Friday, December 13, 2013

One Sustainable Socialist World

How much would you pay for staying alive? How much would you pay for breathing pure air? That may seem a silly question since air is everywhere, accessible to all. Air is a global public good, part of the commons – and yet in smog-stricken China an entrepreneur is already selling canned air at around 50p a can.

People also have to pay for water, after all. And there’s a huge range in food expenditures between countries, from the £2,724 a Norwegian spends every year to the £132 typically spent by an Uzbek. So the essentials of life – air, food and water – must all be paid for. And while some nations have social welfare to provide the essentials, for everyone else no money means starving to death.

Food has been completely commodified, from a common local resource to a private, transnational, industrial commodity, to be speculated without moral consideration to achieve the best price. A race for land and water to support commercial food production has torn up vast areas of Africa and Latin America, while corporations drive obesity epidemics from increased consumption of ultra-processed food and drink.

The value of food is no longer based on the fact it is a basic human need that should be available to all. Instead value is confused with price.

Land enclosure, privatisation, legislation and patents have all played a role in limiting the access to food as a public good. The industrial food system exists  to maximise profit for a few, not to maximise the benefits of food to all.

 The failure of this food system to feed the world, adequately and sustainably, cannot be ignored. The paradox is that half of those who grow 70% of the world’s food are hungry, hunger kills 3.1 million children per year, and increasingly food is used as livestock feed or biofuels. Up to a third of all the world’s food is wasted – enough to feed 600 million hungry people each year. Hunger still prevails in a world of abundance even as obesity grows steadily.

A food system is anchored in market principles of supply and demand and will never feed the world, because the businesses are not interested in feeding people who cannot pay. No analysis or research of recent decades has ever questioned this nature of food as a private good, and so the perception is that access to food is the problem. Yet . A a fair and  sustainable food system is possible.

As long as the replenishment rate outpaces the consumption rate, any resource – forests, fish, food – can be considered an always available, renewable resource. There are already many initiatives worldwide that demonstrate how collective action yield good results for food producers, consumers, the environment, and society. The challenge for socialism will be to scale up those local initiatives to a world-wide level. Millions of people co-operating and  innovating have far more capacity to find solutions than the present several thousand scientists in commercial laboratories. What’s more, common action for food also helps rebuild the infrastructure of civic life eroded by individualistic behaviour. 

No comments: