Free Market Economic Lies That Kill
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by J.S. Larochelle, 2003
The bigger the lie, the greater the likelihood that it will be believed.
-- Adolf Hitler
Economics is the social science which deals with the production and consumption of goods and services. And the "free market" is supposed to be the economic system which is governed by "the laws of supply and demand."
Common sense tells us that world citizens should be "demanding" that our economies produce enough drinking water, nutritious food and other life-giving necessities. But the World Watch Institute publication "Vital Facts" states: "The lack of clean water or sanitation kills 1.7 million people each year -- 90 percent of them children."
The "Scarcity" Lie
We also read: "The countries of Southern Africa could face their worst famines in living memory" (June 18, 2003). And a South African Regional Poverty Network website states: "given escalating maize prices compared to diminishing income levels, access remains an issue for most households in these areas" (June 3, 2003).
Canada itself produces far more food that Canadians need. However, "More than one in eight Canadians does not have enough disposable income to buy the basic necessities of food, shelter and transportation... that includes nearly one in four Newfoundlanders and one in five British Columbians" (Vancouver Sun May 26, 2003 A1).
Millions of Canadians don't have enough money. Therefore, it's not surprising that the mainstream media's social analysts call for more productivity. A Time Colonist editorial states: "Canada must be more productive" (April 18, 2002). A Globe and Mail headline reads: "We need better productivity" (May 12, 2000), and in the Vancouver Sun: "Higher productivity viewed as the key to better living standards" (June 16, 2003).
But exactly what products should "poor" people be producing in greater quantities? In an article titled "On the True Cause of World Hunger," Anuradha Mittal states: "hunger is not caused by shortage of food. According to...research over the last twenty-six years, the world's farmers produce 4.3 pounds of food per person, per day. This includes vegetables, cereals, fish, meat, and grains."
Mittal also states: "it is crucial to remember that hunger exists not only in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but in the United States, the richest nation on earth. Thirty-six million Americans do not have enough to eat, and that number is growing. Nearly half of those lining up outside soup kitchens have one or more family members employed, but most of them are simply too poor to buy food.
"They are the people who scavenge in dumpsters outside restaurants. They're the schoolchildren who cannot pay attention in class because they did not have dinner or breakfast. They're people like Katherine Engels, a grandmother who testified at a Congressional hearing on hunger that she often drinks a cup of tea for dinner, then rolls up some white bread and eats it, because that gives her the sense that her stomach is full."
In an article titled "Globalization and Poverty," Vandana Shiva writes: "On 27 March 2000, twenty-five-year-old Betavati Ratan took his life because he could not pay back debts for drilling a deep tube well on his 2-acre farm. The wells are now dry [in India] where more than 50 million people face a water famine.
"The drought is not a natural disaster; it is man-made. It is the result of mining scarce ground water in arid regions to grow thirsty cash crops for export instead of water-prudent food crops for local needs."
In regards to water and food, the call for more productivity is an economic lie. But many economic pundits want us to believe that people are poor because of a lack of productivity when there is already gluts of many products for sale in the world markets.
The "Productivity" Lie
In "Big Tobacco," Mark Schapiro writes: "Tobacco is one of the most globalized industries on the planet. More cigarettes are traded than any other single product, some trillion 'sticks' as they're known in the business." (The Nation, May 6 2002).
But in a United Nation press release we read: "Four million people die of tobacco-related causes each year, the majority of them in developing countries. By 2020, tobacco will result in an estimated 8.4 million deaths annually -- more than from any other cause."
Given that tobacco products are addictive and cause ill health, clearly it's destructive to try and grow the world's economy by increasing their production and consumption. The same goes for junk food, soda pop, alcoholic beverages, gambling products and many other so-called "goods" and "services."
In 1946 Henry Hazlitt published a book called "Economics in One Lesson" to promote the benefits of "free" market economics. Hazlitt writes: "The whole history of economic progress has consisted in getting more production with the same labor. It is for this reason that men use their ingenuity to develop a hundred thousand labor-saving inventions."
On the surface, Hazlitt "seems" to make sense, but "labor-saving" machines spew out millions of cigarettes every day. Smoking is then "marketed" by rugged cowboys riding horses and by media stars that young people spend hours watching on TV and in the movies and then read about them in mass-produced magazines.
