What’s the worst feature of the arrest and charging of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the IMF, for attempted rape? Sure, it’s the criminal act – if that has been committed. But it also the revelation that DSK was well known in the circles of the global financial and political elite as a ‘womaniser’. That was a polite word for what now appears in this case to have been a serial predator on women, if we are to believe the stories of up to 14 women who now claim they were aggressively molested or ‘put on’ by DSK, either as students, when he was in universities in France or when journalists were trying to interview him.
There is the unsurprising conclusion, if all this is true, that people of the ruling elite reckon that they can do what they want without any repercussions because they are so rich and powerful. After the stories we now know about the financial collapse and the accompanying greed and corruption of the likes of Madoff, the head of Lehmans Brothers and many of the officials presiding over the biggest financial disaster since the Great Depression, it is no surprise to know that people like DSK think they are above the law. Of course, in a bourgeois democracy, they are not completely able to avoid any consequences of their actions. But often they can. Indeed, apart from Madoff and that Texan guy in the Caribbean engaged in traditional Ponzi-type scams, nobody has been charged, let alone convicted, from anything to do with the financial collapse of 2008-9.
The really ugly feature of this event was the apparent evidence that all the French political elite, including his fellow socialist leaders, knew what DSK ‘was like’ but did nothing to expose him or remove him from the leadership of the socialist party. One woman who claims she was molested by DSK said that she did not come forward because her mother, a prominent French socialist, persuaded her not to ‘for the good of the party’. Indeed, the French socialists were getting ready to make him their candidate for the French presidency in next year’s election and he was ahead in the polls. If DSK had become president, assuming the stories and charges are true, it may have paved the way for something similar to the former Israeli president who was eventually jailed for rape committed while in office – after years of Israeli leaders avoiding the issue.
The French socialist leaders are the epitomy of ‘champagne socialism’. They are all millionaires and they are all part of political dynasties. Martine Aubry, the socialist leader, is daughter of Jacques Delors, the old socialist EU leader. Francois Hollande was married to Segoyan Royal, until they separated when SR ran for the presidency despite her husband’s opposition. This political clique all know each other and protect each other including the likes of DSK. And yet they claim to represent the French working class and labour movement just when they face a serious attack on their living standards, pensions and other gains of the French welfare state if the conservative Nicolas Sarkosi gets back into office next year, or worse the right-wing populist ex-fascist Marie Le Pen defeats them in the first round next year. Their answer was going to be to put up DSK as their candidate, a man who has presided over the vicious austerity measures applied to the Greek, Irish and now Portuguese people in bailouts used to save the European banks from investment losses. It’s a definition of a socialist leader that beggars belief.
Instead of trying to impose an ex-central banker and leader of the most important institution of finance capital on the French people as a socialist, the French socialists would do better to expose the inequality of income and wealth that continues to characterise modern capitalist economies like France. But then, as they are all millionaires and benefit from such mechanisms of inequality, that is rather difficult for them.
More evidence of how bad the inequality of income and wealth has become in the first decade of 21st century came with the publication of the first report by the UK’s High Pay Commission. This worthy body has found that the UK’s top earners are taking an even bigger share of the national cake. By 2025, just 0.1% of earners (the very top) will take home 10% of annual national income! These are the top executives of the big companies and banks in the UK (the very places that DSK came from). The top 100 CEOs in the UK had an average annual income of £4.2m. The financial crisis and the Great Recession have made no difference to their incomes. Whereas in 2010, these CEOs earned 145 times the average salary of the British worker, by 2025, on current trends, their income will be 214 times greater!
It has not always been that way. Between 1949 and 1979, the share of personal income going to those in the top 10% of income earners decreased. But after that, under the infamous Margaret Thatcher and successive Conservative and Labour governments, that process reversed. Under the Labour government from 1997 to 2010, the inequality got worse. The top 0.1% saw their income rise 64% in that period, while for the bottom 50% it rose just 7.2%. By the end of this decade, the top earners will average £1m a year while the bottom 50% will average just £18,700 a year. In another study, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that the Gini coefficient , a measure of the inequality of income is now at its highest level in the UK since measurements began!
It’s the same story in the US. According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 400 wealthiest taxpayers in America saw their incomes rise 277% in real terms (that’s after inflation) between 1992 and 2008, or nearly four times faster than for everyone else. Yet they are paying less tax, or at least less as a share of their income. In 1995, they paid 30% of their income in personal tax and now it’s just 18%. Sure, that’s still a higher rate than the rest of Americans paid, but then the rest are earning many times less each year.
The wealth and income of the elite in our capitalist society is so much higher than we can even imagine that it sets the very way these people think and act. Apparently the ‘incident’ with DSK and the chamber maid took place in a $3000 a night (plus minibar and room service etc) suite complete with office, conference room etc. But don’t worry the IMF and we taxpayers did not pay for all that. We only paid for a less lavish room. The manager of the New York Sofitel hotel upgraded DSK to that room. Sofitel is a French-owned hotel chain and DSK got the treatment because he is such an important person in France. So that’s all right then.
The likes of DSK see themselves as rulers of the universe, not subject to the petty laws of the ‘great unwashed’, namely us. So they are often prepared to break those laws, with usual confidence that nothing will happen to them. Sometimes they get it wrong, of course, but not often.