We Already Know The Answers

Walking back to work and thinking about the forthcoming G8 meetings in Scotland and Sheffield, I saw a SWP poster which showed a placard at a protest saying “Stop capitalism now” and I start thinking “What a fucking stupid thing to say”. As if capitalism means anything more in that context than a think-stop, you might as well say “stop badness”, and i was getting dismayed that the socialists will, again, be co-opting a rightful and necessary protest so that it appears to the rest of the world like all dissent is support for their outdated dogma. And then my mind spun off on this kind of fantasy number where I’m at a protest and someone with a TV camera uses the C-word in another stupid question: “Are you against capitalism?”, implying, of course, the whole ridiculous deadweight of assumptions that the socialists and free-traders have managed to calcify the debate into. And then this torrent rose up in reply and I’ve written it down below because, well, what’s a blog for if not to spill your brains onto. Oh, and i’d drunk way too much coffee as well…

am i against capitalism? what does that mean exactly, what could that mean? nonsense! what i am against is a system of debt which is a legacy of colonial exploitation, a system of trade which only reinforces the historic exploitation of the third world. massive corporations hand in glove with western governments allows us to sit on the back of those nations and choke the economic air out of them, choke it so successfully that all we get shown of africa on our tv screens are pictures of war and famine which only serve to reinfoce the prejudice that “they can’t manage themselves” and so we continue to suck the rest of the world, and the earth itself, dry to maintain our comfortable affluence, all the while stood on their backs choking them, protesting that we’ll do all we can to help them, all we can that is, except getting off their backs and stopping choking them. i’m a democrat and a liberal and those values today imply an as radical agenda as they ever did. the globalisation of economics, of markets, implies a globalisation of responsibility, of morality. two hundred years ago if you were a merchant in london selling cotton or buying shares in railways running on cheap coal then you were responsible for the exploitation that was occuring in the cotton mills of lancashire and the coal-mines of yorkshire. we passed laws to stop that exploitation, we made that happen, we recognised our complicity and took that collective action – and that’s what we need to do today, that what i want the G8 to recognise now.

  • Make Poverty History
  • Image stolen from Tolstoy: I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.
  • Zigmunt Bauman on the globalisation of responsibility
  • 2 replies on “We Already Know The Answers”

    give the man more coffee! well said indeed…and thanks for pinpointing the tolstoy quote/image cos i`ve been searching for it for a while…but also i would perhaps attempt to extend your thoughts from “the c-word” to what i perceive to be a similar force in the phrase Make Poverty History…Are you against Poverty? errr,

    perhaps instead they should have called it History Makes Poverty…as expressed much better than i ever could by vandana shiva below

    peace and best wishes


    Z Net Commentary
    How To End Poverty: Making Poverty History And The History Of Poverty May 15,
    By Vandana Shiva
    The cover story of the Time Magazine of March 14, 2005 was dedicated to the
    theme, “How to End Poverty”. It was based on an essay by Jeffrey Sacks “The End
    of Poverty”, from his book with the same title. The photos accompanying the
    essay are homeless children, scavengers in garbage dumps, heroin addicts. These
    are images of disposable people, people whose lives, resources, livelihoods have
    been snatched from them by a brutal, unjust, excluding process which generates
    poverty for the majority and prosperity for a few.

    Garbage is the waste of a throwaway society – ecological societies have never
    had garbage. Homeless children are the consequences of impoverishment of
    communities and families who have lost their resources and livelihoods. These
    are images of the perversion and externalities of a non-sustainable, unjust,
    inequitable economic growth model.

    In “Staying Alive, I had referred to book entitled “Poverty: the Wealth of the
    People” in which an African writer draws a distinction between poverty as
    subsistence, and misery as deprivation. It is useful to separate a cultural
    conception of simple, sustainable living as poverty from the material experience
    of poverty that is a result of dispossession and deprivation.