There's also a growing obesity epidemic that is being spurred on by the fast food industry. The World Watch Institute states: "the number of overweight people rivals the number of underweight people. While the world's underfed population has declined slightly since 1980 to 1.1 billion, the number of overweight people has surged to 1.1 billion."
Machines can produce staggering quantities of soda pop and other junk foods every single day. "Carbonated drinks are the single biggest source of refined sugars in the American diet, soda pop provides the average American with seven teaspoons of sugar per day, out of a total of 20 teaspoons. Soft-drink advertising budgets dwarf all advertising and public-service campaigns promoting the consumption of fruits, vegetables, healthful diets."
Businesses spend staggering amounts of money trying to get people to buy more stuff. But as Dorothy L. Sayers poignantly stated: "A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand." (Creed or Chaos, 1947)
The Lie That "More" Productivity is Always Better
In 1776 the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith explained why "productivity" can't create wealth by itself: "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer. The maxim is so perfectly self-evident, that it would be absurd to attempt to prove it."
How are the interests of the world's people being served by producing and selling more cigarettes and soda pop? New Zealand political activist Marilyn Waring asks: "What understanding of the real world can there be when the rate of growth and the measurement of a community's well being is dependent on the growth in pornography, the illicit international trades in drugs and munitions, child and female sexual slavery, environmental devastation and the clean up operations, where all these are classified as goods, and where there is no such thing as a deficit or costs side in the national income accounting of nation states?"
The "productivity" lie is just one of series of lies that is being used to justify forcing billions of people all over the world to live to degree or another in poverty. However, it's so destructive that the relentless call for still more productivity is a lie that's growing like Pinocchio's nose.
In his book "The Cancer Stage of Capitalism," (1999) John McMurtry writes: "When people come to examine any way of life in the world, they are conditioned not to expose their own social order to the same critical eye with which they view a different or opposed social order. This is because they identify with their own way of life as normality, and thus the other a abnormality."
In industrialized countries it's normal to believe that "more" jobs, work and productivity is always better -- no matter what affect "consumption" has on the health of the planet as a whole. Therefore, it also normal to believe that unemployed people are "poor" because they aren't working and being productive.
Imperialism: The Biggest Lie of All
Imperialism, in its broadest sense, is the use of force to deny people access to land and water. The Adolf Hitler quote at the beginning of this article was taken from the introduction to Ward Churchill's book: "A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present." (1997)
Churchill and many other people have been pointing out that many millions of indigenous people are dying in poverty caused by the ongoing imperialistic land theft that began when Columbus and other Europeans "discovered" the natural resources on Indigenous peoplesí homelands.
Clearly, indigenous people are not living in poverty because they don't know how to get water or to fish, hunt, farm or build their own homes. They're living in poverty because of the theft of their lands and waters.
But it is impossible to fully understand what happened to indigenous peoples without reading books such as "A Little Matter of Genocide." He states: "During the four centuries spanning the time between 1492, when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the ëNew Worldí of a Caribbean beach, and 1892, when the US Census Bureau concluded that there were fewer than a quarter million indigenous people surviving within the countries claimed boundaries, a hemispheric population estimated to have been as great as 125 million was reduced by something over 90%."
"Struggle for the Land*" (2000) is the title of another Ward Churchill book where he documents the ongoing process of the theft of indigenous lands in the U.S. and Canada. In the introduction he writes: "Not only the people of the land are being destroyed, but, more and more, the land itself. The nature of native resistance to the continued onslaught of the invading industrial culture is shaped accordingly. It is a resistance forged in the crucible of a struggle for survival."
In the preface, Winona LaDuke writes: " A lot of people find the status quo to be increasingly absurd and are seeking alternatives to the values and patterns of consumption presently dominating not only North America, but the rest of the planet as well."
Under the "free" economic market system we work at whatever jobs are available. Therefore, we go to work at jobs that have nothing to do with providing ourselves with enough drinking water, nutritious food and the other things we need to survive. As such, we're part of an economic that squanders time and natural resources producing and marketing junk food to children to "grow the economy." But as long as we believe the economic lie that "productivity" can make us individually rich, all living things will be increasingly impoverished.
* Full title: "Struggle for the Land - Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Expropriation in Contemporary North America" , Ward Churchill, 2000
First published in the Lower Island News June/July 2003