We are living in a golden age. While hundreds perish in the blue seas around Malta, those who were lucky enough to be born at the right time in the right place are living in the best of times.
The Joseph Muscat years will be best remembered for the liberation of oppressed, and well-organised, minorities enrolled on the electoral register and indomitable economic growth.
Although the class issue rages on, it is become harder to tell apart people with old money from those with new money. They now wear the same branded polo shirts, flaunt the same jewellery, attend the same schools, drive the same cars, frequent the same clubs, dine at the same restaurants and travel to the same places.
Before being crowned il-king ta’ Malta, Muscat read the people’s aspirations to the letter and boy did he deliver. And now his dream is quickly turning into a nightmare.
The middle class keeps growing without looking at people’s cultural capital. The only capital that counts is measured in euros. And those lucky enough to make a few extra euros, legally or otherwise, are forever grateful to Muscat for allowing them to live the Maltese dream.
But that is only one part of the story. Like anywhere else, wealth in Malta is controlled by a tiny handful of individuals and while their greed might trickle down very slowly to the bourgeoning middle class, there are many others from the poorer classes who have not yet, or cannot, climb up the social ladder.
The issue of wealth and income inequality is the biggest moral issue of our time and it requires a political solution.
Fundamentally it is a matter of the haves versus the have-nots but let’s for a minute ignore the very few who control wealth.
While the middle class can temporarily bask in new found wealth, there are thousands in Malta who can barely afford a lazy afternoon on the beach.
Thousands cannot make ends meet. According to the latest statistics released by the National Statistics Office, 19.2% of the population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
That’s over 82,000 people who still cannot shout ‘I made it’. And what has Muscat’s Labour done to help these thousands?
What has Muscat done to help those who cannot afford to buy a property of their own and who are being asked to fork out 60% or more of their monthly wage to rent out an apartment?
For a start, Muscat has ostensibly refused to raise the minimum wage. The so-called increase in the minimum wage agreed upon by the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) and the government is not enough to make a tangible difference in the lives of the working poor.
By next year, workers who have been employed by the same employer for a year will see their minimum wage increase by a meagre €8 per week or €416 in a year.
If Muscat believes that is enough of an increase to improve people’s lives then he must have lost touch with reality on the ground. And I believe he hasn’t but instead of representing the masses who catapulted him to power he does the bidding of the wealthy few.
The wealthy land owners and construction lobby are dead set against regulating the property market and Muscat obediently refuses to control the spiralling property prices because he’d rather let the wealthy dictate policy than legislate in favour of the most vulnerable.
Despite announcing various grand plans, Muscat has had five years to provide social housing, yet he failed to build one single new unit. Once again he’d rather leave the poor at the mercy of the greedy few who bankroll his party than provide adequate housing to who really needs it.
Last week, Muscat once again let the wealthy dictate the agenda as his government withdrew regulations which would have guaranteed better working conditions for thousands of employees.
Unsurprisingly, the self-declared champions of workers such as the General Workers Union did not offer any kind of resistance which sends a clear sign to those who want to squeeze workers dry. They put the interests of ‘investors’ and fabled economic growth ahead of the workers they represent. Sadly, trade unions have simply become another tool of the few who control wealth.
This is capitalism and I do not expect any political leader, let alone the neo-Fordist Muscat, to dismantle capitalism.
But in the best of times Muscat can raise the minimum wage and pensions way beyond the cosmetic increases introduced last year, increase taxes for millionaires and corporations, fight tax evasion, regulate the property market, guarantee pay equity and introduce better working conditions. But he must first decide on whose side he is on.