    Culturally perceived poverty need not be real material poverty: sustenance
    economies, which satisfy basic needs through self-provisioning, are not poor in
    the sense of being deprived. Yet the ideology of development declares them so
    because they do not participate overwhelmingly in the market economy, and do not
    consume commodities produced for and distributed through the market even though
    they might be satisfying those needs through self-provisioning mechanisms.

    People are perceived as poor if they eat millets (grown by women) rather than
    commercially produced and distributed processed junk foods sold by global
    agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made
    form ecologically adapted natural material like bamboo and mud rather than in
    cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear handmade garments of natural
    fibre rather than synthetics.

    Sustenance, as culturally perceived poverty, does not necessarily imply a low
    physical quality of life. On the contrary, because sustenance economies
    contribute to the growth of nature’s economy and the social economy, they ensure
    a high quality of life measure in terms of right to food and water,
    sustainability of livelihoods, and robust social and cultural identity and

    On the other hand, the poverty of the 1 billion hungry and the 1 billion
    malnutritioned people who are victims of obesity suffer from both cultural and
    material poverty. A system that creates denial and disease, while accumulating
    trillions of dollars of super profits for agribusiness, is a system for creating
    poverty for people. Poverty is a final state, not an initial state of an
    economic paradigm, which destroys ecological and social systems for maintaining
    life, health and sustenance of the planet and people.

    And economic poverty is only one form of poverty. Cultural poverty, social
    poverty, ethical poverty, ecological poverty, spiritual poverty are other forms
    of poverty more prevalent in the so called rich North than in the so called poor
    South. And those other poverties cannot be overcome by dollars. They need
    compassion and justice, caring and sharing.

    Ending poverty requires knowing how poverty is created. However, Jeffrey Sachs
    views poverty as the original sin. As he declares:

    A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor. The Industrial Revolution led
    to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.

    This is totally false history of poverty, and cannot be the basis of making
    poverty history. Jeffrey Sachs has got it wrong. The poor are not those who were
    left behind, they are the ones who were pushed out and excluded from access to
    their own wealth and resources.

    The “poor are not poor because they are lazy or their governments are corrupt”.
    They are poor because their wealth has been appropriated and wealth creating
    capacity destroyed. The riches accumulated by Europe were based on riches
    appropriated from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of
    India’s rich textile industry, without the take over of the spice trade, without
    the genocide of the native American tribes, without the Africa’s slavery, the
    industrial revolution would not have led to new riches for Europe or the U.S. It
    was the violent take over of Third World resources and Third World markets that
    created wealth in the North – but it simultaneously created poverty in the

    Two economic myths facilitate a separation between two intimately linked
    processes: the growth of affluence and the growth of poverty. Firstly, growth is
    viewed only as growth of capital. What goes unperceived is the destruction in
    nature and in people’s sustenance economy that this growth creates. The two
    simultaneously created ‘externalities’ of growth – environmental destruction and
    poverty creation – are then casually linked, not to the processes of growth, but
    to each other. Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction. The
    disease is then offered as a cure: growth will solve the problems of poverty and
    environmental crisis it has given rise to in the first place. This is the
    message of Jeffrey Sachs analysis.

    The second myth that separates affluence from poverty, is the assumption that if
    you produce what you consume, you do not produce. This is the basis on which the
    production boundary is drawn for national accounting that measures economic
    growth. Both myths contribute to the mystification of growth and consumerism,
    but they also hide the real processes that create poverty.

    First, the market economy dominated by capital is not the only economy,
    development has, however, been based on the growth of the market economy. The
    invisible costs of development have been the destruction of two other economies:
    nature’s processes and people’s survival. The ignorance or neglect of these two
    vital economies is the reason why development has posed a threat of ecological
    destruction and a threat to human survival, both of which, however, have
    remained ‘hidden negative externalities’ of the development process.
    Instead of being seen as results of exclusion, they are presented as “those left
    behind”. Instead of being viewed as those who suffer the worst burden of unjust
    growth in the form of poverty, they are false presented as those not touched by
    growth. This false separation of processes that create affluence from those that
    create poverty is at the core of Jeffrey Sachs analysis. His recipes will
    therefore aggravated and deepen poverty instead of ending it.

