14 Oct 2011

‘Occupy Wall Street’ gets our attention while
3-billion in the South sink deeper into poverty

It is next-to-impossible to comprehend the magnitude of world poverty. See if you can visualize the faces of three billion people, many of them hungry children, flashing past your face on a giant TV screen, one at a time. Imagine how long that would take. You will have some idea of the extent of world poverty.

The 2008 financial and economic collapse that has tens-of-thousands of people angrily demonstrating on Wall Street and in more than 100 
American and Canadian cities, has hit already-impoverished underdeveloped countries around the world much harder.

In many countries – particularly in Africa – the economic crisis, along with a rise in basic food prices, climate change, and increases in population, has reversed the progress that has been made over the past few years.

Three recent international reports – which, incidentally, have barely been covered by the Canadian and U.S. mainstream media* – paint an increasingly bleak picture:
  • The number of people worldwide who are undernourished must be at least one billion, say the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in their annual World Disaster Report. A total of 178-million children under five have stunted growth as a result of lack of food.
  • In the G-20 member countries  (generally the most wealthy countries in the world) alone, 20-million jobs have disappeared since 2008, says a report prepared by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). If employment grows at just under one per cent per year – as expected – in G20 countries, there will be a shortfall of 40-million jobs in 2012 and a much larger shortage by 2015.
  • UNICEF was quick to blame austerity cuts [forced upon many developing countries by the policies of the neoliberal International Monetary Fund (IMF)] starting in 2010 as exacerbating the degree of severe poverty, particularly among children and vulnerable populations, in at least 70 countries around the world. 

Now, economic stagnation, accompanied by destructive austerity programs, as well as long-time problems such as corruption, government incompetence, and civil war, is bringing despair to billions of people that will likely last for years to come. Million of people in Africa will die prematurely.

Sadly, during the unprecedented growth period in the West between, say, 1975 and 2000, rich nations probably had enough resources to all but eliminate world poverty. But rich countries did not assist Africans in ways that would have allowed them to develop their own industries and control their own future.

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and now an advocate for Africa, looks back: “Despite repeated promises of reform, the continent remains heavily marginalized in world affairs, with little say in and control over how these affairs affect its countries and people.”

However, during the mid-2000s, a number of events, such as Britain’s and Canada’s Make Poverty History, the U.S. ONE Campaign, several global fundraising events, as well as a debt relief program, resulted in the infusion of  billions-of-dollars in financial support for Africa. 

"The increases that have been delivered are being put to great use”, Jamie Drummond, executive director of non-profit organization, ONE, said later, “and we have the living proof to show it: 2.4 million fewer children dying before their fifth birthdays in 2009 than in 2004; 46 million more children in school since 1999." AIDS incidence has declined, from an estimated 2.3 million new cases in 2001 to 1.9 million in 2008. 

But broken promises soon left many people in Africa bitter.

In 2010, the G8 developed countries – that includes Canada – reported on its Africa donations. Their report hails the "great successes" of donor countries in providing more than $48-billion of the $50-billion in additional development assistance that had been pledged at Gleneagles.

However, the G8 did not adjust the figures for inflation. In truth, the main report was a lie. There was an $18-billion shortfall.

Kirsty Hughes, Oxfam’s head of advocacy and policy, told The Guardian “. . . rich nations have barely increased aid and are lining up big cuts for the next few years – cuts that will cost lives . . . . Cutting aid to these countries means depriving poor people of clean water, life-saving medicines and food.”

Now, in part due to the unknown future because of the financial and economic collapse, G8 support for poverty-stricken countries looks bleak. G8 countries are many trillions of dollars in debt, and the amount grows daily.

In terms of Canadian support, the Harper government, which boasts the strongest financial situation among G8 countries, abandoned most of its support programs for Africa in favor of assisting relatively well off countries in Latin America that offer Canadian businesses better trade opportunities.

At this very moment the world’s developed countries are failing to come up with the funding needed to try to halt the starvation in East Africa. An estimated 13 million people are facing severe food shortages as a result of the prolonged drought. Thousands are dying daily.

The United Nations brought together 60 nations in New York on 24 September 2011, and asked them to donate funds to the Somalia cause. Thirteen of the countries – Canada not being one of them – pledged $218-million. But even, with those pledges, the UN says about $500-million is still needed to meet the overall humanitarian appeal.

