Consuming poverty

A number of blogs having recently been taking hits at Jeffrey Sachs.   Weichegud! ET Politics  responds to Sachs’ statement on Ethiopia being a divided society..

"Political divisions are natural, indeed healthy. They are part and parcel of democracy. But the hate and distrust that are on view in Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic society are beyond normal. They are social ills that need mending. Few countries in the world have been able to make multi-ethnic societies work peacefully for all"

with 

"It is beyond belief that Sachs actually uttered those words. He has swallowed the spoon-fed EPRDF bullshit, and then he wants to lecture us, us who have felt the brunt of Ato Meles’ malicious ethnic policies on the genesis of “abnormal hate”? One commentor on the last blog hit the nail square on the head: Liberals do jerk off to anyone who fits their perception of the ‘underdog.’"

and   Kenyan Pundit

And finally, one of my favorite rant targets Jeffrey Sachs. OK, maybe he is an easy target because, ultimately incompetent African leaders are largely behind the problems that bedevil Africa, but I keep piling on him because of how much (bad) influence he carries among people in the West who could otherwise be part of the group that helps shift attitudes towards development in Africa and because of his coddling of leaders who play along with his superstar status.

It is not just his "kowtowing" to the likes of Zenawi and dismissing the impact corruption has on development, he is also spouting "a false history of poverty". Verdana Shiva points out that "as one of he world’s leading economists, head of the Earth Institute and in charge of a UN panel set up to promote development", when he speaks people listen and so to his book, "The End of Poverty". So when he implies that poverty is a product of being "left out" rather than being "sold out" or as Shiva puts it "robbed", you begin to ask what the hell is this guy up to? what is the point of this because there must be a point since he is influencing development policy in the west.

Shiva also points to "two of the greatest economic myths of our time" which I think are important as they very much explain how we have bought into development as always being positive without thinking of what we are actually loosing as communities and people and how we are becoming so disconnected from our environment.

Myth one "First, the destruction of nature and of people’s ability to look after
themselves are blamed not on growth, but on each other. Poverty, it is
stated, causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered
as a cure: growth is supposed to solve the very problems of poverty and
environmental crisis that it has given rise to in the fi rst place"

Myth two "the assumption that if you consume what you produce, you do not really
produce, at least not economically speaking. If I grow my own food, and
do not sell it, then this does not contribute to GDP, and so does not
contribute towards ‘growth’. People are therefore perceived as poor if
they eat the food they have grown 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 materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cement
houses…….
Because these poor don’t share in the perceived benefits of economic
growth, however, they are presented as ‘those left behind’.

What makes poverty is that people are no longer able to live "off the land" instead they are forced into becoming consumers.  People no longer have access to resources such as water and land because these have been appropriated and or destroyed by by mega corporations and industrial agribusiness.

"Because of dumping and trade liberalisation, farm prices in India are tumbling, meaning that the country’s peasants are losing $26 billion each year; this at a time when ‘development’ is all the while creating markets for costly seeds and agrichemicals. Unable to exist in the world that has been created for them, these now poverty-stricken peasants are committing suicide in their thousands. Patents on medicines increase the cost of Aids drugs from $200 to $20,000, and cancer drugs from $2,400 to $36,000, for a year’s treatment. Water is privatised and global corporations profi t to the tune of $1 trillion by selling once free water to the poor. So, too, the $50 billion of ‘aid’ trickling North to South is but a tenth of the $500 billion being sucked South to North thanks to interest payments and other unjust mechanisms in the global economy imposed by the World Bank and the IMF"

The truth is painful but ending poverty unfortunately requires sacrifices from the global community – those that have will have to think of having less in order for those that don’t have to have more – there isn’t another way… "If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the systems for wealth creation which create poverty by robbing the poor of their resources, livelihoods and incomes".
Back living in the city after three years living in rural Andalucia with very little commerical consumption,  I  am amazed not just at the level of consumption but the all encompassing drive to consume.  Every living moment seems to be spent consuming something – food, drink, entertainment, clothes, things…. a frenzy of selfish consumption with complete disregard to the environment and to the needs of others.

Tags: