The average household of four in the USA’s top one per cent spends $3 million a year on luxuries.
In famine-stricken Somalia, more than half the population of nine million live on less than $1 a day.
Each one of those rich households in the USA, if it limited itself to necessities, could spare enough to double the income of almost one million Somalis.
The richest one per cent in the USA — three million people — consume between them 70 times as much as the entire income (consumer spending, public services, investment, the lot) of 92 million people in Somalia and Ethiopia.
The richest one per cent are fighting hard, and almost surely with success, to keep the big tax cuts which president George W Bush gave them, even at the cost of risking an economic implosion for the USA if the US government goes over its credit limit.
Tens of thousands among the 92 million people in east Africa are starving. Hundreds of thousands have fled, to Kenya or elsewhere, to try to avoid starvation.
The richest one per cent reckon their hard stance will persuade the US Congress and President Obama to adjust the US budget by cutting social security and Medicare spending for the US poor. The top one per cent already spends 20 times as much on consumer goods and services as the average US household — the top 10% does half of all the USA’s consumer spending — and thousands of times more than average Somali or Ethiopian households. But it still wants more.
People in east Africa have been pushed into starvation not only by drought, but by a two-thirds rise in world food prices since 2009. The flipside to that price rise is swollen profits for the giant agribusinesses which dominate world food markets, many of them US-based.
Among the richest one per cent — in the USA as in other countries — virtually none does any work producing anything useful. If they work hard, it is at outsmarting each other and grabbing bigger shares of the cream.
Among the people in east Africa, almost all work hard at producing everyday necessities.
They are hindered by the failure of governments to develop the wells and irrigation necessary in areas with erratic rainfall, and by the growing annexation of the best land by cash-crop production for export, which enriches only a few, and erratically.
Just a tiny sliver from the income of the richest one per cent, 1.4%, would double the overall income of Ethiopia and Somalia, and pay for irrigation, communications, and public services which would revolutionise their economies. An even tinier sliver of the income would save thousands from starvation now.
But the rich few hold on to their loot with a grip of steel; and they have power, a hundred times more power, than the many poor. The rich few run with the grain of the economic system, and the many poor have to fight against it.
That is capitalism. No system of social and democratic control over economic life would ever allow thousands to starve to death when just hours away, with modern communications, other people gorge on luxuries.
Capitalism means control over economic life by the priorities of profit, not by any social and human priorities.