A Promise To Eradicate Poverty
By Farooque Chowdhury
26 July, 2012
“The new president of the World Bank is determined to eradicate global poverty […] in the same way that he masterminded an Aids drugs campaign for poor people […]”, said the intro of an exclusive interview the WB president Jim Yong Kim had with The Guardian. (“World Bank’s Jim Yong Kim: ‘I want to eradicate poverty’”, July 25, 2012)
Kim, the report says, is “passionately committed to ending absolute poverty […]” and wants to “eradicate poverty from the face of the Earth.” “I want to eradicate poverty”, he said. “I think that there’s a tremendous passion for that inside the World Bank.”
It’s only a few weeks the WB president is at the helm of the global lending agency. Questioning Kim’s “passionate commitment” to “eradicate poverty” and his trust on the bank that holds in its inside “tremendous passion” to eradicate poverty may sound indecent now.
Determination, passion, commitment are required to eradicate, even to fight if not eradicate, poverty. But poverty neither depends nor persists for lack of passion, etc. individual and organizational attributes. Obstacles standing between eradication and poverty are “something else”. Passion, etc., to eradicate poverty turns ineffective if these obstacles are kept intact and unmoved. Individual’s or an organization’s good intentions fundamentally play marginal role in the task of eradicating poverty.
Kim will broadly and fundamentally find almost the same intention, etc. if he goes through the lectures and addresses McNamara delivered, statements McNamara made and intention McNamara expressed as the WB president after McNamara gave up the job of waging war in Vietnam. In terms of pronouncements, expressed intentions, etc. the WB-McNamara was apparently different from the Vietnam War-McNamara. McNamara’s deliberations, as the WB president, told of a kind-hearted and considerate person who was always concerned with the poor, their plight, poverty, hunger, and similar problems that were hurting humanity. Anyone unaware of McNamara’s role in the Vietnam War, the principles and objectives the Bretton Woods institutions uphold, reasons behind poverty and intricacies – source, actors, etc. – in war against poverty found no reason to mistrust McNamara and his dream, or whatever those were.
But poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, etc. not only persisted stubbornly, these expanded their wings and pulled more human souls into their hungry stomachs over all these decades since McNamara’s intentions were expressed.
Based on the claims the WB used to make it can’t be said that the WB at that time was devoid of determination, etc. to eradicate poverty. Who should doubt those? No WB document, policy, pronounced principles, etc. apparently shows the lack of that passion, etc. Even, the WB in pre- and post-McNamara days broadly had the same pronounced passion.
It’s not only a McNamara- or the WB-case. In this world, many similar individuals and organizations, very good in publicly pronouncing their good wishes, very powerful and resourceful, with similar passion, etc. initiated and are initiating fights to eradicate poverty. Many of them, instead, turned millionaires by selling shares of organizations meant for the poor and the poor are dwelling in poverty.
Lyndon B Johnson said on a night in 1965: “All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship […] It requires a decent home, and the chance to find a job, and the opportunity to escape from the clutches from poverty.” (“Long steps on a long trail”) The American people, the peoples in other lands including Vietnam know the effective meaning of these pronouncements. Still they bear the scars of a brutal war that took toll from the American and the Vietnamese peoples. Now, many of the American people, homeless and jobless, living on food stamps and in a life devoid of dignity, know the real meaning of the pronouncement better. LBJ had very little to do. Capital took hold of everything, all aspects of life. It was a system constructed by capital that made every individual helpless in the face of powerful force of appropriation.
Forces that produce poverty deny considering passion, urge for dignity, etc, of these individuals and organizations uttering noble intentions. The problem with poverty lies not within good hearts of good individuals, not in an empty pot that can be filled with petty savings, not in recognizing the rights to credit, etc. but somewhere else.
Ignoring that “somewhere” but set “‘a clear, simple goal’ in the eradication of absolute poverty”, as Kim plans, will generate huge data providing rosy pictures of the pronounced passion for a short period of time. But dismal, may be shameful, facts will emerge in post-Kim period, or it may happen, even before the period begins.
The reason is not problem with fixing the “clear, simple goal” as Kim plans to materialize his determination. All pronounced warriors against poverty had and have “clear, simple goals.” Moreover, there were and are tools, tool kits, verifiable indicators, means of verifications, methodologies, strategies to subdue poverty and to measure progress in the war against poverty, there were programs for structural adjustment and re-adjustment. Never any of those appeared useless to bankers repeatedly pronouncing intentions to fight poverty. Rather, those, as was told, were very effective, flawless, brilliantly innovated, devised and designed, and effectively, forcefully and faithfully implemented. None can blame any of the implementers/executioners for negligence while implementing those. And, the world poor had also trust on those.
