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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008

Double standard on global crises


Oct. 16 marked the 25th Annual World Food Day, an occasion whose arrival and departure received little media attention or governmental fanfare. Evidently, much of the world media and governments are consumed with an economic crisis of epic proportions.

There is hardly any disagreement that Wall Street's woes are man-made. Regardless of what terminology one wishes to apply — miscalculations, greed or wholesale failure in the U.S. capitalist system — the fact is that the U.S. economic crisis is not a fleeting phenomenon and no quick fixes are to provide a magic remedy.

In an interview with Fox Business Network, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson expressed regrets, unusual for any top U.S. official, for the economic "mistakes" that are promising a global recession for years to come. "We're not proud of all the mistakes that were made by many different people, different parties, failures of our regulatory system, failures of market discipline that got us here." However, he promised that the U.S. "will mitigate the impact on the real economy and we'll get this financial system working again."

Like China's capitalism operating under communist symbols, the U.S., Britain and others are becoming increasingly socialist under capitalist symbols. Of course, it's not socialism for the downtrodden, but corporate welfare in its most stark manifestations.

It's rather ironic that those who cried foul every time a Third World government dared intervene in their national economy — even if to guarantee the welfare of the poorest segments of society — said nothing as the U.S., Britain and others defied every role in the free market economy, long championed by neoliberal economists.

Even leading U.S. Republicans who chastised big government at every turn — especially to block welfare programs that mostly benefit the poor — cheered the government on as it moved to bail out the rich who, as usual, are likely to remain unaccountable for risking the retirement funds and life savings of millions of Americans.

A dominant argument to justify governments' behavior is, yet again, the trickle down effect: a term coined by a Ronald Reagan speechwriter, which simply means that what is good for the rich is, eventually, good for the poor. While elites in every society eagerly infuse such "Reaganomics" at every turn, the world's poor have yet to feel the trickles, which poses an interesting question: Why the unprecedented and historic urgency to bail out the rich (for the sake of the poor, at an imaginary point in the future) when the poor can easily be saved without such roundabout plans?

The fact is that neither America's poor nor Africa's poor are on the minds of European leaders or the Bush administration as their high officials continue to hold anxious meetings and offer generous rescue packages. If indeed it's the plight of humanity that is worrying these governments, then maybe they should consider the following, according to Oxfam, U.K.: "The number of hungry people now stands at 967 million. And around 24,000 people die daily of hunger-related causes. Around 2.7 billion people live on less than $1 a day; up to 80 percent of this income goes to food." Care International's calculations are equally bleak that 220 million people of the number above are on the brink of starvation.

According to Oxfam, the main reasons for world poverty are also man-made: "biofuel policies, high fuel prices, growing global demand, unfair world trade rules, and climate change." Long before the Wall Street financial crisis, there existed a much more dangerous crisis, the world food crisis, dubbed a "Perfect Storm." The latter is much more consequential for it affected the very lives, not simply the standard of living, of many millions around the world.

Barbara Stocking wrote in the New Statesman, "According to the latest figures, the food crisis has resulted in an extra 119 million malnourished people, bringing the total to almost 1 billion — nearly one in seven people now goes hungry. This is hunger on so vast a scale that it is difficult to understand how the world arrived at this point."

It's very telling that trillions have already been spent to patch up world leading financial institutions, while out of the comparatively small sum of $12.3 billion pledged in Rome, earlier this year, to offset the food crisis, only $1 billion has been delivered. The hope that at least extreme poverty can be eradicated by the end of 2015 — as stipulated in the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals — seem as unrealistic as ever, not due to lack of resources, but due to lack of true concern for the world's poor.

Whether the American-, European-, or any other government-infused bailout packages rectify the financial crisis or not, chances are Oct. 16, 2009, will carry out similarly devastating news about the plight of the world's poor, which is likely to remain in the mere "news" category that requires little action, if any at all.

Ramzy Baroud's latest book is "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London).


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