And now the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in danger of not being met in many developing countries. Last month, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the turbulence in global financial markets, along with volatile commodity prices and pressures on food security, pose “critical challenges” to the achievement of the MDGs.

However, the effort to greatly reduce poverty in underdeveloped countries does not have to be all doom and gloom.  Oddly, a possible reversal of fortunes depends on the same financiers and bankers who are responsible for creating the economic crisis. 

The Financial Transaction Tax, also known as the Robin Hood Tax , would be a tiny tax levied on all financial market transactions in order to raise resources for fighting poverty and climate change. 

The Robin Hood Tax campaign claims that a global tax would raise $650-billion a year.

In September, the European Union officially proposed the implementation of such a tax in the EU in 2014, saying the financial and banking industries must pay back taxpayers for bailing them out during the economic crisis.

The test for a global tax will come next month when France hosts the G20 Summit. Both France and Germany, as well as several other countries, favor the introduction of the Robin Hood tax as a way of reducing government debt and making available new funds for work in underdeveloped countries.

However, the tax also faces strong opposition. The UK says the only way it could support the tax is if it were applied globally. Earlier this month, the U.S. reiterated its opposition to the tax.

When the Financial Transaction Tax was hotly debated at the G8 in Toronto a year ago, it was Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who led those against it. “We’re against raising taxes and I hope to be able to convince my colleagues that these are unwise moves.” 

Sadly, Flaherty did not provide the answer to where billions of dollars needed to save people from starving across the underdeveloped world would come from.

**Footnote: A Google search found that, while mainstream media provided millions of words every day concerning the impact of the economic collapse on North America and Europe, there are hardly any stories on the crisis in the underdeveloped world. Searches included The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette, The Vancouver Sun, CBC News, The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times.


  1. Karl Marx (Das Capital vol III) in his day referred to government debts or promises to pay as "ficticious capital", I.e. interest "earned" on these debts or bonds was not a product of (surplus) value (added) as would be the case if the monies had been purposely advanced to be used as capital invested in means of production.

    In the 19th century "ficticious capital" when compared to real capital (means of production including labour power) was a relatively small figure of perhaps 10-15% of Gross production; primarily it was a product of government and/or idle classes needs for financing non productive ventures such as wars or luxurious living beyond ones means.

    In such cases when the day of reconning (debt maturity) came the pain was localised and was contained; i.e. the debt was paid or assets of the debtor were seized and the resulting shift in ownership of assets, whether or not just or fair, did not cripple the economy of the times.

    Today is another story. Ficticious capital including devivatives. swaps and all the tricks that financiers, politicians, central bankers various gamblers and swindlers can dream up amount to something more than ten times the gross product of the entire earth population which is estimated at between $70 and $80 trillion dollars.

    With various huge banks scrambling to "raise (fictitious) capital from nothing real, this is a house of cards waiting for one "default" to bring it down like dominoes!!

  2. The world poverty situation is dire, certainly. The idea of a Robin Hood Tax is cute, clever and even welcome from my point-of-view, but the concept of "robbing the rich to give to the poor" has some fundamental problems with it. For one, it isn't sustainable (the monetarily endowed will tired of being stolen from). For two, it has bad language in it (both in relation to the rich and the poor), and no way for people to do the right thing, even if forced on them through taxes. How about calling it a Security, Peace & Prosperity Tax, for surely it will take us closer to these goals than billy clubs and jet planes. And then there is an opportunity to make it palatable to those on the 'have' side of the equation.

  3. New taxes on profitable corporations and/or the elites that control them (or realv giving from same) CAN deliver REAL VALUE. Most of these elites understand this perfectly well but it is but a few such as Warren Buffett or Bill Gates that voluntarily move in that direction. By real value I mean consumable necessities or better yet the means of production for such necessities. Of course these are products only of labour so are real {surplus} value but they are capital in the money form waiting to be circulated into renewed production. As such they differ from junk cash or ficticious capital born of government printing presses and/or {central}bankers gimmicks (derivitives, swaps, promissaries &c)which when called are empty of any value and manifest only in crises.
    In a word there is no substitute for the people as a whole DEMANDING that what they as a whole have produced be be availible as awhole to maximise the TOTAL utility of the WHOLE population! An end to elites hogging and gutting to the point where the WHOLE is completely unable to really satiafy anyone!

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