George Orwell was attending university at the end of the First World War. The young men returning from the war were angry at their elder’s incompetence for having led them to such mass slaughter. This mood of rebellion in Britain spread to rebellion against the old class system, which, in most people’s minds, was inextricably linked to capitalism. After university, Orwell served a five-year stint in the Civil Service with the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma. During this time he became convinced that the British Empire was run by a non-productive corrupt upper class that exploited her colonial possessions for financial gain and left the native population and England’s own working classes in poverty and squalor “… the Empire was under-developed, India slept in the Middle Ages, the Dominions lay empty, with foreigners jealously barred out, and even England was full of slums and unemployment. Only half a million people, the people in the country houses, definitely benefited from the existing system.”
At the end of 1936 Orwell travelled to Spain to fight for the communist republicans in the civil war against the fascists. There he experienced first hand the ongoing propaganda and purges (of those with dissenting opinions). He returned to England determined to focus his writing on the war against totalitarianism – both fascism and communism. Nevertheless, he never lost his faith in a socialist revolution against the class structure of society led by the working classes devoid of intellectual bullies, Marxists and Fascists – to wipe out class privileges.
For Orwell, an ideal society was one of absolute equality of all people that included equality of social status, income, and living standards: “…the equivocal moral position of Britain, with its democratic phrases and coolie empire, the sinister development of Soviet Russia, the squalid farce of left-wing politics – all this fades away and one sees only the struggle of the gradually-awakening common people against the lords of property and their hired liars and bumsuckers.” In his review of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom he wrote, “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader-worship and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can be somehow combined with freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong can be restored.” He died from tuberculosis in 1950.[i]
The Cold War, the name given to the relationship that developed primarily between the US and the USSR after World War II, dominated international affairs for decades and many major crises occurred: the Cuban Crisis, Hungary, Vietnam, and the Berlin Wall. For many the growth of weapons of mass destruction was the most worrying issue. Initially events seemed to be turning the tide in favour of Soviet expansion and the spread of communism. Soviet-style governments were established in central Europe (1947-1948), the Communists won the civil war in China (1948), and North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950.
Western governments understood that the Soviets were trying to organize communism as a worldwide movement under the direction of the Soviet Union. Mutual suspicion, augmented by profound distrust and misunderstanding fueled the conflict. While confrontation and competition of two antagonistic economic systems was an integral part of the Cold War, the fight was played out in the realm of trade and social policies. The West turned to the writings of Friedrich Hayek to push back communist ideas
Friedrich Hayek promoted the ‘minimum state’ that was adopted by the Republican Party, and served the dual purpose to oppose Soviet Marxism, and undermine the ‘New Deal’ economic policies in place. His thinking has become the ideological basis of the present policies of industrial and environmental deregulation. He criticized the possibility of planning the economy given the fact that its complexity is opposed to any rational estimate. Hayek, speaking on behalf of the ultra-liberals, at the 1955 Congress for Freedom of Culture (organized and directed by the CIA from 1950 to 1967), in Milan recalled that the only right worthwhile to defend is the right to property, (in contrast to to social rights).
When Mikhail S. Gorbachev (1931-) became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, he launched his nation on a dramatic new course. His dual program of “perestroika” (“restructuring”) and “glasnost” (“openness”) introduced profound changes in economic practice, internal affairs and international relations. Perestroika involved drastic restructuring of the Soviet economy. Glasnost led to Gorbachev unilaterally discontinuing the Cold War.
On December 7, 1988 Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the 43d UN General Assembly session: “The compelling necessity of the principle of freedom of choice is also clear to us. The failure to recognize this, to recognize it, is fraught with very dire consequences for world peace. Denying that right to the peoples, no matter what the pretext, no matter what the words are used to conceal it, means infringing upon even the unstable balance that is, has been possible to achieve. Freedom of choice is a universal principle to which there should be no exceptions. We have not come to the conclusion of the immutability of this principle simply through good motives. We have been led to it through impartial analysis of the objective processes of our time. The increasing varieties of social development in different countries are becoming ever more perceptible features of these processes. This relates to both capitalist and socialist systems.”
The freedom of choice that Gorbachev spoke of that day was the social mobility of the middle class in the West. There was the belief in America that an individual could improve his situation through hard work and following the rules, and that his children would be better off than him. The middle class in America appeared after the Second World War. The 1950s is considered the decade that eliminated poverty for the great majority of Americans. The decade was associated with the shift from suburban areas o the suburbs, with the housing supply increasing 27%. The 1970s and the 1980s belonged to the middle class. Unions, a key driver in the creation of the middle-class, are responsible for the reduction of work hours, paid vacation, all sorts of benefits that we all enjoy. In the 1980s unions were at the height of their power in North America.
