Sunday, April 20, 2008

For anyone coming late to the world food crisis argument

For anyone coming late to the world food crisis argument, here’s a quick summary. As long as you are swapping rice production for Chardonnay grapes and burning corn in the fuel tank of your gas-guzzling 4x4 -- YOU DO NOT HAVE A FOOD CRISIS.

What you have is an extension of the existing crisis, as old as capitalism – a crisis of the poor’s ability to pay for food, caused by ejecting them from their land in the first place. Or did you think that the entire human race has been starving itself to death since the last Ice Age, and capitalism had ridden in on a white horse to save the day, valiantly struggling to feed the last few incompetent mouths? No. First people lived on the land, and drew their sustenance from it. Then they were driven off.

The fact is, capitalism works on pre-capitalist arrangements, mostly farmers, in this way: it throws them off their land by force, either nakedly with the likes of the Janjaweed, or through the state with Enclosures and the like. This creates a small group of farming capitalists and a dispossessed rural proletariat to work the land they used to own: anyone no longer need to work the land for profit, anyone who used to just live on the land, not milking it for its last erg of profit, is left to starve. Of course, since this proletariat can now be laid off at will, this process is continuous: as capitalism’s times become bad, or as new innovations mean less labour is required on the fields, more and more people are thrown out to starve.

And the damnedest part of it, the part that is really sending us all to hell? – The fact that we in the West were made to buy the idea that it’s All Their Fault. Breeding all over the place, what were they thinking? Feckless, lazy, ignorant subjects of ridicule. The Irish got the same treatment after the Potato Famine, when ‘free market’ policies meant that they weren’t even sent grain to last a winter. The insult to their lives and livelihoods is backed up by - straightforward insult.

No, what we have is a crisis in capitalism – but the crisis being that capitalism is working at peak efficiency. Capital isn’t a person, it’s a number, and numbers don’t have social relationships, feed their loved ones into old age, nurture children for the future, or do anything other than increase the size of the number. Capital becomes more capital, and people die. Within the figures, for those that like the idea of tinkering with capitalism instead of setting a torch to it, the maths are simple: producing grapes is six times as profitable per acre as producing rice, and more esoterically the price of a barrel of oil means that the same corn previously sold to fill bellies can be turned to ethanol and trade in a completely different market, its price effectively set now by OPEC. No-one who actually lived on the farm where these things took place, and drew their living from its products, would ever make such daft decisions: but these are not sensible decisions, these are market decisions, made not to promote human life, but a number.

It’s times like these that I come to understand David Icke, at least tangentially. If one employs Occam’s Razor, the idea of the world being exploited by hostile lizards wearing human masks becomes entirely plausible. After all, the only alternative explanation is that we do it to ourselves.

Tony Cakes.


Unknown said...

Capitalism = bad,
I think I got it.

Attacking things is easy - coming up with realistic solutions is a lot harder. Would be interesting to see achievable ideas being put forward as to how to get out of this mess.

Highlander said...

Thought this was a great post.

The realistic solutions are already written Al but the seismic shift in terms of people's attitude to property, wealth, ownership, etc. are what makes them appear "hard" to implement.

Gwynn said...

al should check the links on the right.

That would be a start.