Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"Two Myths that Keep the World Poor"

Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist & physicist, has published a fantastic article in The Ecologist. It is publicly available in Ode magazine (thanks to for the link). Shiva has some very interesting critiques of Jeffrey Sachs and other high-profile "anti-poverty" activists. Here are some excerpts from "Two Myths that Keep the World Poor":
Two of the great economic myths of our time allow people to deny this intimate link, and spread misconceptions about what poverty is.
First, the destruction of nature and of people's ability to look after themselves are blamed not on industrial growth and economic colonialism, but on poor people themselves. Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered as a cure: further economic growth is supposed to solve the very problems of poverty and ecological decline that it gave rise to in the first place. This is the message at the heart of [Jeffrey] Sachs' analysis.

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]

The second myth is an assumption that if you consume what you produce, you do not really produce, at least not economically speaking. If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then it doesn'’t contribute to GDP, and therefore does not contribute towards "“growth”."
People are perceived as '“poor'” if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. [...] Yet sustenance living, which the wealthy West perceives as poverty, does not necessarily mean a low quality of life. On the contrary, by their very nature economies based on sustenance ensure a high quality of life--—when measured in terms of access to good food and water, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, robust social and cultural identity, and a sense of meaning in people'’s lives . Because these poor don'’t share in the perceived benefits of economic growth, however, they are portrayed as those "“left behind." This false distinction between the factors that create affluence and those that create poverty is at the core of [Jeffrey] Sachs' analysis. And because of this, his prescriptions will aggravate and deepen poverty instead of ending it. Modern concepts of economic development, which Sachs sees as the "“cure" for poverty, have been in place for only a tiny portion of human history.
[...] 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.


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