Within five years, Gorbachev’s revolutionary program swept communist governments throughout Eastern Europe from power marking the official end of the Cold War. Gorbachev’s actions also inadvertently set the stage for the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which dissolved into 15 individual republics. Gorbachev resigned from office on December 25, 1991. Initially, Dick Cheney credited President Ronald Reagan for winning the Cold War. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Donald Rumsfeld promotes that many people in the West were involved in the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Both Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings. Both thinkers thus posited an “end of history”: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society. Francis Fukuyama discussed this in an essay he wrote in 1989, titled, The End of History. He proposes that human history be viewed in terms of the battle of ideologies which have reached an end, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and with no alternative challengers at hand. Soviet socialism was not superior to the West in any respect but was a monumental failure.
For Hegel, historical advance did not proceed through a series of smooth transitions. Once the potentialities of a particular society had been realized in the creation of a certain mode of life, its historical role was over; its members became aware of its inadequacies, and the laws and institutions they had previously accepted unquestioningly were now experienced as fetters, inhibiting further development and no longer reflecting their deepest aspirations. The middle class has been stripped of jobs, income and security. Thus, the majority realizes that the middle class is under attack from the existing economic system, and opportunities once available to the previous generation, have disappeared.
During the Cold War the writings of Hayek played an important part in countering the messages from communism. The 1957 launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, had many in the West wondering if the advances in science reflected the strength of the collective system. In the end, the free market system triumphed over planned economy processes. However, we now see that Hayek’s writing’s that were previously accepted unquestioningly, have been used to justify a growing oligarchy at the top of the world economic pyramid. This ideology of minimal government and regulations no longer reflects the aspirations of the majority of the people. It is responsible for the growing economic split between a small group at the top of the economic system and the rest of society. The consequence of this growing income gap between the rich and the poor is the loss of freedom for the majority. The economic debacle of 2007 aggravated the situation. Starting one’s life in a poor economy can translate into lower earnings that translate into lower earnings and less career attainment over a lifetime.
In the 21st century, the epigenetics revolution is rewriting our understanding of genetics disease and inheritance. From believing that our biological fates were written in our genes, it is now recognized that the environment, and more specifically our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. How we deal with epigenetic harms implicates the underlying fairness and justice of our social contract. How we develop mentally and physically has a tremendous impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life opportunities. There is a relationship between poor health as a mechanism for intergenerational transmission of poverty. Children born into poor families have poorer health as adults; as a result earn lower wages as adults. For the first time in history, children in North America will end up poorer than their parents, and have shorter lifespans than their parents.
In the second decade of the 21st century the top 5% control economic resources of the world. A new world aristocracy that forms a global community or class system connected by interest and ideology has appeared. This new aristocracy opposes increases in their taxes and the tightening of the regulations of their economic activities. They believe this (low taxes) is driving the whole system. The new global aristocracy is a system in which privileged groups in both developed and developing countries act (often in concert) to protect their own position at the expense of others. Conservative foundations in America fund free-market-oriented programs at universities and subsidize the research of right wing intellectuals to develop free market rhetoric that is elaborate and intellectually vacuous in order to distract the public and legislators from focusing on issues.
A new definition of freedom has emerged during the second decade of the 21st century that eludes the majority of citizens – the freedom of choices to reach their full potential. The increasing economic gap means less social mobility. Inequality is the biggest factor affecting the health or wellness of the population. The health consequences of economic inequality have a profound effect on creating poverty and weakening social structures. The link between socio-economic status and health outcomes is well documented. High socio-economic status is associated with better health, and more equitable and inclusive societies tend to be healthier societies. Why are higher income and social status associated with better health? It is not about the absolute wealth in society, but how it is distributed.
A large-scale British study reported in 1999 that the magnitude of health inequities increases in apparent response to increasing disparities in wealth and income. These authors concluded that the key means of reducing inequalities in health was reducing inequalities in income and wealth. Wilkerson (1996) brought together much of the research showing that societies with greater poverty have higher mortality rates across the entire population. That means the well off in in economically unequal American communities have greater rates of health problems than the well off in relatively equal communities.
There are policies that can close the gap between the rich and the poor. One is to address the value gap – introduce the living wage, and support the formation of unions. The income gap can be addressed through changes to the tax code rather than incremental changes to minimum wages. Then there is the common goods gap – make housing (the greatest drain on the income of the poor) more affordable. In addition, provide a high quality child care system, and improve public education and access to higher education to assist social mobility. The key policy that will reduce inequalities in health and provide individuals with the freedom and opportunities for choices that enable them to reach their potential is the reduction of the inequalities in income and wealth.
[i] “George Orwell: The Fight Against Totalarianism http://www.freeradical.co.nz/content/58/Orwell.php
 “Gorbachev’s Speech to the U.N. December 7, 1988.” http://isc.temple.edu/hist249/course/Documents/gorbachev_speech_to_UN.htm
 “The End of History and the Last Man.” http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/fukuyama.htm
 Raphael, Dennis. “Poverty, Income Inequality, and Health in Canada.” The CSJ Foundation for Research and Education: Toronto June 2002.