We all are familiar with the stereotype of the angry leftist would-be revolutionary who wants to line the bourgeoisie and capitalists against the wall and shoot them. Or who, in a cuter and more harmless form, simply indulges their immature views by wearing t-shirts with slogans like ‘Eat The Rich’.
A lot of those are just angry or envious of others, whilst the rest probably just feel guilty about their own white privilege. Few actually have read Karl Marx to understand where these ideas actually come from. On the other hand, I have read Marx.
Whilst I am a regular supporter of worthy causes, I have tended to be a bit skeptical of Oxfam. They have tended away from helping the poor and into the realm of pursuing political agendas, including those with some serious ideologically driven themes.
That is clearly shown in their new report, Inequality Kills, which has just been released. It does rightly point out that the richest people in the world have doubled their wealth during the pandemic, and that they own far more than two thirds of humanity.
Where it becomes problematic is in the prescriptions Oxfam have for dealing with this situation.
I believe in ‘free market’ capitalism, which possibly is an ideal rather than an easily realisable reality. I fear that what we really see in much of the world is crony capitalism and kleptocracy. These are matters which do need to be addressed, by such policy measures perhaps as limiting the amount of benefit which private individuals and companies can derive from exclusive licenses (eg in relation to mining rights) or exploitation of public resources or government subsidies; or by measured and carefully considered structural changes to taxation laws so as to prevent the growth of further wealth inequality.
Oxfam however, believe in a more direct and ideological approach, similar perhaps to the Russian revolutionaries of 1917 or other similar zealots. They call for a 99 per cent one off windfall tax on recent wealth gains, which strikes me as both rather drastic and an oversimplification of the issues behind the acquisition of all this wealth.
Moreover, to justify this, they describe this inequality as a form of ‘economic violence’.
This is where Oxfam loses all credibility. No violence has occurred – there has simply been, through the legitimate marketplace as framed by governments around the world, a lawful flow of wealth to certain people. No force nor fraud has occurred. When lawful activities have occurred and get described as ‘economic violence’, it is an ideologically polemic attack on the existing system, and the first step in describing law abiding (albeit rich) people as criminals or worse.
This is where they, whether they have read Marx or not, start to show an abandonment of the values which underpin democratic capitalism and liberal democracy, the economic and political systems which have made our world more civilised, prosperous and law abiding than throughout most of history, and start to flirt with the radical ideological ideas of Marx, which have been for the most part quite discredited.
I think that people should donate to charity. I personally donate on a monthly basis to four different charities. Oxfam is not one of them. I suggest that you should do likewise, and that if you choose to donate to a foreign aid charity, choose some other one (eg Fred Hollows Foundation) rather than Oxfam.