A real estate tycoon was in the headlines last year in Pakistan. His legendary rise from rags to riches in less than 15 years, by virtue of many things controversial, was also reported when Mediagate gripped the country. But hardly any rags-to-riches story is ever free of controversy.
While all the feudal lords in the country (many of them pirs) came to possess their mega-estates post-1857, the notorious ‘22 families’ have amassed phenomenal wealth and properties by employing the most foul means: tax evasion, thug violence, bribes, family connection, jobbery and what not.
This is not Pakistan-specific. This is a universal rule. However, in the west plunder is institutionalised and sophisticated. In the post-colonial world, plunder is crude and berserk. Still, from cradle to grave we are constantly fed the myth that if we work hard, we succeed. By success one often means ‘wealth’.
However, this oft-repeated cliché does not explain why millions of peasants remain poor even when they have been working hard, all year around, for the last many centuries.
One may also say the same about millions of workers. Generations of working class families have been working hard in mines, factories, construction sites and other work places. But they remain dirt poor.
As a matter of fact, under capitalism (as was the case with feudalism) one does not become rich by virtue of his/her hard ‘work’. One is rich (capitalist) or dispossessed (worker) owing to one’s class positioning. Class is not a group of people. Similarly, capital is not currency, wealth, property, or land.
While class is determined by one’s position vis-à-vis the production process under capitalism, capital is a relational nexus between capitalists and workers. This rather complex proposition becomes easy to grapple with if we bear in mind the following raw example depicting the production process:
Say Mr Rich invests Rs100 in a towel producing factory. He installs machines and employs workers to do the job. Every time a production cycle is complete, Mr Rich pockets Rs10 as profit.
Under capitalism, this profit will never be appropriated by the workers, no matter how hard they work to produce the fine quality towels.
It is possible that an ‘intelligent’ (most likely an obedient) worker is promoted as foreman to help police and discipline his comrades.
Still, this ‘intelligent’ worker will only be a ladder above his comrades but will never continue to rise in riches the way the top boss multiplies his wealth by pocketing Rs10 as profit every time the production cycle is completed.
To further protect his accumulated profit, Mr Rich doles out a fraction of his profit (Rs10) to income tax officials to evade tax. He also bribes other state officials and politicians. Thus, he ensures that the state is on his side if the workers ever organise in unions to demand a share in the Rs10 they produce as profit.
Understandably, at the dawn of capitalism a keen observer like Balzac was telling us back in the eighteenth century: ‘Behind every big fortune, there is a big crime.’
Had there been a link between hard work and wealth, billions of peasants and workers toiling from dawn to dusk would not have been living in absolute misery.
The minimum wage in Pakistan is Rs6000 (though this law is hardly respected anywhere). Suppose a worker is paid the minimum wage and he lives on thin air to save every single penny, still it will take him 15 years to earn his first million. How many do you think will manage such a miracle?
By: Farooq Sulehria