    Trade and exchange of goods and services have always existed in human societies,
    but these were subjected to nature’s and people’s economies. The elevation of
    the domain of the market and man-made capital to the position of the highest
    organizing principle for societies has led to the neglect and destruction of the
    other two organizing principles – ecology and survival – which maintain and
    sustain life in nature and society.

    Modern economies and concepts of development cover only a negligible part of the
    history of human interaction with nature. For centuries, principles of
    sustenance have given human societies the material basis of survival by deriving
    livelihoods directly from nature through self-provisioning mechanisms. Limits in
    nature have been respected and have guided the limits of human consumption. In
    most countries of the South large numbers of people continue to derive their
    sustenance in the survival economy which remains invisible to market-oriented

    All people in all societies depend on nature’s economy for survival. When the
    organizing principle for society’s relationship with nature is sustenance,
    nature exists as a commons. It becomes a resource when profits and accumulation
    become the organizing principle for society’s relationship with nature is
    sustenance, nature exists as a commons. It becomes a resource when profits and
    accumulation become the organizing principles and create an imperative for the
    exploitation of resources for the market.

    Without clean water, fertile soils and crop and plant genetic diversity, human
    survival is not possible. These commons have been destroyed by economic
    development, resulting in the creation of a new contradiction between the
    economy of natural processes and the survival economy, because those people
    deprived of their traditional land and means of survival by development are
    forced to survive on an increasingly eroded nature.ツ

    People do not die for lack of incomes. They die for lack of access to resources.
    Here too Jeffrey Sacks is wrong when he says, “In a world of plenty, 1 billion
    people are so poor, their lives are in danger”. The indigenous people in the
    Amazon, the mountain communities in the Himalaya, peasants whose land has not
    been appropriated and whose water and biodiversity has not been destroyed by
    debt creating industrial agriculture are ecologically rich, even though they do
    not earn a dollar a day.

    On the other hand, even at five dollars a day, people are poor if they have to
    buy their basic needs at high prices. Indian peasants who have been made poor
    and pushed into debt over the past decade to create markets for costly seeds and
    agrichemicals through economic globalisation are ending their lives in

    When seeds are patented and peasants will pay $1 trillion in royalties, they
    will be $1 trillion poorer. Patents on medicines increase costs of AIDS drugs
    from $200 to $20,000, and Cancer drugs from $2,400 to $36,000 for a year’s
    treatment. When water is privatized, and global corporations make $1 trillion
    from commodification of water, the poor are poorer by $1 trillion.

    The movements against economic globalisation and maldevelopment are movements to
    end poverty by ending the exclusions, injustices and ecological
    non-sustainability that are the root causes of poverty.

    The $50 billion of “aid” North to South is a tenth of $500 billion flow South to
    North as interest payments and other unjust mechanisms in the global economy
    imposed by World Bank, IMF. With privatization of essential services and an
    unfair globalisation imposed through W.T.O, the poor are being made poorer.

    Indian peasants are loosing $26 billion annually just in falling farm prices
    because of dumping and trade liberalization. As a result of unfair, unjust
    globalisation, which is leading to corporate, take over of food and water. More
    than $5 trillion will be transferred from poor people to rich countries just for
    food and water. The poor are financing the rich. If we are serious about ending
    poverty, we have to be serious about ending the unjust and violent systems for
    wealth creation which create poverty by robbing the poor of their resources,
    livelihoods and incomes.

    Jeffrey Sachs deliberately ignores this “taking”, and only addresses “giving”,
    which is a mere 0.1% of the “taking” by the North. Ending poverty is more a
    matter of taking less than giving an insignificant amount more. Making poverty
    history needs getting the history of poverty right And Sachs has got it
    completely wrong.

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