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The Major Problems Facing Our World

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Message Wanda Woodward
Globalization is being defined in a myriad of different ways as different people view the construct through a different prism. Rodrik defines it primarily in economic terms as the "international integration of markets for goods, services and capital" (as cited in Anderson, in press, p. 1), whereas Friedman perceives it through a hologram of shifting lens, "the integration of capital, technology and information across national borders, in a way that is creating a single global market and, to some degree, a global village" (as cited in Anderson, in press, p. 2). Still others such as the sociologist Malcolm Waters perceives it as a "social process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural arrangements receded and in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding" (as cited in Anderson, in press, p. 3). As a mental health professional who sees the world through the lens of the human psyche, I am particularly fond of sociologist's Roland Robertson's definition as "the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole" (as cited in Anderson, in press, p. 5). Anderson (in press) appropriately highlights the common and "widespread confusion about what globalization is" as people debate each other because they have such "profound different images of what's happening" (p.1). Barnet and Cavanagh (1994), highlighting the multi-faceted and complex nature of globalization, compare it to the verbalizations of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland saying "it means precisely whatever the user says it means" (p. 14). Ursula Franklin (1996), in her 1995 Lois and John Dove Memorial Lecture in Toronto, refers to the "global commercial hegemony", of the "struggle against the arrogance and ignorance of power, against impending destruction, occupation, and conquest" (p. 13). On the most basic level, she speaks of globalization as "a war against people" (p. 13) and "from a historical perspective, we are in the middle of a market-driven war on the common good" (p. 15). Whatever the definition, it has become glaringly obvious that multinationals, and the senior executives who manage them, are-by far---the clear winners (Barnet & Cavanagh, 1994; Henderson, 1991; Korten, 2001; Rifkin, 2004) holding a barrel full of carrots with egregiously excessive compensation packages that are in the multi-millions (sometimes hundreds of millions including stocks options), 20-30% average annual corporate boardroom wage increases (Toynbee, 2007), hidden "soft" benefits such as use of the corporate jets for personal matters and residential renovations costing tens of thousands of dollars and tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy. Meanwhile, this is juxtaposed against the middle and lower classes who are left holding several sticks. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, an international organization of those developed countries which espouses the principles of democracy and a capitalistic economy (hardly a liberal organization) recently stated that the rise in wage inequality is rising sharply in 18 of the 20 developed nations that it monitors (cited in Toynbee, 2007). The middle and lower classes in the U.S. are increasingly experiencing stagnant wages (annual average is 2%), unemployment from millions of U.S. jobs being shipped overseas where corporations are exploiting labor by paying substandard wages, underemployment due to being forced to accept jobs that are far below an individual's education and skill level, and skyrocketing debt to pay for essential expenses such as healthcare. In other words, decreasing income and increasing expenses is the financial mantra by which the middle and lower class live. Egregious exploitation of 90% or more of the human species is fast becoming a global norm. The denial by some politicians that the middle class is slowly disappearing into the lower class ranks and the refusal of the mainstream media (which is owned by corporations) to inform the public on a mass scale as to the serious extent that this has been occurring make this all the more astounding and troubling. Only an informed citizenry can garner sufficient numbers to act in concert to change disturbing tides of corruption and deceit in the halls of corporate and political power.

The gap between the rich and the poor, while always large, is becoming alarmingly disparate to the point that America is moving rapidly closer to resembling France prior to the French Revolution and Britain prior to American Revolution with a few elite using their monied power to purchase political and legal access so as to maintain their hegemonic position, and to suppress and oppress the masses. Toynbee (2007), referring to the redistribution of wealth into a very few hands, comments that "the richest 0.1% are vanishing off the graph. At a recent seminar, a lecturer said that to represent top wealth faithfully, a bar chart would stretch out of the building".

According to the Drum Major Institute (2006), a non-partisan, non-profit think tank, their 2006 Injustice Index finds that the ratio of the average U.S. CEO annual pay to minimum wage worker's is 821:1 whereas twenty years ago the ratio was 40:1. According to Kevin Murphy of the University of Southern California, the average CEO pay rose 369 times that of the average worker in 2005 while it was 191 times in 1993 and 36 times in 1976 (Krugman, 2002). Paul Krugman (2002), an economist at MIT and regular columnist for The New York Times, reports more troubling statistics stating that in a 29 year period between 1970 and 1999, the average annual salary in America rose ten percent (10%) whereas, during the same period, according to Fortune magazine, the average real annual compensation of the top CEOs in America rose more than 1,000 times the pay of ordinary American workers and, according to a 2001 Congressional Budget Office study, between 1979 and 1997, the after-tax incomes of the top 1 percent of American families rose 157 percent (157%). According to the United Nations Development Report (UNDP, 1999), the net wealth of the ten wealthiest billionaires is $133,000,000,000 (133 billion dollars), more than 1.5 times the total national income of the least developed countries. Doug Henwood (1998), in Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom, writes that the richest 5% of Americans own 95% of all stock shares and the top 1% of the population owns 25% of the productive capital and future profits of corporate America. In Henwood's (2003) After the New Economy, he exposes that the richest 10% of Americans possess over all the wealth in America and the bottom 50% has almost none of the wealth, but notes that they do have substantial debt. UBS, an investment bank, has commented that the current period for corporations is "the golden era of profitability" with corporate profits climbing to the highest amount since the 1960s (Greenhouse & Leonhardt, 2006, p. A.1). Even though productivity levels have risen by double digits in the past decade, American workers' pay increases have risen by less than 2%. As Herbert (2006) describes it this way: "If your productivity increases by 18% and your pay goes up 1%, you've been dealt a hand full of jokers in which jokers aren't wild". Most productivity gains have gone straight into the pockets of corporate executives. The savings rate for middle and poor class is now negative and more Americans are filing for bankruptcy than they are for divorce (Herbert, 2006). Additionally, corporate taxes of industrial nations have fallen over the past two decades by an average of 15%, according to a study conducted by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The study is titled, "Having their cake and eating it too-the great corporate tax break," reports that corporations and governments are increasingly collaborating with each other in order to push taxes onto individual taxpayers and force them to shoulder the burdens of taxes that corporations used to pay. At the current tax rate, corporations will be paying zero dollars for taxes in 50 years (Free Market News, 2006).

The middle and lower class are the clear losers although the media has failed to report adequately on this unjust travesty which has been an ongoing obsequious process for over fifteen years. The Drum Major Injustice Index (2006) reports that 30% of Americans feel chronically overworked. Rifkin (2004) tells us that between 1994 and 2004, three million U.S. jobs were lost due to foreign labor or technological advances. By corporations laying off Americans and hiring employees in foreign countries, Americans are forced to compete with labor that is compensated between 1,000% and 2,000% less than what Americans are accustomed to receiving. With regard to unskilled labor, corporations not only exploit this population by paying slave wages, but also deny them basic healthcare benefits and reject improvements to unhealthy and intolerable physical working conditions. Labor unions sometimes exist, but oftentimes do not, and corporations wield their enormous power to thwart and, in some cases, unlawfully prohibit union activity by bribing local judicial and police officials.

?More than 1.2 billion people worldwide (1 in every five people) survive on less than $1.00 per day and each year more than 10 million children die of preventable diseases in the world (UNDP, 2003). Krugman (2002) reports that the 13,000 wealthiest American families now have almost as much income as the 20 million poorest combined and that their incomes are 300 times that of average American families. In America, between 1950 and 1970, for every $1.00 earned by the bottom 90%, those in the top 0.01% earned $163. From 1990 to 2002, for every $1.00 earned by the bottom 90%, those in the top 0.01% earned $18,001 (Johnston, 2005). Korten (2001) reports in his book, When Corporations Rule the World, that the main consequence of capitalistic growth has been "that most of us are now working harder to maintain a declining quality of life" (p. 47). Even with glaring statistics such as these, our current president continues to attempt to distort what is reality by making fallacious commentaries about how the estate tax on the top wealthiest American families is too much of a burden to them and, if the American people will only continue to go to college, the middle and poor classes can surmount all their obstacles. As though getting a college education makes a difference when there are no jobs to be had or the jobs that do exist pay only one half or, at best, two thirds, of what a person is accustomed to being compensated. Any commentary that college education is important is inconsistent with a social and political context of a growing privileged few and of powerful multinationals who have all but bought Congress away from the American people leaving us not with a democracy "by, of and for the people," but with an arrogant oligarchy or plutocracy that is "by, of and for the privileged." The CEO of Ceridian, Ron Turner, cashed in $489,531,000 worth of stock options during the two years prior to his October 2006 retirement (Yahoo, 2006). This excludes his base compensation, bonuses, and other perks. Many are aware of the retirement package for Lee Raymond, retiring CEO of ExxonMobil, estimated at $400,000,000 (ABC news, 2006). Some may be aware of the 2004 lawsuit waged by New York Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer, against Richard Grasso, then Chairman of the NYSE, who accumulated $140 million in pension savings that he cashed in. Spitzer contended it was "unreasonable" and a violation of New York's non-profit legislation (Thomas, 2006). Robert Nardelli, ousted CEO from Home Depot, saw pink and got gold, when he was given the pink slip and fired, yet was $210 million richer for it (Herbert, 2007). When the average American gets discharged, they are lucky if they receive anything other than unemployment wages for up to 6 months, but certainly no amount even remotely close to what CEOs get with their golden parachutes. The real mystery is why Americans are not outraged and incensed by such egregious avarice, what Herbert (2007) calls "an insidious disease eating away at the structure of the society and undermining its future" (p. A.19). Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Chairman, warned in August 2006 that "the unequal distribution of the economy's spoils could derail the trade liberalization of recent decades" (Greenhouse & Leonhardt, 2006, p. A.1). Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, referring to the corruption of the top wealthiest Americans said, "the universe of offshore tax cheating has become so large that no one, not even the United States government, could go after it all" (Johnston, 2006, p. C.1).

Anderson (1999) writes that the drivers of globalization are technology and human mobility. However operationally defined, globalization, and the technology driving force behind it, impacts the planet in four major categories: 1. socially/culturally, 2. economically, 3. biologically, and 4. ecologically. Subcategories under the rubric of social and cultural shifts are the landscapes of the media, entertainment, education and religion. While technology may be the one defining causal factor of globalization, without the factor of overpopulation, the various symptoms of globalization would not be sufficient to present two vastly different potential outcomes of globalization. If instead of our current 6 billion world population (Swerdlow, 1998) the world had, for example, a mere one million people, then global warming and a host of other issues would not be as problematic nor as dire. However, we would still be presented with the growing gap between the rich and the poor because, as John Kenneth Galbraith, the great economist and philosopher states, the "chaos of competitive avarice" (as cited in Krugman, 2002, p. 76) would still exist.

The accompanying problems of globalization are many with some apparent and others less visible, but with no less importance to all of humankind.? The primary troubles facing humankind in the 21st century are:

1. overpopulation

2. deforestation

3. overharvesting

4. global warming

5. invasive species

6. overconsumption

7. growing inequality/gap between the rich and the poor

8. poverty

9. social unrest

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Wanda Woodward, M.S., is author of The Anatomy of the Soul: An Authentic Psychology which posits an original theoretical model of the Soul, or Transcendent Psyche. She is currently writing her second book, Malignant Masculine Power: The (more...)
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