POVERTY IS WAY TOO OFTEN SEEN AS A PERSONAL FAILING WHEN, STRICTLY SPEAKING, IT IS RATHER A POLITICAL AND A HUMAN RIGHTS FAILING. (B. Mullaly)

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Food for a disparity reducing thought

 

Human Rights Reader 373

 

  1. The reduction of extreme poverty is undeniable in some regions, but the reduction worldwide remains limited.* Just consider: 75% of the world’s people today have no access to basic social protection, a key human right (HR). Are we thus talking of clearly redistributive and thus HR-relevant mechanisms being put in place? (CETIM)

*: Take, for example, increasingly popular direct transfer programs implemented the world over; they transfer modest allocations to the poorest households. True. But its members are still too often excluded from the formal job market.

 

  1. Let us look at China: With the opening of its markets, China has seen a spectacular growth and a reduction in poverty.** But has it seen disparity reduction? No. One cannot actually pass over the fact that this growth was planned by first eliminating extreme poverty and establishing of a ‘poverty-with-dignity’ regime (debatable from the HR perspective…!) that assured the majority of Chinese access to essential goods and services: Only building on such a base, could the adoption of market mechanisms indeed bring about the rapid economic growth realized. (As we all know, the controversy is still ongoing today though whether the long-term social and environmental effects of this growth are sustainable).

**: Mind you, the global average poverty reduction that the United Nations celebrates is almost exclusively due to China –and most of it happened before the MDGs.

 

  1. The MDGs are credited with reducing poverty (not disparity though) but, as aid, some of this reduction happened before the MDGs existed, i.e, before the year 2000. (R. Bissio)

 

  1. No, we do not yet have much to show for disparity reduction; on the contrary. Does this mean we must consider poverty reduction efforts a failure? I think yes. [Ask yourself: How less poor are people barely above the 1.25 USD/capita/day threshold?]. So, what did-the-world-do/is-the-world-doing wrong? The answer is: a lot. Do we just need to do more of the same? No. What has been wrong all along is that efforts have simply not tackled the shortcomings of how capitalism functions. Capitalism promoting the fiction of personal choice misdirects people masterfully. Capitalism has perfected the art of making things appear different from what and how they are. The liberal emphasis on personal choice hides the impact of capitalism on our social system and deflects workers and the unemployed from their common HR-linked class interests. There is simply no profit in providing social services and thus mitigating HR abuses –and the working class has not been strong and united enough to organize and forcefully demand the provision of these services and of fair employment. Just as capitalism required African slavery, it requires, to take just one example, sexism to deny social support for women’s sexual and reproductive health, for adequate maternity leave, for women’s job security after pregnancy, for higher wages; all this, to keep most women financially dependent on higher-waged men. For the majority of the working class, obedience is demanded, questioning is forbidden and defiance is punished.*** (S. Rosenthal)

***: Moreover, children present a special problem for capitalism, because children are natural scientists; they want to know “Why?” about everything. And when they do not like the answer, they keep asking “Why?” …Nothing can be more subversive.

 

  1. The same failure is true for the whole poverty reduction narrative. It has nothing to do with poverty or with ‘the poor’ (yak!). It is about strengthening the macro-economic and institutional reforms, and about doing away with welfare states, with public social services and with social insurance. ‘Anti-poverty’ policies (yak!) never aim to help those rendered poor in the first place. They have other objectives, such as economic programs, or achieving the ‘political legitimacy’ that make governments look good. Poverty reduction is the ‘social label’ of the Washington Consensus policies. They give neoliberal globalization a purported human face. (F. Maestrum) And after all, as this Reader has incessantly repeated, the most pressing problem is not poverty per-se, but inequality as linked to HR.

 

Remedies?

 

  1. The issue of wealth redistribution remains mostly untouched and thus keeps relentlessly feeding ever growing social inequalities at all levels, including in governance –since wealth buys power. The world has tried all sorts of ‘pro-poor’ policies (yak! terribly paternalistic concept!). But these cannot succeed without addressing the following crucial aspects (not an inclusive list): cross-subsidization between rich and poor people; a balancing of the use of non-renewable resources; global wealth redistribution schemes; regulation of a basically exploitative system that tramples HR; global social policies that redistribute not only access opportunities, but results; and proactive promotion and defense of HR. Targeting may be (may be!) a useful adjunct to universal policies in order to ensure equity and equality, but cannot become a substitute for overall disparity reduction measures. (Globalism and Social Policy Programme at STAKES)

 

  1. For the above to materialize, global, regional and national social policies are needed to secure the ‘Three Rs’ of Redistribution, Regulation and Rights that are nothing less than fundamental to the much wider social vision of HR.**** These policies should provide for:
  • systematic resource redistribution between countries and within regions and countries to enable poorer countries to meet human needs,
  • effective supranational regulation (for sure including of TNCs) to ensure that there is a social purpose in the global economy, and
  • enforceable economic, social and cultural rights that enable citizens and residents to, where necessary, seek legal redress against unjust or ineffective governments at whatever level.

****: The Three Rs are mutually dependent, each upon the others, i.e., each necessary but not sufficient.

  1. Bottom line, to secure economic, social and cultural rights in poor countries, at least resources must be redistributed between and within countries and international business activities everywhere must be effectively regulated.

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

 

Postscript/Marginalia

Mahatma Gandhi said that the ultimate solution for fighting poverty was not mass production, but production by the masses. We have to trust and believe in ordinary people to offer their own simple sustainable solutions. The view that the millions of families living in marginalized, neglected, poor or exploited communities and who cannot read or write, are unable to think clearly for themselves or act responsibly in their self-interest is terribly pejorative, paternalistic and derogatory. What we definitely do not need are $800/day consultants from the World Bank and international donor agencies producing voluminous unreadable reports telling developing countries the infinite advantages of Western models to ‘combat’ poverty (yak! a term borrowed from war academies?).

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