Towards a More Just and Equitable World

Published November 28, 2012

By Samya Ali

With ever-greater clarity, Americans are realizing it is their right to expect basic human dignity and security and the fundamentals of a middle-class existence: a decent job with life-sustaining wages, an affordable home, access to health care, resources to provide a good education for their children; and especially, the right to full participation in governance of the country with a view to promote the common good and provide opportunity for security and prosperity for all citizens, not just the “high-born,” inheritors of dynastic wealth, and the select few who succeed beyond all measure.

People everywhere are realizing that when the masses demand a more just and equitable world, their strength in numbers exceeds the money-backed monopolization of power by tyrants, “managerial aristocrats,” and government and their agents

The middle class has, in fact, all but collapsed. In a Northeastern University study released in mid 2011, “The ‘Jobless and Wageless Recovery’ From the Great Recession of 2007-2009,” economists reported that the economic collapse which devastated American workers brought tremendous reward to the corporations. “Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, real national income in the U.S. increased by $528 billion. Pre-tax corporate profits by themselves had increased by $464 billion while aggregate real wages and salaries rose by only $7 billion or only .1% (one-tenth of one percent). Over this six quarter period, corporate profits captured 88% of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for only slightly more than 1% of the growth in real national income.” And further “The absence of any positive share of national income growth due to wages and salaries received by American workers during the current economic recovery is historically unprecedented.”

Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer

Two memos written by Citigroup analysts in 2005 and 2006 were leaked to the public domain. The memos examine the disparities of wealth and economic inequalities in the U.S. and around the world and how that is, and should be, viewed by the wealthy elite. The memos were written for Citigroup’s elite clients, to keep them abreast of what is really going on so that they could make optimal investment decisions. Citigroup has attempted to suppress the memos but they are widely available online. They coin the word “plutonomy” (as a variation of “plutocracy”) which is an economy in which the wealthy class dominates and, by extension, rules the people. It is an economy whose trajectory is that of the rich “getting richer” while the masses are cast aside and overlooked as insignificant. A summary of the memos is as follows:

The world is composed of two groups – plutonomies which are countries in which the economy is powered by the wealthy few who are also the main and only important consumers; and other countries/economies which are not plutonomies and don’t really matter. The wealthy few are “The New Managerial Aristocracy” that comprise the top 1 percent of households and have a net worth greater than the other 90 percent. The non-wealthy, the memos go on to say, tolerate plutonomy because they believe that one day they might become a “Pluto-participant” which is the embodiment of the “American dream.” If they were to come to the conclusion that they would never be part of the upper economic echelon, they would more likely want “to divide up the wealth pie, rather than aspire to be truly rich.” The memos mention a further threat if a population comes to see its economy as a “Robber-baron” economy and that they have lost out to unfair practices. Therefore, the Citigroup analysts note that a “cleaning up of business practice” to
the extent that the public would feel that conditions were more favorable to fair play could actually protect and sustain the plutonomy.

People everywhere are realizing that when the masses demand a more just and equitable world, their strength in numbers exceeds the money-backed monopolization of power by tyrants, “managerial aristocrats,” and government and their agents

With total honesty in conveying the current economic reality, the Citigroup analysts unabashedly talk about the disparities in wealth as a great contest that they have won and will continue winning. The memos conclude that the rich will continue getting richer and…well, to hell with the rest of the people.

A Criminalized Financial Industry

According to 2010 statistics, CEOs at some of the largest companies earn 343 times the amount the typical worker earns (that’s $5,480 per hour!) These are the individuals who “own” the country. This “managerial aristocracy” is crass and uncaring about anyone outside their privileged caste. Unfortunately, even those with the best intentions who find themselves with a career in the financial industry will have a hard time keeping to the straight and narrow path of ethical behavior as the culture that exists on Wall Street is one that galvanizes greed. Charles Ferguson of the British daily newspaper The Guardian writes, “It is no exaggeration to say that since the 1980s, much of the global financial sector has become criminalized, creating an industry culture that tolerates or even encourages systematic fraud. The behavior that caused the mortgage bubble and financial crisis of 2008 was a natural outcome and continuation of this pattern, rather than some kind of economic accident. “

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: I heard the Prophet saying, “If the son of Adam (the human being) had two valleys of gold, he would wish for a third, for nothing can fill the belly of Adam’s son except dust; and Allah forgives the one who repents to Him.”

