In the economically highly developed countries of Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand and Japan a minimal still acceptable standard of living for an unskilled labourer and even for a destitute but state assisted unemployed person (so to speak for the lowest social strata of the society) is defined as follows:

Minimal still acceptable standard of living (Central Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand, Japan) – Every person / family should be granted or be able to afford at least the following as a minimal level to have a “decent life”:

  • According to the size of the family, a simple flat in a building with acceptable structural conditions
  • Electricity supply (24 hours)
  • Running water (cold and hot – 24 hours)
  • Heating during winter
  • Bathroom with WC and shower in the same flat/building
  • Kitchen with sink, cooker and fridge in the same flat/building
  • Washing machine
  • Sufficient and healthy food (three meals a day – one hot)
  • Basic but adequate clothing (climate dependent)
  • Basic products for basic personal care + detergents for cleaning the flat
  • Simple but functional furniture, one TV, one telephone
  • Basic medical and dental care (including rehabilitation, support tools, spectacles, prosthesis etc.)
  • Accident insurance (especially at workplace)
  • Social benefits / state assistance in case of unemployment and/or destitution
  • Sufficient pension payments once retirement age is reached (depending on the country, starting from the age of 62/65)
  • Completed basic education and vocational training (for one self and possible children)
  • Workplace without health risks
  • In case of employment, minimal two weeks paid vacations per year
  • (toys and leisure articles, for example bicycle, books, computer, basic sport and music devices; maybe a small second hand car per family) ?  

The above defined standard of living is regarded in the economically developed countries of Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand and Japan as the minimal standard to which every citizen is entitled and to which the society or the state must provide access for every inhabitant. Therefore, wages and salaries in these countries must be established accordingly to ensure that such minimal standard of living is indeed accessible for every person (if not directly through payments of wages/salaries to the working population, then at least via transfer of social benefits, mostly financed by tax income, to the individual).

But what does it look like in the rest of the world? We might most probably all be aware that, apart for the economically developed nations, the above defined minimum standard of living represents for most of the people in Africa, most countries of Asia and Latin America, and as well as in most parts of the former Eastern Block, nothing other than an unreachable dream. In these regions of the world only very few persons can to some extent afford such a standard of living.

However, many products traded in the economically developed nations originate from these so called third countries[1]. For example: food items, agricultural produce including meat and fish, natural products (including wood and paper), clothing, shoes, toys, plastic merchandise etc. Similarly, most goods that are produced, processed and traded in economically developed nations often contain a very high degree of components and/or means of production originating again from third countries: Agricultural (crop/plant materials, but also e.g. concentrated feed for animal production; animal products) and natural raw materials; textiles (such as cotton), mineral raw products and processed mineral materials, energy sources including oil/gas, rubber, plastic etc.

This means that a majority of the goods, which are indispensable (and must remain financially speaking easily accessible for their citizens) for the high material standard of living of the economically developed countries, contain raw materials as well as especially labour force from third countries. But this labour force is in no way not even approximately remunerated (“protected”) as the labour force in the importing i.e. economically developed countries. With respect to their standard of living, the labour force of the third countries is light years away from the minimal standard of living in the industrial nations; and for most of them poverty, personal menace, and partially even hunger are real dimensions of their daily life.

However, shouldn’t a modern, mature and developed society demand (and stand for it consistently) the same minimal standard of living, that it claims – by law and constitution – for its own citizens, also claim for all people in the world? But what would happen if these importing nations should indeed insist that the labour force of third countries, which contributes to the production and transport of goods traded in the industrial nations, obtains an equivalent minimal standard of living (or an accordingly necessary remuneration) as their own citizens do?

The following would occur: In order to be able to ensure for its own citizens even approximately a similar minimal standard of living as the one in the economically developed countries, the respective society (the social and economic systems) of these third countries would need to substantially increase their revenues (i.a. earnings and taxes). Inter alia[2] the current wages in these countries would have to be increased by several times, the prices of all imported (by the industrial nations) finished goods and raw materials originating from these countries would probably rise by several hundred percent as well.

A spark plug for example that is inter alia composed of copper, nickel, talc, steel/ore (all originating from third countries) instead of, as it does today, costing around 10 Euros, would probably amount to over one hundred Euros. The prices for a cell phone or a laptop computer which amongst other contain Coltan and Lithium as essential components needed i.a. for their high electrical conductivity and capacitance, would most likely increase by several hundred percent. Every car, television, piece of cotton clothing, and all the above mentioned imported finished products and raw materials, but also related food items would become exponentially more expensive. The unavoidable and logical consequence would be evident:

  • A collapse of demand due to exploding prices for products and production inputs;
  • Stagnation and paralysis of large segments of industry and commerce;
  • Mass unemployment;
  • Initial hyperinflation followed by a crash of stock exchanges and finally the monetary value;
  • Anarchy and violence.

However, the economically developed countries will not and cannot allow this to happen. Although demanding as a minimum an acceptable standard of living for their own citizens, they nevertheless wouldn’t want to forgo the cheaper/affordable products and services which ensure their own (on average) high standard of living. Doing so, they accept that the labour force from the third countries indispensable for the creation of those goods, has to renounce such minimal yet acceptable standard of living.

(The fact that worldwide increasingly more and more corporations and enterprises “legally” outsource parts of their production to third countries, in order to benefit from the respective cheap labour, may here just be mentioned as an aside; so called fair trade products might intentionally be appreciable, however they de facto increase the standard of living of the local labour force just marginally and therefore mostly do not merit that title at all – in particular they do not even approximately ensure a comparable minimum standard of living as guaranteed within economically developed nations.)

What conclusion may one draw from this factual context?

In principle, on the global level a capitalist competitive society and its economic and social systems can only be sustained through the simultaneous preservation of striking disparities of incomes and standards of living, and consequent substantial social injustice. Indeed, any effort to ensure social justice and an acceptable standard of living for all people worldwide would challenge the very same system and lead to its collapse. The capitalist competitive model needs social and economic imbalances and discrepancies, and is therefore reliant on the preservation of global injustice.

A new world view with a respective epoch-making renewed economic and social system is a vital necessity for a just future of our global reality – it will therefore be indispensable to break with sclerotic taboos.

[1] Third countries: herewith defined as countries that do not belong to the EU, North America or to the industrialized states of Asia. This means in particular the so-called transition states and so-called developing countries.

[2] In addition to the need to increase wages: for example, application of international environmental standards; social-political measures to ensure personal security etc.