Multinational Monitor

MAR/APR 2007
VOL 28 No. 2


Big Pharma and AIDS Act II: Patents and the Price of Second-Line Treatment
by Robert Weissman

Manuel Cossa's Story: Mining and the Migration of AIDS
by Stephanie Nolan

Slow on Generics: Bush Policy Saves Lives, At a Premium
by M. Asif Ismail

HIV In Uganda: The Challenges of Getting Pills to Patients
by Richard Kavuma

Building Up Baja: US Suburbanization Comes to the Peninsula
by Dan La Botz


Cry for Action: Shameful Neglect and the Search for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa an interview with Stephen Lewis

Four Million Short: The Healthcare Worker Shortage
an interview with Lincoln Chen


Behind the Lines

Deadly Dictates: The IMF, AIDS and the Healthcare Crisis

The Front
Climate Changing Africa -- African Inequality

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Greed At a Glance

Commercial Alert

Names In the News


Greed at a Glance

Selling to the Plutonomy

More and more these days, in hip and savvy corporate marketing circles, the hip and savvy are talking “plutonomy.” Not familiar with the term?

Corporate marketers are. They’re using plutonomy — a makeshift coupling of plutocracy and economy — to describe a society where a “superwealthy top band of super-earners and super-consumers” shape who the “free market” goes after and who the free market ignores.

And that’s a description, corporate marketing types agree, that now fits the United States.

Earlier this year, in Florida’s posh Palm Beach, about 250 of these marketers gathered at an American Express “luxury summit” to soak up the latest research on the awesomely affluent in the United States.

That research, presented by the Connecticut-based Harrison Group, defines as merely “affluent” those U.S. households that spend $10,000 to $20,000 a month on lifestyle, a level that consigns 95 percent of U.S. households to less-than-affluent status.

The “super-affluent,” says the Harrison Group, take consumption up a notch. They spend $20,000 to $40,000 a month on lifestyle. Above them sit the purely “wealthy,” those households that lay out from $50,000 to $1 million a month on discretionary spending.

Another new survey, from, uses “super-affluent” as the tag for the 2 million U.S. households — 1.2 percent of the nation’s household total — that take home over $250,000 a year.

The fortunes of the richest U.S. households, the Harrison Group’s Jim Taylor told the American Express luxury summit, are compounding at a 20 percent annual rate.

“They can’t possibly spend it,” quipped the marketing expert, “although God knows they’re trying, and we thank the good Lord for that.”

Inequality and Extinction

New research, released late this spring by three scientists at Montreal’s McGill University, has “found striking relationships between income inequality and biodiversity loss.”

“Our study suggests that if we can learn to share economic resources more fairly with fellow members of our own species,” notes the McGill Environment School’s Greg Mikkelson, “it may help us to share ecological resources more fairly with other species.”

The McGill research team compared data on inequality and biodiversity loss for 45 nations and 45 U.S. states.  “Societies with more unequal distributions of income,” the research indicates, “experience greater losses of biodiversity.”

How significant an impact on extinctions does inequality make? If the industrialized world’s most unequal nation, the United States, were to distribute incomes as equally as Sweden, 44 percent fewer plant and vertebrate species in the United States would likely face extinction.

Why does inequality have this impact? Certain dynamics already appear clear. In nations where a wealthy few monopolize the best farmland, the resulting poverty pressures the poor to till marginal — and environmentally fragile — landscapes.

And in societies where a wealthy few accumulate grand fortunes, they also accumulate disproportionate political power, often enough to prevent — or bulldoze away — environmental regulations.

“With biodiversity loss,” sums up McGill biologist Andrew Gonzalez, “if we don’t link the science to the social causes, we will never solve the problem.”

UK Deep Pockets

Any move to up taxes on private equity partnerships — investment groups that buy out publicly traded companies, and avoid paying standard income tax rates in the United States — will leave the industry less competitive in global markets, say investment fund industry apologists in the United States. Funny. Private equity industry apologists in the UK are making the same exact case.

Private equity powerhouses in the UK have actually enjoyed, since 1999, bigger tax breaks than their U.S. counterparts. British private equity managers pay taxes on their personal profits at a mere 10 percent rate, not the 15 percent going rate in the United States.

But UK deep pockets get even more tax breaks than that. Of the estimated 400 UK residents who took home at least $20 million year before last, official figures released in June revealed, only 65 filled out a tax return and paid any British income taxes.

After that data release, at a British parliamentary hearing on tax avoidance, several MPs aggressively grilled some of Britain’s biggest names in private equity — too aggressively for one top Conservative Party leader.

“Whatever the arguments for or against the structure of taxation for private equity,” charged Alan Duncan, “successful risk-takers who have worked properly within the law should not ever be subjected to a sarcastic inquisition by MPs.”

Jack Dromey, an official with the British Unite trade union, gave the private equity hearing a distinctly different perspective. He noted that unions, after private equity takeovers, often have a hard time finding out who really owns the companies where their members work.

“The public knows more about the Cosa Nostra,” he testified, “than private equity.”

— Sam Pizzigati, editor of Too Much,
an online weekly on excess and inequality


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