We can see them everywhere, if only we care to look more closely: the cleaners, the security guards, the check-out counter staff, the domestic maids, the exploited migrant workers – all trying to earn enough to make ends meet.
Increasingly, the lower-middle class too is being squeezed as wages barely keep up with the rising cost of living.
As neo-liberal economics and “free markets” take hold, the public is being converted from taxpayers entitled to decent public services to “customers” and “consumers”. The doctrine that is brainwashed into the minds of the public is “if you want quality service, you have to pay for it”. The concept of a progressive tax system (higher taxes from the rich to cross-subsidise the poor who pay minimal or no taxes) to finance essential services such as health care, water and education is tossed out of the window.
Instead, the government cuts taxes for the rich as well as corporation taxes for profitable firms. This is one of the ways the rich get richer and the gap between the rich and the poor grows wider.
That’s not all: the government often argues it has no money to fund essential services for the poor: no unemployment benefits, no money to build more shelters for the homeless, no money for critical care hospices in all major towns, no money to upgrade our under-funded and understaffed general hospitals.
In this excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Herald, I pointed out that corporate media propaganda bombards us with images of a utopian society in which people drink RM9 cups of latte while clicking away on their laptops using wireless broadband.
Fast cars, a borderless world, the sky’s the limit.
Except if you happened to be a “misfit”. Then, no matter how hard you try, such a world is simply beyond your grasp. You are dumped on the streets.
You see, corporate-led globalisation creates this image of a utopian world where our every desire is fulfilled (although other new desires are constantly being stirred – for that is how the huge corporations create demand for their ever-newer range of products).
But the problem is, although everyone can see these utopian images over the corporate media, not everyone can gain access into this utopian world or fulfil the desires that have been stirred.
That’s when we see people trying to take short-cuts – corruption, greed, the cutting of corners – while resentment at being left out simmers. The crime rate soars as some of those who are left out try to gatecrash into the utopian party. Sorry, not invited. Many of them land up in jail. Some turn to drugs and alcohol.
Soon the prisons and detention centres fill up with petty criminals, drug abusers, robbers, undocumented workers. On the other hand, the white-collar criminals in business suits – who may be involved in larger sums of corruption, theft and environmental destruction – rarely land up in jail. Perhaps they are more efficient in covering up their tracks and putting on a business-friendly face.
And so the rich and the middle-classes complain that the crime rate is worrying. They hire their own security guards, retreat into gated communities with high walls, and look over their shoulders while at ATM machines.
It’s a lot easier to blame the rising crime rate on “foreign workers”, isn’t it? But try connecting the neo-liberal globalisation dots and we might see a different picture.
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