Inequality Sucks! (Stories From The East)

Why do some have and many don’t? It’s too easy to blame it on race, religion and politics when it comes to answering that. Hasbeemasputra Abu Bakar examines the phenomenon of economic inequality, the global system that perpetuates it and the destructive path we’re all on if we don’t change course soon.

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WHEN LORD BOBO FIRST ASKED ME TO CONTRIBUTE AN ARTICLE FOR A SERIES FEATURING WRITERS FROM EAST MALAYSIA, I hesitated. I did not know if I could put across the ideas I had in a coherent enough manner for people to understand. However, here goes.

Let’s start off by looking at the current state of the world.

According to UNICEF, in 2010:

  • 2.5 billion people lacked access to improved sanitation
  • 1 billion children were deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development
  • 1 million children under 5 years in developing regions were underweight for their age
  • 101 million children did not attend primary school, with more girls than boys missing out
  • 22 million infants were not protected from diseases by routine immunization
  • 8 million children worldwide died before their 5th birthday in 2009
  • 4 million newborns worldwide were dying in the first month of life
  • 2 million children under 15 are living with HIV
  • More than 500,000 women died (and keep dying each year) from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth


It boils down to inequality.

This inequality is not in terms of race or religion or of political ideology (which most times are convenient smokescreens), but economic inequality, that leads to positions of differential advantage between people, communities and nations. These people did not suffer or die because the world lacked the resources to improve or save their lives. They suffered and died because they did not possess the money to ‘buy’ access to basic necessities. In other words, these people suffered and died because they were subject to the worst form of violence there is – poverty.


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Here are some more statistics:

Champagne Glass

Champagne Glass Distribution from Conley (2008) You May Ask Yourself

Does this make sense? Seeing the inequality yet?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not speaking perched from atop a soapbox of socialism. This is not a rant against capitalism or the free market – this is just my observation on the state of world. At the end of the day, any –ism is just an intellectual construct, which oft-times has little or no relation to what is actually necessary for human life.

These statistics are important because they show the ‘outcome’ or output of what I refer to as The System – an interconnected man-made ecosystem of multinationals and business interests, government and nations and political parties, all shaped by and also shaping our society, including the theological, metaphysical and linguistic aspects.

By now I hope you’re wondering, why is the world so unequal?

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It is unequal because the underlying operating rationale of our civilization is ‘maximum profit, minimum cost’ – no matter what the social or environmental damage. Again, I will remind you that this is not a rant against capitalism. Think about it. Every country in the world (socialist, communist, republic, kingdom, etc.) produces and consumes based on this maxim – “maximum profit, minimum cost”; and the only ‘difference’ between a ‘communist’ state and a ‘capitalistic’ one is the degree of market intervention by the state. The System continually reinforces this maxim throughout all the societal institutions we have constructed – political, legal, religious, societal class and familial values.

This underlying rationale means that jobs will continue to be outsourced as industry continually tries to push their costs down. Anyone reading this ever been subject to downsizing or didn’t get an employment contract renewed?

It means that rivers, forests, the oceans and other natural resources will continue to be exploited to the detriment of the world’s delicate ecosystem as business interests continue to expand the search for resources. Some estimate that 90% of Sarawak’s rainforests are gone. Fresh water crises are cropping up more and more often. More species of flora and fauna are disappearing at a faster rate.

This means that technology which may be more beneficial to humanity like solar power but not as profitable as fossil fuels will be ignored. How long did it take for hybrid cars to be introduced in Malaysia again?


A Penan blockade against loggers in Sarawak | Source -

It means that ‘development’ will continue to be foisted onto indigenous tribes all over the world because it is profitable for 2% of the world’s population. How many acres of land in the country have been taken away from the Orang Asal? How many people live in squalor after being forcibly displaced from their ancestral land?

Essentially, this rationale means profit will always come before people.

What kind of effect does this ‘profit-first’ system have on us collectively as a species? Well, are we living in a society where we have to fight for what we get, watch our backs, fend for ourselves, learn not to trust each other or are we living in a society where we depend on reciprocity, mutuality, cooperation, where empathy is important and our security depends on good relations with other people?

I am inclined to think that we are living in the former, leading us to become selfish, self-centered, distrustful, and less tolerant of ‘differences’ and alternative thought. In real world terms, this means more people will have less access to healthy food, and more poor people will have less access to any food at all. It means education will continue to be treated as a commodity, rather than a right, because it is more profitable.

The effects of this profit-oriented system are made worse because of our patterns of consumption, or more precisely, our excessive consumption. Industry spends more time and wastes more resources cultivating and feeding ‘needs’ such as the next new phone, the biggest flat screen television, or the biggest car, rather than concentrating on real needs, such as the need for healthy and reciprocal social relations, healthy food, clean air and quality education. Our whole economic system boils down to what money demand wants to buy, which has nothing to do with need. A person may have great need for access to clean water, but may never have the money demand with which to purchase it.

Few people realize that the progress that our species has made over the past 150 years, which has allowed us to get to this level of excessive consumption, has been solely because of a cheap, abundant supply of oil-based energy. Some, however, hold the opinion that we are already at or near world peak oil production.

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What does peak oil mean for us? We have over 6 billion people living on Earth today, with a possible 9 billion by the 22nd century. Bearing in mind that our global food production is heavily dependent on fertilizers derived from hydrocarbons (which also accounts for 98% of all transportation fuels), a depletion of oil reserves will mean that we cannot support our current population, let alone 9 billion.

Some estimate that by 2050, we will need 60 terawatts “to provide a comfortable first-world lifestyle” to all the planet’s inhabitants. In 2005, the world consumed 14 terawatts of electricity, roughly working out to 220 million barrels of oil a day. Currently, we are producing 84.3 million barrels a day and consuming 84.2 million barrels and the last big oil finds were in 1967 (Alaska), 1968 (Siberia) and 1969 (North Sea), with little possibility of another significant find. Today, over 50 countries are physically producing less oil than they have in the past, including the USA and Great Britain.

This means the world will be embroiled in more ‘resource wars’, masked behind such terms as “democratising the Middle East” or “furthering the cause of justice” or “fighting terror”, which will progressively get worse as supplies dwindle and developed and developing nations fight between themselves – one wanting to maintain an excessive lifestyle, the other to attain it.

And because we are stuck in a profit-first paradigm, what do our leaders suggest as a solution for the coming energy deficit? A nuclear plant, a short term solution at best. Nuclear power cannot produce vinyl and tires for your cars; and it cannot produce the plastics with which we wrap and package almost everything.

And what about the stock markets? Businesses for the most part still operate in a ‘business as usual’ manner, assuming that cheap abundant energy will be available ‘forever’, but it’s not. And as energy supplies dwindle, production will fall and every company listed on every stock exchange in the world will become overvalued. As production falls, so do profits.. and we know what happens next.

So, how do you save the world?

First off, give up on politicians. Don’t put too much hope in appeals made to the power structure that puts it’s own self-interest before everything else.

I am sure there are many sincere and good people who have chosen to operate in the institution of politics, but politics is nothing more than a game to see who controls the means of production and the distribution of resources. And we all know how that games ends up for the people – 2% end up owning 50% of the wealth. Because the rules of the game almost always benefit those in positions of differential advantage, I have more confidence in social movements than I do in politicians.

Secondly, stop consuming more than you need. We’re not going to find another Earth any time soon.

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Don’t me wrong. This is not some spiritual call to leave behind the material world. This is not an invitation to don some robes, shave your head and live on a mountaintop. This is a real, physical and an extremely urgent need for us to collectively reduce our consumption levels before we self-destruct.

Help bring equality to the world!

Hasbee has a band and is a bona fide Mat Rock. He is also supremely cool, and tweets @Hasbeemasputra.

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Bekas pembela rambut panjang berjaya. Kadang-kala membebel di twitter @hasbeemasputra. Belum lagi ditahan polis walaupun sudah 3 tahun bergerak sebagai aktivis.

Posted on 29 April 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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