Wealth Heightens Greed and Decreases Empathy and Altruism

New research is showing that wealth appears to also decrease empathy and altruism. Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley has researched how wealth correlates to emotional intelligence and empathy. “The profound self-interest and social disconnect” of Wall Street bankers spurred his interest in this area of research. Keltner and his colleague Michael Kraus found that “the poorer subjects were more likely to use warmer and more expressive body language and gestures that signal engagement, while the richer participants were more stand-offish.” In another experiment to measure empathy, those with more prestigious jobs were less able to read the emotions expressed in photos of human faces, a test used to determine emotional intelligence. In testing altruism by whether a participant would share a reward, “people from less-privileged backgrounds tended to give more than those higher on the social ladder.” It was also shown that wealthier participants were more prone to unethical behavior than poorer participants. Hazel Rose Markus at Stanford University in California has also found in her research that the degree of caring about the welfare of others and altruistic impulses lessen with social and financial success.

We can help change the balance of power, be part of a tenacious push of government officials and corporate executives to act responsibly and respond to the needs of the majority

Not surprisingly, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “I don’t fear poverty for you, but rather I fear that you will compete with one another [in acquiring wealth]” (reported by al-Hakim and others). And in another hadith: “Two hungry wolves, if let loose amongst a flock of sheep, cause less harm than a man’s eagerness to increase his money and his prestige” (reported by al-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, and others).

Elite Worry About Uprisings

Elites have worried throughout time about uprisings by the poor or oppressed masses and this is not entirely without reason. As Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States, “The new industrialism, the crowded cities, the long hours in the factories, the sudden economic crises leading to high prices and lost jobs, the lack of food and water, the freezing winters, the hot tenements in the summer, the epidemics of disease, the deaths of children – these led to sporadic reactions from the poor. Sometimes there were spontaneous, unorganized uprisings against the rich.”

When organized and resolute, the common people have demonstrated in effective ways to bring about political and social change. Some of these uprisings (and some argue the most effective) have been non-violent. Examples include Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign to win India’s independence from British rule, Martin Luther King’s movement to win civil rights for African Americans, Cesar Chavez’ struggle to improve the treatment of farm workers in California in the 1960s, the Velvet Revolution (sometimes referred to as the Gentle Revolution) in Czechoslovakia in 1989 that brought about the collapse of the Communist government, and the non-violent women’s peace movement led by Leymah Roberta Gbowee (awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011) that brought an end the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

Envy Is Not the Motivation

Misery from the deplorable conditions that are caused by great disparities of wealth – not envy – brings about social reform movements. Most people don’t envy the CEO earning 343 times the amount of the median American income, as they view a wage of $5,480 per hour as just insanely profligate. Just as they view the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equally insane, ridiculously insufficient to provide a livable wage that enables people to enjoy a dignified and moderately secure life without moment-to-moment worry about survival. Yet in this richest of countries so many families are unable to provide adequately for their food, shelter, and basic necessities; let alone have access to health care so that the threat of illness and disease does not hang like a wreaking ball above heads and outside the walls of their houses. The fact is that any reform in this country – whether the abolitionist movement to end slavery, labor rights to decent wages and safe working conditions, child labor reforms, women’s right to vote,

civil rights for African Americans – has been won by efforts by the common people rather than being conceded by those in power.

The Rallying Calls of Humanity

What puts fear into the hearts of the ruling elite are the rallying calls of humanity insisting that the playing field be made level; that the non-rich be provided opportunity of education that allows them to thrive and succeed; that government institutions, economic policies, and social practices are fair to all; that obstacles are removed rather than increasingly placed in the way of the people striving to become educated, self-aware, socially conscious, and fundamentally secure in their homes and jobs and communities.

