Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poverty on course to continue

Halving global poverty by 2015 is one of United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals .

"Even before the onset of the current global financial and economic crisis, the world had not been on track to meet MDG 1 by 2015...Now the crisis is making attainment of that goal even more elusive," said a UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs report entitled "Rethinking Poverty."

The number of people living in extreme poverty -- on less than 1.25 dollars daily according to the World Bank --- had declined to 1.4 billion in 2005 from 1.9 billion in 1981. But excluding China, the number actually rose over the same period from 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion.

In Vietnam , a country of 86 million people, we read , about 7.6 million children lack adequate housing, 5 million lack basic hygiene facilities, 2.4 million have no clean drinking water and 2 million suffer from malnutrition.

20 years after the end of the apartheid regime, South Africa remains burdened with glaring social inequalities. Wealth is tilted towards the white minority and a small black economic elite, while poverty and unemployment are major problems.According to a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, levels of inequality have risen between the years 1993 and 2008.

A new Hunger in America 2010 report shows that 37 million people — one in eight — receive emergency food each year through the nation’s network of food banks and the agencies they serve.The hungry include 14 million children and nearly 3 million senior citizens.

The Millenium Development Goals project had plenty of talk about key issues we must address, challenges we must face, changes in our current approaches we must make. But not a word about the need to fundamentally change the system from capitalism to something else. Capitalism is in the end an ideology; everything it does, all of its workings, all of it is a human product, constructed in the minds of humans, and obeyed because it presents itself as the natural law, as the real world, and the realm of the possible.To fail to reveal the ideology, to de-mystify and explain it, means to remain within it. The idea that capitalism can be humanised and changed by a series of reforms is almost as old as the capitalist system itself.

Eliminating poverty is not impossible. Over the past hundred or so years the world has developed the capacity to adequately feed, clothe and shelter every single man, woman and child on the planet.It is the profit system that stands in the way of satisfying human needs. It only allows production to take place in response to needs that can be paid for and then only if a big enough profit can be made from doing so. It diverts resources into maintaining a whole superstructure of finance and commerce – banks, insurance, accounting, advertising, etc – that is only needed because there is production for the market. And it diverts yet more resources into armed forces and their weapons which every state is compelled to have in view of the competitive struggle for profits that is built-in to the system.

When the Earth's resources have ceased to be the private property of states, national and multinational corporations and rich individuals, then these resources could be directed to turning out wealth to meet human needs. (It may take some time to completely clear up the mess left by the capitalist profit system, but people dying of hunger could be stopped immediately). Unless this basic change from class ownership to common ownership is made, then unnecessary human suffering for everybody except a privileged few will continue.

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