But, now poverty persists very arrogantly. It’s spreading in European and American middle class homes, it’s pulling in executives with business suite in bread lines in Greece, it’s denying entrance to educational institutions in advanced capitalist countries, it’s pressing down students with loans in a matured capitalist country. The story of the Afro-Asian-Latin American poor now sounds cliché to many.
The problem is with something else, not with pronouncements and expressions.
In the interview, the WB chief said: “The private sector has to grow, you have to have social protection mechanisms, you have to have a functioning health and education system. The scientific evidence strongly suggests that it has to be green – you have to do it in a way that is sustainable both for the environment and financially.”
That’s a problem area Kim is planning to step in. Private sector, experiences showed and are showing, denies providing social protection, denies providing health and education if labor doesn’t successfully stands for those or the sector doesn’t feels it necessary in its interest. Private sector, no doubt, has widened opportunities in the areas of health and education, and that was for the rich, not for the poor Kim is concerned with. Now, it’s the fact not only from Asian, African and Latin American countries. Now, this fact is available in the markets of European countries, in the US. For years and decades the facts are coming out.
“The private sector creates the vast majority of jobs in the world and social protection only goes so far,” Kim said.
But Kim can’t ignore the fact: Private sector has demolished hundreds of thousands of jobs and snatched away social protection over the last few years in countries. Consulting ILO documents helps one understand the fact.
The sector indulged in gambling, speculation with finance, financial tools, risks, etc. in association with corruption, while it abandoned job creation as gambling was fetching more profit. Actually, rise of monopoly finance capital was taking away the sector’s capacity to create and retain jobs. The sector forcefully engaged with waging a class war against people that took away social protection and has thrown away people into unemployment, homelessness, hunger, misery, poverty and suffering.
Private sector’s first choice is not the green, sustainable environment and finance. Private sector is hostile to sustainability. In the interest of its survival it can’t take sustainable approach. Private sector devastates environment until the devastation compels it to suspend its acts of devastation.
Kim is concerned with people’s right to a dignified life as he said in the interview, “[P]eople had a right to live a dignified life. The good news is that this place – the Bank – is just full of people like that.”
Private sector, to be specific, private capital is never concerned with people’s right to dignified life. History of capital delivers the fact. Capital’s character determines the limit. It gives up space to people only when it feels necessary for its survival, and the extent of space depends on pressure on capital. Nourishing private sector and expecting to nourish people’s dignified life are contradictory goals. One nullifies the other.
Kim is hopeful because of, as the Guardian report said, “his stint at the World Health Organisation (WHO), where he challenged the system to move faster in making Aids drugs available to people with HIV in the developing world […]”“Now, he says, he thinks he can do the same for poverty: ‘We think we can do something similar for poverty,’ he said.”
Combating poverty and dealing within WHO are not the same. Dealing Aids drugs within the WHO and challenging the system is obviously difficult. Eradicating poverty is far difficult. Politics is there in both the areas: poverty and Aids drugs. But the politics with poverty is far difficult and complex than the politics with pharmaceutical industries and its subservient political entities. These are well known facts to all world actors. Kim is also aware of these facts.
Actors in poverty business are more difficult to deal with as they deliver pious promises lined with sweet smiles, engage lobbying firms with notorious records, pocket a lot of money by selling of shares of organizations once floated in the name of eradicating poverty, manipulate research methodology, and they defend factors generating poverty. And, the business has deeper interest that will get hurt if the poor stands to fight poverty. So, the ideology they sell is individualism – individual enterprise, compete with each other. But, eradicating poverty is a collective task, a political task, cooperation among the poor not competition among them, which is to be carried out by the poor under their leadership. Individual interests can’t attain collective goal. Rather, the opposite happens: Individual initiative grabs collectives.
And, good pronouncements make no ripple in the life of the world poor. There are instances of good pronouncements that hide brutal acts.
Humanity has not forgotten the pronouncement Harry S Truman made after dropping atom bomb, “greatest marvel”, as he said, of “the achievement of scientific brains in putting together infinitely complex pieces of knowledge” and “the greatest achievement of organized science in history”, on Hiroshima: “I shall give further consideration and make further recommendations to the Congress as to how atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence towards the maintenance of world peace.” (“Statement on the atomic bomb, 1945”)
The world people know facts following the pronouncement: wastage of resources in the interest of war traders while the poor were combating hunger, flow of blood over lands while the poor were desperately searching safe water, distortion of all nature and life by capital to enlarge its profit while the poor were finding it near to impossible to have a simple shelter. Pronouncements and wishes are turned silent onlookers by capital as capital is the deciding factor, as capital shapes politics and institutions. Within years people will hear an expression of failure in determination, etc., and a renewed expression to fight poverty from the same pulpit by another noble heart. And, the cycle shall move on till poverty is eradicated by people free from the clutches of capital.
Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based freelancer.
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