Jan Slakov

Date:      Wed, 11 Nov 1998 16:51:48 -0400 (AST)
From: Antoni Wysocki <•••@••.•••>

Hey people,

This is from the Nov/98 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. No doubt all of us
implicitly reject neoliberalism's faith in the efficacy of "the market" : 
this article offers empirical evidence to discredit the corporatist line. 

URL : <http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/en/1998/11/01leader.html>




Now here's a statistic you might have missed. The total wealth of the
world's three richest individuals is greater than the combined gross
domestic product (1) of the 48 poorest countries - a quarter of all the
world's states. 

Everybody knows inequality has increased over the last 20 years of
unfettered ultra-liberalism. But who could have imagined the gap had
widened so far? In 1960 the income of the 20 % of the world's population
living in the richest countries was 30 times greater than that of the 20 %
in the poorest countries. Now we learn that in 1995 it was 82 times
greater (2). In over 70 countries, per capita income is lower today than
it was 20 years ago. Almost three billion people - half the world's
population - live on less than two dollars a day. 

While goods are more abundant than ever before, the number of people
without shelter, work or enough to eat is constantly growing. Of the 4_
billion people living in developing countries, almost a third have no
drinking water. A fifth of all children receive an insufficient intake of
calories or protein. And two billion people - a third of the human race -
are suffering from anaemia. 

Is this the way it has to be? The answer is no. The UN calculates that the
whole of the world population's basic needs for food, drinking water,
education and medical care could be covered by a levy of less than 4 % on
the accumulated wealth of the 225 largest fortunes. To satisfy all the
world's sanitation and food requirements would cost only $13 billion,
hardly as much as the people of the United States and the European Union
spend each year on perfume. 

Next month will see the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on
Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to a standard of
living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his
family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary
social services". But for most of humanity, these rights are increasingly

Consider, for example, the right to food. Food is not in short supply. In
fact, food products have never been so abundant. There is enough available
to provide each of the Earth's inhabitants with at least 2,700 calories a
day. But production alone is not enough. The people who need the food must
be able to buy it and consume it. And that is precisely the problem.
Thirty million people a year die of hunger. And 800 million suffer from
chronic malnutrition. 

Again, there is nothing inevitable about this. Climatic problems are often
predictable. When humanitarian organisations like Action Against Hunger
(3)  are able to intervene, they can often nip a famine in the bud in a
matter of weeks. And yet hunger continues to decimate whole populations. 

Why? Because hunger has become a political weapon. In today's world, no
famine is gratuitous. Hunger is a strategy pursued with unbelievable
cynicism by governments and military regimes whom the end of the cold war
has deprived of a steady income. Rather than starving the enemy, as Sylvie
Brunel points out (4), they are starving their own populations in order to
cash in on media coverage and international compassion, an inexhaustible
source of money, food and political platforms. 

In Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, North Korea, Burma and Afghanistan,
governments and military leaders are holding innocent people hostage and
starving them for political ends, sometimes with appalling cruelty. In
Sierra Leone, the men of ex-Corporal Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United
Front (RUF), in a horrific year-long campaign of terror, have been
systematically chopping off peasants' hands with machetes to prevent them
cultivating the land. Climate has become a marginal factor in major
famines. It is man who is starving man. 

Amartya Sen, the winner of this year's Nobel prize for economics, is
renowned for showing how government policies can cause famine even when
food is abundant. On several occasions, he has stressed "the remarkable
fact that, in the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial
famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a
relatively free press (5)". Rejecting the arguments of the neo-liberals,
Professor Sen contends that greater responsibility for the well-being of
society must be given, not to the market, but to the state. A state that
must be sensitive to the needs of its citizens and, at the same time,
concerned with human development throughout the world. 

Translated by Barry Smerin
(1) Overall national production of goods and services.

(2) Human Development Report 1998, United Nations Development Programme, New
York, September 1998. See also Dominique Vidal, "Dans le Sud, développement
ou régression?", Le Monde diplomatique, October 1998.

(3) UK office: 1, Catton Street, London WC1R 4AB, email •••@••.•••; US
office: 875 avenue of the Americas, Suite 1905, New York NY 10001, email

(4) See Sylvie Brunel and Jean-Luc Bodin, Géopolitique de la faim. Quand la
faim est une arme, (annual report by Action Against Hunger), PUF, Paris,
1998, 310 p., 125 F, soon to be available in English as "The Hunger Report".

(5) See "Human Rights and Asian Values: What Lee Kuan Yew and Le Peng don't
understand about Asia", The New Republic, July 14, 1997.