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The World War against the Poor
More and more money capital concentrates in the hands of the rich which they let `work for itself.' Every day $1.5 trillion circulates around the globe and changes hands. Only two to three percent of that is needed to handle the business with goods and services. The rest is speculative excess. There is only constant unchecked growth in one place in nature: in the cancer cell! Robert Reich's new film "Inequality for All" is a protest against our plutocracy and the myths of trickle down economics and self-healing markets.
THE WORLD WAR AGAINST THE POOR
[“The Third World War is fully underway for the people in the third world.” So wrote Jean Ziegler, special ambassador of the UN Human Rights commission for the right to food in his spirited book “The New Rulers of the World and Their Global Adversaries.” He supports this statement with numbers. This article is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.das-weisse-pferd.com/03_06/weltkrieg_gegen_arme.html.]
In the six years of the Second World War, 16 to 18 million soldiers were killed – and 50 to 55 million civilians. In 2001 “the number of deaths in the 122 countries of the third world caused by economic under-development and extreme poverty amounted to over 58 million.”
“Hunger, epidemic, thirst and local conflicts over poverty destroy almost as many men, women and children every year as the Second World War destroyed in six years.” Therefore Ziegler’s thesis speaks of the “world war against the poor.”
THE SHADY SIDES OF GLOBALIZATION
In his book Ziegler shows the present structures of the world economy are jointly responsible for the mass misery in the world.
- In Nigeria the International Monetary Fund required that the national food programs be privatized. Otherwise there would be no additional credits for the poverty-stricken country. A privatization of state institutions can be sensible under certain circumstances. However the beginning of this measure already had disastrous effects in this case. In the past the state trucks drove to the last corner of the land to store the harvest surpluses and distribute them in times of need. The drivers of the new private businesses refused to journey to remote villages since that was not profitable. They refused to drive on bad, hollowed out6 roads. With a breakdown or damage to a truck, the driver feared being dismissed without notice and then suffering hunger with his whole family…
- In Mauritania the traditional systems of commonly owned property and common land cultivation (that obviously had its shortcomings) were removed with a stroke of the pen at the instigation of the IMF. As a result, many of the newly divided parcels quickly landed in the hands of a few foreign landowners. Most of the simple farmers were neither mentally nor financially prepared for an independent cultivation of these fields. The slums of the cities grew at a breakneck speed. The country had to import less rice but hardly anyone could afford the rice grown in the country because of the high price.
- In Zambia the farmers on foreign advice did not plant the climatically adjusted millet but profitable corn susceptible to drought. Corn can be exported. For the advisors, serving the interests of foreign creditors had priority over everything else, including hunger and bad harvests. The IMF then advised the Zambian government to sell part of the state corn provision to gain revenue – for debt service. The corrupt government sold everything and transferred the money into ministers’ pockets. A large part of the rural population starves today.
These were several examples from Africa – the continent with the most poverty and misery. However many similar cases from Asia or Latin America could be cited. So for example the IMF urges raising the prices of already privatized electricity- and water suppliers 50 percent – in a country where 27 children die daily of malnutrition. In many countries, school lunches were cancelled or the local – obviously unprofitable – medical provision privatized.
DOUBLE STANDARDS AND HYPOCRISY
Besides the IMF the – officially private – World Trade Organization (WTO) also helps open the doors to worldwide corporations everywhere. International trade negotiations would not be bad if they were fair. But reality looks different when only “unanimous” resolutions are decreed officially in the WTO.
Poorer countries cannot afford regular representation at the headquarters in Geneva. They are usually informed about resolutions afterwards. If they would have been present in the discussions and looked through the complicated material, they would know exactly what would happen if they were refractory…
Poor countries are forced to dismantle their trade barriers and not impose any restrictions on international corporations – lowest possible taxes and no social or ecological conditions. The rich countries in Europe and elsewhere hold fast to their subsidies for their own agriculture, for example, and screen off their markets.
These double standards and hypocrisy run through nearly all areas of the much praised “globalization” like a central thread. Don’t its defenders promise everything to us? Everyone will be prosperous because the arising profit supposedly “trickles down” over time. This “trickle down effect” is an idea of the economist Adam Smith from the 18th century that has still not been fulfilled today. Whoever has money left does not usually give to the poor but lets it “work for itself.” Other people work for it. Globalization should cross borders and bring people closer to one another – but on the contrary leads to new limits. In many poor countries, there are fenced off “special economic zones” with tax freedom where modern slaves can slave away almost around the clock for foreign corporations. In many countries, the rich wall themselves in their residential areas. Watchmen and sniffer dogs patrol the barbed wire to keep the desperate poor outside. Wealth only flourishes in a few enclaves while the wilderness of misery expands. Finally, globalization should lead to more democracy. However corporations prefer to collaborate with sturdy dictatorships, as in Tunisia and China – since their privileges are best protected there.
WHOLE STATES DISINTEGRATE
Thus “globalization” has become a meaningless word behind which the greed of the rich can be easily hidden. Globalization could be a marvelous thing. What one understands under globalization is crucial. “Many things that I’d like to globalize spontaneously occur to me,” the Indian author Arundhati Roy says: “human rights, nuclear- and chemical weapon ban treaties, climate protection agreements…” However neoliberal economic policy that unfortunately sails under his flag leads to reduced social benefits, uncontrolled destruction of the environment, cutting down the rainforests, impoverishment, hunger- and ultimately to the dissolution of whole states. “In Africa, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and many other countries in dissolution are hardly more than inscriptions on a map,” Ziegler says (p.31). “These countries have ceased to exist as organized national societies.” At the end, predator capitalism becomes the sovereign ru9ling all things. Often sheer chaos returns after all the “deregulations” where social structures like the tribe or clan previously existed – in no way like paradise. “All organized social life disappears where the new rulers of the world and their mercenaries rage” (p.280).
One may call such statements exaggerated. Still they reveal a fatal tendency that is in no way restricted to the “third world.” A comparatively rich country like Germany can also be forced to “deregulations,” literally to the reduction of social benefits, to dismantling protection against unlawful termination and collective bargaining, tax cuts for the rich and cancellation of supplementary benefits for the poorer… Is this really an unalterable fate to which every country has to submit?
For the cultural critic Carl Amery, the dogma hurled on every occasion that “there is no alternative” (abbreviated TINA) is a characteristic of a new global religion, an “empire religion” of the total market with a claim of absoluteness. However this “religion” of capitalism remains anonymous. It clothes itself in a pseudo-scientific garment. Jean Ziegler describes a conversation with a documentary film maker who was angry about the effects of IMF measures in Niger and asked: “Will there be a Nurnberg trial one day for these people?” That will not happen because the new tyranny that has the planet in its grasp more everyday and tries to force the last profit from it has no face, no tyrants at the top. Ziegler portrays the “good middle class” life of the international officials of the IMF who attend the same clubs in the Washington neighborhood as the officials of the US Treasury department and never see a slum with their own eyes when they journey abroad. They live in an ivory-tower. They are not interested in the social effects of their measures. “No doubt spoils their conscience.”
THE RICH BECOME RICHER AND RICHER
There are not only “wicked” persons. There are also obviously structures that continuously bring about “evil” because they are not recognized and questioned – whether out of indifference, ignorance, careerism, egoism or all of them. For example, the economic mechanism that increases the gap between poor and rich – between the social classes within a country and not only the gap between the rich and poor countries of the earth. That is a statistical fact. At most wars and catastrophes are able to cancel this process since (nearly) everything has to start from scratch. On our planet, 225 private persons possess as much as the whole annual income of the poorest 2.5 billion persons or 40% of the world population. The wealth of the fifteen wealthiest persons of the world surpasses the gross domestic product of all countries of sub-Saharan Africa except for South Africa.
