Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Oxfam Appeal

An Oxfam official is interviewed here and made the following points.

There are seven billion people in the world and one and a quarter billion of them live on less than a dollar a day. That is the World Bank’s definition but poverty is not only about a lack of income. Very substantial portion of the world, approximately a billion people, go to sleep every night hungry. It is also about direct access to clean drinking water, for example, or can you afford to be ill, can you find a hospital if you are ill, can you afford send your children to school and the quality of teaching you find in that school. So, poverty is not just about income, it is about can you get the basic services that all of us want to see everybody has.

It is explained in various ways. Oxfam explain it in terms of poor people’s access to assets and resources which can be restricted; they might be restricted because they live in rural areas where infrastructure is poor.Or in terms of different life opportunities. In China, for example, many people have less countryside to go and live in urban environment where they can be poorly paid and have poor labor rights, so wages are depressed. Or in terms of public systems where there is no adequate distribution of wealth created to assist poor people. Most poor people still live in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture for their income; most of those people have an access to small amounts of land where they grow food. Oxfam argues that what they do not have is the right kind of support for them to grow more and also to be able to sell that more into markets – local markets or national markets. The food system does not work very well, there are a lot of blockages, so, for example, there is inadequate facility of storing food, so a lot of food that is grown rots away and so it never gets to market and the farmers never get pay for it. So, there are various things you can do, but the two key areas are to invest in agriculture and to invest in basic services – in education and in health, particularly education for girls.

Our Appeal
Of all the ways in which capitalism means extremes of poverty and privilege, deprivation and excess, none is greater than in the production, distribution and consumption of food. Socialists explain that the food industry under capitalism is part of the problem of starvation and malnutrition, not its solution. Capitalism seeks the nourishment of profits, not persons. There is more than enough food in the world to feed all of its population. But food is bought and sold. Those who have to live on a dollar a day or less struggle to survive and often die. The obvious solution is to institute a system where production is geared to meeting people's needs, not for sale on a market; that way, people's needs would be met as a matter of right without needing to pay for them – and without organisations like Oxfam having to devise ways of trying to ensure a adequate monetary income for poor farmers in developing countries.

It is not so much the reformist policies of politico-charities such as Oxfam that we criticise as the whole market system, under which people can only get access to the things they need if they have money and where most people can only get money by selling either their ability to work or the product of their work. Oxfam accepts this system and its logic which rules out giving away market surpluses to the needy as this only makes things worse, by undermining the market for the products in question even further. Organisations like Oxfam finance workers in the field in many places, doing what they can to provide seeds, tools and equipment and small scale irrigation schemes and things like fresh water wells. Socialists say that these efforts do not stand a chance of ever being able to solve a problem that is getting worse. Oxfam need to alter the present economic and political framework which is so destructive of their efforts. Albeit Oxfam are doing what they can to lessen world hunger but the problem is getting worse. The action to solve this problem must include action to bring about a society where you will have the freedom to act more effectively. Once artificial scarcity and built-in waste is eliminated, as it would be in a world where the Earth's resources had 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. we often hear it said, “we do not have the resources”? What is meant by resources is always money. This ignores the fact that productive resources are materials, means of production, transport, energy, communications and networks of infrastructure through which goods and services are produced. And all these depend on one single resource which is labour. These are the real resources on which the lives of communities depend and there is an abundance of labour to provide for needs. If Oxfam and its supporters were to also join the work of organising for socialism, that would be a significant step forward. What could be their objections to a world organised solely for the needs of people? Surely this is what they claim to want.

All the world’s other natural resources won’t be traded. They will simply be transferred from one part of the world to another as required to meet needs. This wouldn’t be trade since there would be no question of payment or of any transfer of something of equal value from the part of the world where they went to the part they came from. Under these circumstances, if people in one part of the word needed food it would be transferred there, as for instance from the wheatlands of North America. This wouldn’t affect local agriculture since there would be no competition between the two; there’d be no local markets to undermine since local production wouldn’t be for a market either. In fact, local agriculture could be given the fertilizer and equipment that they need - without demanding any counterpart - so that it can contribute increasingly to satisfying local food needs. This - no trade, but production for use - is the alternative to the fair trade favoured by Oxfam.

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 almost immediately. Eliminating poverty is not impossible and the millions of people who go to bed hungry every night or who lack clean running water or who have no health care or education should not be happy with the present situation of what they have not got.

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