Monday, November 21, 2005

Tackling Underdevelopment

Photo: Sebastiao Salgado

When [Jeffrey Sachs] launched his book The End of Poverty, people everywhere took notice. Time magazine even made it into a cover story. But there is a problem with Sachs’ how-to-end poverty prescriptions. He simply doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. “A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,” he writes, then adding: “The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.” This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been “left behind”; they are the ones who have been robbed.

[...] When society’s relationship with nature is based on sustenance, nature exists as a form of common wealth. It is redefined as a “resource” only when profit becomes the organising principle of society and sets off a financial imperative for the development and destruction of these resources for the market. However much we choose to forget or deny it, all people in all societies still depend on nature. Without clean water, fertile soils and genetic diversity, human survival is not possible. Today, economic development is destroying these onetime commons, resulting in the creation of a new contradiction: development deprives the very people it professes to help of their traditional land and means of sustenance, forcing them to survive in an increasingly eroded natural world. A system like the economic growth model we know today creates trillions of dollars of super profits for corporations while condemning billions of people to poverty. Poverty is not, as Sachs suggests, an initial state of human progress from which to escape. It is a final state people fall into when one-sided development destroys the ecological and social systems that have maintained the life, health and sustenance of people and the planet for ages. The reality is that people do not die for lack of income. They die for lack of access to the wealth of the commons.

-- Vandana Shiva: Two myths that keep the world poor

This is the 'problem,' and the grand fantasy, springing to the Imperial European mind upon contact with the Iroquois - how can the whole world of producers be made like this, content with little in terms of material ostentation, gentle and respectful, generous and serene, convivial and healthy, but ruly, diligently productive, and submissive to the overlordship of the proprietors of the earth?

-- Le Colonel Chabert: Ideal Subjects

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