Monday, October 18, 2010

Reformism—or socialism?

David Beckmann, an economist, former executive at the World Bank, a Lutheran minister and president of Bread for the World, a religious lobbying group, makes some interesting observations.

In America, more than a million children were hungry in 2008, a 56 percent jump from the year before, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (New hunger numbers are due out in November; analysts expect them to rise again.) Nearly one in four children had experienced “food insecurity,” which means, in the vernacular, “sometimes not having enough to eat.” According to new data from the U.S. Census, 14.3 percent of Americans are poor, up from 13.2 percent the year earlier—an increase of nearly 4 million people and the second-highest jump since 1960.

Hunger is related to poverty and poverty to unemployment. So it’s no surprise that, with unemployment hovering at about 10 percent, U.S. poverty is going up. What particularly infuriates Beckmann, and this he expresses in the mildest way, is that despite all the midterm talk about “the next generation” and “our future,” neither party has made poverty an election-year priority. “There has been no sustained effort to reduce poverty since Nixon,” he says. “No recent president has made reducing poverty one of his top three issues. Even the Democrats hide it. It’s sort of like they’re concerned, but don’t want anyone to know.”

Charities have proliferated in America, especially since 1980, Beckmann says, but “we have seen no progress against hunger and poverty in our country. A thousand points of light is not enough light.” Beckmann believes real change comes through politics, not soup kitchens.

Needless to say, it is what type of change and what sort of politics that the WSM and Beckmann has a parting of ways. Whilst he believes that government action will ameriorate the degree of poverty , and that certain government policies will act as palliatives, WSM understands that legislation is a dead end in the struggle to solve the problem of poverty. The reforms of capitalism change only its surface features, not its basic substance. It is impossible, within the framework of the capitalist system to solve the grave problems of poverty.

The idea that capitalism can be humanised and changed by a series of reforms is almost as old as the capitalist system itself. But reforms are implemented by political parties that seek and get a mandate to run capitalism. The motives for reforms may include anxiety to relieve suffering and keenness to promote well-being, but the measures have the effect of serving the system rather than meeting the needs of individuals or groups. Poverty is re-organised, not abolished.

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