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Green Light in the City

Nadia On... Greed

22 November 21 words: Nadia Whittome
photos: Fabrice Gagos

MP for Nottingham East and regular LeftLion columnist discusses the dangers of corporate greed...

In keeping with the theme of this LeftLion issue, my column focuses on one of the seven deadly sins that impacts all of our lives: greed.

I’m not talking about scoffing that extra slice of cake instead of saving it for your flatmate, or your average person wanting a better salary to give their family a more comfortable life. What I mean is the greed of huge corporations seeking to maximise profits and super-rich individuals hoarding obscene amounts of wealth. 

This behaviour is encouraged and rewarded by our economic system. As the environmentalist George Monbiot put it, “At the heart of capitalism is a vast and scarcely examined assumption: you are entitled to as great a share of the world’s resources as your money can buy.”

While a tiny minority grows ever-richer, the consequences for the rest of us are devastating. The climate crisis is one symptom. For decades, fossil fuel companies have polluted and destroyed our planet, while lobbying to prevent legislation that might hit their profits. 

The lifestyles of the super-rich are also to blame - the wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50%. The marginalised communities, particularly in the global south - who are least responsible for climate breakdown - will feel the worst effects, while the rich pay to escape the destruction they have caused. 

We have been told time and time again that “the market will sort it out”, but leaving it to market forces got us here in the first place. The Government needs to abandon its ideological obsession with free market economics and invest in a Green New Deal - a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

Pharmaceutical giants are another example of corporate greed. Earlier this year, Boris Johnson said that the success of our COVID vaccine programme was because of "capitalism" and "greed". This isn’t true - it’s thanks to the public money that funded vaccine research and the NHS that got vaccines into people’s arms at speed. 

We should be regulating huge corporations to put people and the planet above narrow interests

Instead, capitalism and greed are preventing the vaccine from reaching countries that cannot afford the hefty prices demanded by pharmaceutical companies aiming to increase their profits. This pandemic will only end if enough people are vaccinated worldwide, but three-quarters of doses have gone to just ten countries. 

Extortionate prices are also denying people in the UK with hepatitis C, breast cancer and other illnesses vital drugs as the NHS cannot meet the cost. Corporate greed is the problem, not the solution - and people are dying as a result.

We can see the effects of greed on Nottingham. Our city has some of the highest levels of poverty in the country - it ranks eleventh out of the 317 districts in England for deprivation. During the pandemic, many have seen their finances plummet as jobs and income were lost. Now, families on Universal Credit have lost £1,000 a year while food and energy prices soar - after a decade of savage cuts and stagnant wages. 

Yet while working people have got us through the pandemic and suffered in the process, others have cashed in. The pandemic has spawned more UK billionaires than ever before and their combined wealth has grown by over a fifth - or £106,500,000,000. 

We are told that hard work earns you money, but that isn’t the reality. Our economic system allows assets (like property and money) to multiply just by sitting there, while work simply does not pay. That is how billionaires are created.

To illustrate just how unimaginably wealthy these people are, if you spent £1,000 every day it would take 2740 years for you to spend a billion pounds. Such wealth is obscene and unjustifiable while millions live in poverty.

The Pandora Papers exposed that $11 trillion to $36 trillion is in offshore bank accounts. No tax is paid on these hidden fortunes, depriving public services of vital funds. Corporations dodge tax too. Last year, Amazon paid only 7.5% of its income from UK sales in tax. Compare that to a graduate on an average starting salary, who will soon pay almost 50% of their income in tax.

Instead of accepting greed and inequality as inevitabilities, we should be eradicating them. We should be taxing the richest - and closing the loopholes that enable tax avoidance - to redistribute the hoarded wealth passed down from generation to generation, growing and growing, at everyone else’s expense. 

We should be regulating huge corporations to put people and the planet above narrow interests. We should prioritise public ownership of key sectors so they are run for public good rather than profit. We should invest in a Green New Deal - restructuring and decarbonising our economy, while creating well-paid, secure and sustainable jobs. 

A society built on justice, not greed, is the one I am striving for. I have hope that we can build it.

nadiawhittome.org

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