The 'moral bankruptcy of our ruling classes'

Sydney protest against Australia's return to refugee Pacific 'solution'. Photo by Peter Boyle.

The “moral bankruptcy of the ruling classes” is a thought readers would have shared as the Labor, Liberal and National parties came together in an unholy alliance to return to the cruel and shameful practice of locking up asylum seekers indefinitely in detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island, PNG.

And again when the British government threatened to storm the embassy of Ecuador in London to arrest WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who has now been granted asylum by Ecuador's progressive Rafael Correa government.

But more surprisingly, this judgment on the “moral bankruptcy of our ruling classes” was also made in a Business Spectator opinion piece by one of Australia's leading business journalists, Alan Kohler, after he attended the exclusive ADC Leadership Retreat in a luxury resort on Hayman Island.

ADC stands for Australian Davos Connection and is linked to the World Economic Forum, an international institution to promote capitalist globalisation. Invitation-only ADC Leadership Retreats have been held annually since 1996 on Hayman Island.

ADC boasts that the retreat “attracts a cross-section of national and regional leaders from business, government, academia and the community, along with a strong contingent of international speakers who are renowned authorities in fields of economics, business, public policy, as well as social issues. Representation is at CEO, Board and Ministerial level.”

The theme this year was typically upbeat: “The new global prosperity – agility in the face of instability”.

But Kohler came away with a darker reflection: “There was, as always, plenty of fascinating discussion about the issues of the day ... But for me, if there was one dominant, overriding theme over the conference it was that most of the world, if not all of it, is now governed by rich elites who are just out to look after themselves – oligarchies.

“And the key problem of Planet Earth these days is that this is no longer confined to the non-democracies: the nations that are nominally democratic (United States, Europe, UK, Japan, India) as well as those that are fundamentally undemocratic (Russia, China) are all now ruled by wealthy oligarchies.”

Kohler's frankness about the gross inequalities of the 21st century shows that they can no longer be hidden or brushed aside even in the settings of a luxury tropical island resort. This is not some blip or temporary aberration but the real nature of capitalism – the system as it has developed to this point.

As Karl Marx famously wrote: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

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