of greed, not among the majority of doctors, but among owners of large for-profit insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, large hospitals, and corrupt politicians who collude with them and ensure they stay fairly unregulated. But there are solutions, and rewriting antitrust laws in America would be a realistic, achievable step forward, as we work towards a single-payer system that provides everyone with healthcare. Nonprofit, community clinics that do not require government taxation and instead operate via a voluntary work and services exchange program as described would be even better than single-payer.
Money buys not only freedom but time on Earth as well, and it (unfortunately) provides the basic resources necessary to live a good life as they have been privatized in most parts of the world. But the people who hoard billions of dollars and do not give one dollar back to anyone have blood on their hands. They are cutting peoples’ lives short by letting disease spread and people go hungry and even exploiting poor, hungry people just for the sake of profit. These people would only have to give up a fraction of their wealth to prevent millions of deaths. But they have no intention of doing so, and they do not want average citizens to know about these inequities, because it would make us less selfish and it might make us stop revering these parasites for their unconscionable greed.
Many Americans are unaware of the scope of these problems because major news corporations do not tell us about them. Mainstream news anchors are actors. They are part of a larger circus made to distract, separate, scare, and incite mindless consumerism.
There is an imperative need to rethink morality, money, and the way we do business globally. Many people lack life-saving resources that the richest and most powerful often take for granted. But economic inequity is a solvable problem. As long as we’re all vigilant and unwavering in our efforts to gain common control over our economic structures, natural resources, and businesses, we can prevent wealth from determining our health and be hopeful about the future.
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8 Priceline.com. Ticket price inquiries were made in 2011. Online. (Not an endorsement.)
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27 Inspector General: “Excess Inventory and Contract Pricing Problems Jeopardize the Army Contract with Boeing to Support the Corpus Christi Army Depot. May 2011. <<http://www.pogo.org/our-work/resources/2011/dod-ig-report-on-audit-of-boeing-spare-parts-contracts.html>>