There are many actions we can take to support and forward social justice and social reform movements:

Make your political voice heard. Let your congressmen know that –

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act needs to be repealed and a new Glass-Steagall Act passed so that there is definitive distinction of insurance companies, commercial banks, and investment banks.

Taxpayer money must not be used for lobbying. For example, if a company gets bail-out money it should not turn around and use that money to lobby for legislation and policy that benefits business by hurting consumers.

Repeal the carried-interest tax break (according to Suzanne McGee, writing for, carried interest allows wealthy individuals like Mitt Romney to pay an effective income tax of about 15 percent; she says, “Carried interest is what managers of different kinds of investment pools – venture capital funds, hedge funds and private equity funds like Romney’s former business, Bain Capital – earn by managing the money they raise on behalf of their limited partners.”

Increase the number of investigators for the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force chaired by Attorney General Eric Holder and call for the U.S. Justice Department to aggressively prosecute financial crimes by Wall Street bankers.

Increase funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which was set up by Elizabeth Warren to, according to the bureau, “promote fairness and transparency for mortgages, credit cards, and other consumer financial products and services.”

Strengthen the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Become familiar with whistle-blowers in various industries as they provide a good overview of the corruption that needs to be addressed. A few examples are as follows:

John Perkins – wrote Confessions of an Economic Hitman, an exposé of international corruption. According to Perkins, based on his first-hand experience, economic hitmen are “highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign ‘aid’ organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.”

Catherine Austin-Fitts – served as managing director of the Wall Street investment bank Dillon, Read & Co. Inc., was Assistant Secretary of Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner at HUD in the first Bush Administration, and was the president of Hamilton Securities Group, Inc., an investment bank and financial software developer. As an insider, she blew the whistle on what she sees as a “financial coup d’état”: “The ‘strong dollar policy’ – including the housing and debt bubble, trillions in financial fraud, and the suppression of the gold price – was part of a intentional plan to move trillions out of North America, both overtly and covertly. I refer to this as a ‘financial coup d’état.’ Wall Street and Washington issued trillions in fraudulent securities, used it to gain control over trillions in assets, and then were able to engineer the taxpayers refinancing out the fraudulent paper. Think of this as a leveraged buyout of a planet. To the victors go the spoils. That is why we are seeing the people who engineered the coup so richly rewarded.”

Wendell Potter – former public relations spokesperson for CIGNA and Humana Insurance, is the author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans. Potter has testified to Congress about the tricks used by health insurance companies to “dump the sick” and about the “obscene salaries executives rake in while denying benefits to patients.” Potter has been called the industry’s “worst nightmare.”
Thomas Andrews Drake – a former senior executive of the National Security Agency (NSA), an Air Force and Navy veteran, was charged in 2010 with espionage and the “mishandling” of government documents. In June, 2011 the government agreed not to seek any jail time in return for Drake’s agreement to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of misusing the agency’s computer system. Drake maintains his full innocence and says he was targeted because he blew the whistle on the NSA’s Trailblazer Project, a secret surveillance program which, according to Drake, violates the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment.

Support non-profit organizations and foundations which advocate moral capitalism, social responsibility for corporations, providing for the needy, and/or solutions to the world’s pressing issues of poverty and social injustice. A few examples are as follows:

ICNA Relief USA – provides “domestic disaster relief and social services to underserved populations within the United States” particularly those “immigrants and minorities whose access to services has been obstructed by numerous hurdles, including language barriers and cultural misconceptions.”

Caux Round Table-Moral Capitalism at Work – promotes moral capitalism and responsible government. According to Stephen Young, Global Executive Director, “The challenge of moral capitalism is to tip the balance of wealth creation toward humanity’s more noble possibilities and away from the dynamics of more brutish behavior.”

