By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, common people have been bearing the brunt of the once-in-a-generation cost-of-living crisis since the beginning of 2020. Hundreds of millions lost even access to food, energy, and finance, millions of them just perished, and millions somehow survived on assistance in cash or kinds from various government and private sources. Just when the global economy was recovering from the abyss of misfortune, Russian aggression on Ukraine in February 2022 started reversing the recovery, making the crisis increasingly worse. Out of this human crisis, profiteers across the world unrestrictedly multiplying their profits, that the United Nations has finally called “immoral”, a term euphemistically used perhaps for “a devil of an act”.
People are caught between skyrocketing and volatile energy and food prices and losing access to financial resources for survival. The crony capitalism, a form of capitalism in which governments support their capitalist friends at the cost of the people enabling them to extract huge unrestricted profits, has further deepened the triple crises of food, energy, and finance.
Energy crisis is driving the world into a mad house, after the continuing madness of the Russian-Ukraine war. The ever rising energy costs to such an unprecedented high level has actually been threatening to “price out the developing countries, especially the most vulnerable communities, from energy markets”, as the third brief of the Global Crisis Response Group (GCRG) on Food, Energy, and Finance has warned. It should also be noted that ever since the pandemic struck, most of the countries continue to experience major difficulties is accessing affordable energy.
As the war in Ukraine continues to rage, skyrocketing energy prices are compounding an existential cost-of-living crisis for hundreds of millions of people around the globe, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said while introducing the third briefing of the GCRG on August 3. He said it was “immoral” that major oil and gas companies are reporting “record profits” while prices soar.
“The combined profits of the largest energy companies in the first quarter of this year are close to $100 billion,” Guterres said. The GCRG has warned that more people are now at risk of extreme poverty across the world.
The UN Chief Guterres urged the governments across the world to “tax these excessive profits, and use the funds raised to support the most vulnerable people through these difficult times.”
What Guterres was saying about the largest energy companies also holds good for the biggest corporate houses in other sectors too, who have been multiplying their money immorally out of human miseries, such as we have been seeing in the pharmaceutical and essential goods and services sectors during the pandemic. They have been making huge profits by manipulating policies, and the rulers help their cronies (friends) in shamelessly multiplying their profits with almost little or no restrictions.
We in fact need more than their condemnation by calling them “immoral” or proposing “tax on these excessive profits” as the UN Chief has said. Unless we act against such unscrupulous elements making their “immoral” act also illegal and punishable, the common people of the world can never be out of their clutches. Only “taxing them more” is simply leaving them scot-free and indirectly allowing them for more profiteering at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.
GCRG has recommended that the governments find effective funding for energy solutions, such as publicly financed cash transfers and rebate policies to protect vulnerable communities, including windfall taxes on the largest oil and gas companies, while also advocating for a transition to more cost-effective renewable.
The recommendations of the GCRG will do well for the well-being of the common people though in restricted sense, it also actually leaves the unscrupulous profiteers scot-free by not recommending putting brake on their money making “immoral” activities even at a time of unprecedented human crisis, deriving huge profits from human miseries.
More worrying is a potential “scramble for fuel” whereby only rich countries can afford to access energy as prices continue climbing, the GCRG third brief warns. “Governments need the fiscal space to support their most vulnerable populations to avoid worsening levels of energy poverty or losing energy access altogether,” it says.
GCRG obvious missed one thing – the culpability of rulers in the governments who are manipulating or making policies to support their cronies to enable them to legally make “excessive profits” that UN preferably called “immoral” while not calling for making such “immoral” activities “illegal” in which the leaders in the ruling establishments and the crony capitalists are hand in glove, and neck deep in the very act of “money making” causing unfathomable distress to the common people leaving them to suffer. Why not we must make them culpable – both the crony profiteers and their conniving rulers?
Workable options are not available because the suggestions given have always been evasive and lacking courage to catch the bull by the horns. They sympathize with the sufferers, suggest some help to them even without pricking the conscience of the unscrupulous “immoral” profiteers who are the root cause of all sufferings, allowing them regain prestige by their charity from exploited money.
For example, the UN has outlined policies that are good in limited sense only but does not address the problem of shameless immoral profiteering. Rather its recommends switching to renewable energy to avoid the fossil fuel crisis. Neither “taxing excessive profits” will root out the evil without putting brake on the profiteers, nor the suggested social protection measures for those affected.
World must rise to tackle the menace of profiteering with rising energy prices which has been accelerating the cost-of-living crisis and sustaining the vicious cycle of constrained household budgets, food insecurity, energy poverty, and rising social unrest. The interlinked crisis of food-energy-and-finance is deeply impacting vulnerable populations in developing countries strengthening the vicious cycle of poverty, hunger, and inequality. Allowing profiteers would be catastrophic. (IPA Service)