Saturday, May 27, 2006

Random Quotes and Thoughts on Poverty and Globalization

I have two books that I am reading now, Urgent Message from Mother by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. and The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. I also just listened to Amy Goodman's interview with Arundhati Roy on Democracy Now. All of these writers' differing thoughts are swimming around in my head right now as I try to come up with my own opinions or better yet questions. Solutions or answers are out of my reach.

Let me start with 2003 figures from the Women's Environmental and Development Organization that Bolen references.
Global military spending is at $900 billion, while estimated costs for meeting basic human needs globally in 2003 would have been:
$21 billion for shelter
$19 billion to eliminate starvation and malnutrition
$10 billion for clean safe water
$7 billion to eliminate nuclear weapons
$4 billion to eliminate landmines
$5 billion to eliminate illiteracy
$5 billion for refugee relief
$10.5 billion to stabilize population
$24 billion to prevent soil erosion
Total: $105.5 billion

These are much better ways to use the $900 billion we spend on war and defense.

Jeffrey Sachs also believes that it is possible for the basic human needs of all individuals on this planet to be met. In fact, he boldly goes so far as to say that extreme poverty could be eliminated by 2025. He also mentions the money spent on the military which in the United States alone in 2005 was $450 billion, while the U.S. spends a mere $15 billion to address global poverty.

$900 billion vs. $105.5 billion
$450 billion vs. $15 billion

Keeping in mind that I have only read up to page 50, Jeffrey Sachs argues that countries must advance technologically if extreme poverty is to be eliminated. He describes an economic ladder where Malawi is one of the countries on the bottom rung and where the lack of rain, depleted soil, and AIDS have left people dying, starving, or barely surviving.

Bangladesh is a few rungs up with its sweat shops. While Sachs admits that the conditions in these sweat shops are horrendous, he writes of how much opportunity the predominately women workers have compared to those who live in rural communities.

India, is even better off with its call centers and "export services." And China, well China is just swell.

At this point, I am feeling apprehensive. Is working in a sweat shop economically better than living off of your own land? Maybe if you can live off of your land and voluntarily choose to work in a sweat shop. But while people may voluntarily choose to work in a sweat shop, they do so because their options are limited. Because working at a sweat shop and having a few capitalist perks is much better than the other alternative: starving to death.

And what about India and China? What is life truly like for a person who works in a call center or in China's booming economic adventures? What about all of those in India and China who are not benefitting from the call centers and other technological advancements? Is there some sort of mythical "trickle down effect?" My thought is "No."

How lucky I am to happen upon Arundahati Roy's interview.

According to Arundhati Roy, while President Bush was in Delhi 60 widows from Kerala came to protest and bring attention to the tens of thousands of farmers who have committed suicide because they were in debt. Are all of these farmers and their families supposed to move to a place where they can work in a sweat shop or in a call center? Do you suppose that these farmers speak English well enough to work in a call center?

Democracy Now quotes President Bush speaking in India:

The markets are open, and the poor are given a chance to develop their talents and abilities. They can create a better life for their families. They add to the wealth of the world, and they could begin to afford goods and services from other nations. Free and fair trade is good for India. It’s good for America. And it is good for the world.

Most likely some are creating a better life for their families. Some are leaving extreme poverty behind. But what about everyone else. Arundhati Roy says "after 15 years of economic liberalization, we have more than half of the world's malnutritioned children. We have an economy where the differences between the rich and the poor, which have always been huge, has increased enormously."

Roy describes informal street businesses in Delhi being cleared for the upcoming Commonwealth games with Walmart and Target replacing them. Those in positions of power ask: “If the poor can't afford to live in the city, why do they come here?” They come "here," Roy explains, because they are being driven out of their villages by development projects and the corporatization of agriculture.

Jeffrey Sachs may have a point, extreme poverty can be eliminated by 2025, by driving people from their villages and cities simultaneously, in essence by killing them off.

What will be left are those working in sweat shops and call centers, forwarding their countries' positions on the ladder of capitalism ie. democracy. Most will be supportive of this semblance of economic progress as the alternative is bleak and they are awarded just enough toys to feel satisfied....

So far, I find Sachs' position too simplistic. I prefer to think of Arundhati Roy and the grassroots groups that inspire her. Jean Shinodo Bolen would call these "Women's Circles." They may not be made up entirely of women but I can guaratee that women have a primary role. I have seen women's grassroots energy in action. Nothing to me is more inspiring.

I think back to Rilke and how he wrote that one has to live questions until they eventually lead to answers. The questions must be explored at the grassroots level because this is where the answers will appear. They will appear in microcredit establishments and at sit-ins in ChevronTexaco terminals in Nigeria. They will also appear in international opportunities for sharing like those that La Via Campesina provides.

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