Rainforest Action Network – puts pressure on companies such as Chevron, Cargill, and Bank of America to clean up their acts. Their first campaign was organizing a nationwide boycott of Burger King which was “importing cheap beef from tropical countries where rainforests are denuded to provide pasture for cattle.” After sales dropped 12% as a result of the boycott, Burger King stopped importing rainforest beef. “The rainforest issue also began to gain ground in the public’s awareness, and consumers began to appreciate the power they have to change things through their purchasing choices.”

The Skoll Foundation – started by Jeff Skoll in 1999 to “pursue his vision of a sustainable world of peace and prosperity.” The foundation’s mission is to “to drive large scale change by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs and the innovators who help them solve the world’s most pressing problems.” The foundation supports the microfinancing non-profit organization Kiva which strives “to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty” by “leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions”; and, a non-profit organization that provides access to clean water and sanitation across Africa, South Asia, and Central America.

Reflect on and apply in one’s daily life the Islamic principles that form a basis for social reform and a just society. A few examples are as follows:

Integrity and morality are the foundations for all human interactions, business, and government –

“O you who believe – stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred others have for you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is next to piety, and fear God, for God is well-acquainted with all that you do (Qur’an 5:9).

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The businessmen will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment among the sinful, except those who have taqwa of Allah, and are honest and truthful” (reported by al-Tirmidhi and al-Hakim); and in another hadeeth, “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) forbade najsh” (Bukhari). Najsh means deceiving a potential purchaser by arranging for a third party to offer a higher price but with no intention to buy; this is price-fixing; read about the Libor rate-fixing scandal in which 16 banks are accused of rigging a key global interest rate used in contracts worth trillions of dollars.

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Any man to whom Allah has given the authority of ruling people and he does not look after them in an honest manner, will never encounter even the aroma of Paradise” (Sahih Muslim).

Wealth is a trust: Zakat, which literally means “purification,” is a means to purify one’s heart of greed and to use one’s wealth for purposes that forward the common good and provide for the needy. Islam condemns greed, not wealth. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Those with plenty [the rich] will be the lowest on the Day of Judgment, except the one who distributed his money left and right [i.e., in many and various ways], while earning from pure [means]” (reported by Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Ahmad, and others).

And the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Blessed is the wealth in the hands of a righteous man.”

Human rights are at the very core of Islam. These include the following:

haqq al-nafs or haqq al-ruh – the right to be respected as a human being
haqq al-karama – the right to live with dignity
haqq al-hurriya – the right of people and societies to self-determination
haqq al-mal – the right to have one’s private property and means of production (in business) respected and protected
Charity: The duty to provide for the needy and cultivate altruism is central to a just society. “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

“By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you spend of that which you love….” (Quran 3:92)

“They ask you what they should spend [in charity]. Say: Whatever you spend that is good is for parents and relatives and orphans and the destitute and the wayfarers. For, indeed, God is aware of the good things that you do” (Qur’an 2:215).

Balance: Muslims are to be a community of the middle way, avoiding excess in all things including love of money, pursuit of power, and feelings of self-importance. “Thus have We made you a community of the middle way, that you might be witnesses over the nations…” (Qur’an 2:143).

The Winds of Change Are Strong

People everywhere are realizing that when the masses demand a more just and equitable world, their strength in numbers exceeds the money-backed monopolization of power by tyrants, “managerial aristocrats,” and government and their agents. We, the ordinary people, are becoming more geo-politically savvy and can no longer easily be kept estranged from the unifying actions that can bring true reform, more equitable economic opportunity, and greater social justice. The struggle, as noted by Howard Zinn, is often played out in many ways beyond the electoral process.

Through engagement in our communities, we can contribute to a more informed awareness of, and willingness to question, the vested interests of the wealthy elite and their minions. We can help change the balance of power, be part of a tenacious push of government officials and corporate executives to act responsibly and respond to the needs of the majority, thus improving the daily lives of individuals, families, and communities everywhere.

Samya AliAuthor Samya Ali converted to Islam in 1980 and she is a free-lance writer.

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