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Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Capitalism in the News

It's an old and never-ending story - the wealth of society being gobbled up by the rich (where it will go, at best, to buying yachts and mansions and absurdly expensive vacations, and, at worst, to buying up companies and "making redundant" some of their workers). Actually that's all just implicit in this op-ed article from yesterday's paper:
Tiny share of West's wealth could save millions of lives

Goldman Sachs bonuses. Have you heard? The global investment giant, having achieved record profit this year, announced its 2006 bonus pool for its employees: a staggering $16.4 billion.

$16.4 billion in year-end bonuses. That figure exceeds all corporate donations to charity in 2005. It is also nearly the entire worldwide amount spent annually to fight the global HIV/AIDS epidemic -- a fight we are not winning.

You'd be surprised at how few dollars it takes to save an individual life. Our own latest fundraising campaign asks for $300 to save a life. That's the amount it takes us to provide lifesaving AIDS medicines and care to a person in the developing world for one year. A donation of $50 will get a bicycle to someone in rural Uganda, which enables him to see a doctor, pick up medicines at a clinic -- a 20-mile round-trip that he would otherwise have to do on foot (or often not at all) -- and then have the bicycle available for work, business, personal or school use.

It doesn't take much to save the life of a person living with HIV. But there are 40 million lives that need saving; that's 40 million people living with HIV around the globe -- 95 percent of them in the developing world.

Ponder the Goldman Sachs bonus figure -- or the $40 million in stock and options that Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack received for his 2006 bonus -- and calculate how many lives could be saved with that money, and the proverbial holiday blues set in. Can anyone explain -- or justify -- such profligate payments when those less fortunate around the world are in need of help simply to survive?

Is it possible that global businesses like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other multibillion-dollar companies (not to mention the individuals who are the recipients of the stratospheric sums) believe that global problems like poverty and AIDS are being taken care of by the likes of Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Bono? One could hardly blame them. The road to hell, or indifference, seems paved with celebrity good intentions. For all their good works, celebrities and their media omnipresence can lead us all to believe, falsely, that the problems of the world are being solved.

The problems of the world are not being solved. I need only to visit areas of the developing world in which we have clinics to be reminded of that. To provide perspective: At $300 per year per patient, $16.4 billion is enough money for the global AIDS community to provide lifesaving treatment to everyone on the planet who currently needs it. Just 1 percent of the Goldman Sachs bonuses, $164 million, would provide AIDS drugs for hundreds of thousands of patients on waiting lists for treatment in the developing world. Hundreds of thousands of children could grow up with parents. Hundreds of thousands of parents would not have to bury their children.
Ah, but those executives "earned" those bonuses. Right.

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