Reading around

Three good essays I've read recently:

  1. Via Feministe and Strangechord, the article by Vandana Shiva in Ecologist Online. A couple of excerpts:

    If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then this does not contribute to GDP, and so does not contribute towards ‘growth’. People are therefore perceived as poor if they eat the food they have grown rather than commercially produced and distributed processed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made form ecologically adapted natural materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics. Yet sustenance living, which the rich West perceives as poverty, does not necessarily imply a low physical quality of life.

    [. . .]

    Because of dumping and trade liberalisation, farm prices in India are tumbling, meaning that the country’s peasants are losing $26 billion each year; this at a time when ‘development’ is all the while creating markets for costly seeds and agrichemicals. Unable to exist in the world that has been created for them, these now poverty-stricken peasants are committing suicide in their thousands. Patents on medicines increase the cost of Aids drugs from $200 to $20,000, and cancer drugs from $2,400 to $36,000, for a year’s treatment. Water is privatised and global corporations profit to the tune of $1 trillion by selling once free water to the poor. So, too, the $50 billion of ‘aid’ trickling North to South is but a tenth of the $500 billion being sucked South to North thanks to interest payments and other unjust mechanisms in the global economy imposed by the World Bank and the IMF.

    I'm much inclined to trust Shiva's expertise, but I'd be interested to know what sources those numbers came from. At any rate, it doesn't seem right to equate sustenance living with poverty. I would appreciate hearing a libertarian's take on Shiva's essay; I'm thinking here of that exchange between Laura and Megan McArdle a while back.

  2. What We Know, by Noam Chomsky. Good stuff that exposes some flaws in the reasoning of some occupants of positions of power. One example:

    In 1991, the chief economist of the World Bank wrote an internal memo on pollution, in which he demonstrated that the bank should be encouraging migration of polluting industries to the poorest countries. The reason is that “measurement of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality,” so it is rational for “health impairing pollution” to be sent to the poorest countries, where mortality is higher and wages are lowest. Other factors lead to the same conclusion, for example, the fact that “aesthetic pollution concerns” are more “welfare enhancing” among the rich. He pointed out, accurately, that the logic of his memo is “impeccable,” and any “moral reasons” or “social concerns” that might be adduced “could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization,” so they presumably cannot be relevant.

    The memo was leaked and elicited a storm of protest, typified by the reaction of Brazil’s secretary of the environment, who wrote him a letter saying that “your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane.” The secretary was fired, while the author of the memo became treasury secretary under President Clinton and is now the president of Harvard University.

  3. The Power and the Glory: Myths of American exceptionalism, by Howard Zinn. In it, Zinn historicizes "American exceptionalism," the idea that "the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary," reminding us that it's a long-standing tradition that goes way past the George W. Bush Administration. Chomsky's essay provides some other "okay, but we're exempt from this rule" examples and is a good complement to the Zinn piece. I'll confess, I haven't read any Zinn, but I'd guess that this essay (based on a talk he gave recently at MIT) is a standard representation of the other work he's done. Is that the case?


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Zinn link

Hey, I just read the Zinn article here. I think you linked to the Chomsky piece? So, I'd say it's definitely representative of his other writing - war for economic conquest disguised as "spreading democracy" is definitely a theme in "People's History".

And thanks for sharing the bit about Harvard's president!


Thanks, I fixed it.

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