Thus the problem of the earth is not poverty as such but the unjust distribution that becomes increasingly unjust despite all the drudgery of the poor. Willy Brandt called the state indebtedness of the countries of the third world and the resulting payment obligations a “blood transfusion from the sick to the healthy.” For a long while the richer countries have not been “healthy” since they are mostly indebted and an insidious redistribution from bottom to top occurs in them. The main reason for this may lie in the mechanism of compound interest and in the advantage of the money owner over the owner of goods. Goods can spoil or rust, not money. As long as the state does not force the circulation of money which is really a social “instrument,” it enables an extortionate excessive interest for owners of massive amounts of money. However all initiatives for an “interest-free money” as Carl Amery proposes were shattered in the past. “Mammon cannot be mocked.”
The pressure to material growth is another mechanism that has become independent and speeds up the ruin of our planet. Under the constraint of interest burdens through borrowing, nearly every entrepreneur is forced to expand and realize a profit that is higher than the interest rate. On the other hand, more and more money capital concentrates in the hands of the rich which they let “work for itself.” Through banks and investment funds, this money seeks ever new profit possibilities – as in mega-projects devouring the environment or armaments. Every day $1.5 trillion circulates around the globe and changes hands. Only two to three percent of that is needed to handle the business with goods and services. The rest is speculative excess. Constant growth beyond immediate private needs leads inevitably to environmental and social problems – and ultimately to displacement- and distribution wars. There is only constant unchecked growth in one place in nature: in the cancer cell!
What can be done against this? All over the world there are “heretics” who refuse to submit to the “imperial religion” of the misused capitalist market. There are landless in Brazil who occupy fallow property because this is allowed them according to a law. However they are often chased away by corrupt authorities or killed by killers in the pay of big landowners. There are impoverished citizens in Argentina who establish shopping cooperatives and exchange rings that revive the idle factories to survive in a “globally” destroyed economy. There are women in the poor villages of Bangladesh who found “banks” for their equals to pull their families through with micro-credits. In Europe there are people who resist in common, for example against privatization of the water supply. Central European communal institutions in the so-called “Cross Border Leasing” are sold off to inscrutable American tax depreciation firms for promised short-term financial advantages. To many consumers, the social and ecological conditions under which goods are manufactured are important.
The ability of people to organize socially and struggle for preserving the public interest so it does not fall prey to private greed cannot be “privatized away.” Selective success may not be repressed even if the causes of malformations have not yet been identified and remedied. The ideas and feelings that produce and make possible such structures always underlie economic pressures: greed, exclusion of neighbors, envy, parcel-thinking and mercilessness toward fellow persons, nature and animals… Whoever hoards goods or money beyond his private need although other persons suffer want contributes to the injustice of the world. Jesus of Nazareth calls us not to use our material goods in a calculating way for our enrichment. “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?... But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Lk 6,34f). By the way, the creation from which one cannot hope for any material compensation is also included: help for nature and animals.
INNER INSTEAD OF OUTER GROWTH
In a time when nature and animals are increasingly in dire straits along with billions of people and the threat intensifies, the spirit of God’s Christ speaks, this time through Gabriela, God’s ambassador and prophetess. In her great message from the universe “This is my Word”*** Christ grapples with the problem of the gulf between poor and rich. Christ gives us a vision of what the earth would look like as soon as we humans “globalize” his message and strive for inner growth instead of outer proliferation:
“…The poor in spirit…are a model for those rich who are bound to their riches with impenitent unyielding hearts and whose thinking only concentrates on increasing this wealth for themselves. A person who is rich in earthly goods and recognizes his wealth is a gift received from God that he brings into the great whole for the well-being of everyone and manages it rightfully for everyone – realizes the laws of equality, freedom, unity and brotherliness. As a selfless giver, he helps so the poor do not live in want and the rich in luxury…
God gives everyone what he/she needs and more. As long as all persons do not hold to this command, there will be so-called rich on this earth. Their challenge is to distribute their accumulated wealth and live like the selfless who fulfill the command “pray and work.” When they think in this way of the well-being of everyone and not of their own well-being, their inner wealth gradually turns outward and no person will hunger or die of starvation.” (Matthias Holzbauer)
* Carl Amery, “Global Exit,” 2002 ** Ziegler, *** Das Wort, http://www.das-wort.com/deutsch Journal Das Friedensreich, Nr. 6/03
VIDEO: “Inequality for all,” Robert Reich on The Bill Moyers Report, September 20, 2013