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Voice From the Back

Happy days?
‘Schooldays are the happiest days of your life’, according to the old saw. Like most old saws it is a load of nonsense. Here are two reports from the same newspaper that paint a far from idyllic picture of the schoolroom. “The number of children prescribed antidepressant drugs is rising faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world. Prescriptions rose by almost 70 per cent between 1992 and 2001, according to studies published in Archives of Diseases in Childhood.” “Schools will be given the power to search pupils for knives and other weapons in plans to combat disruptive students announced by the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke. Head teachers could also invite police into schools unannounced” (Times, 23 November). Inside capitalism the nasty, aggressive nature of competition mars even the so-called golden days of youth.     

The wasteful society
“Companies around the world invested $334 billion in advertising last year – more than the gross domestic product of Switzerland. Advertisers in the UK spent £10.8 billion for the year ending 30 September” (Observer, 28 November). This $334 billion represents an immense amount of human labour and material. Just imagine what this could accomplish in the fields of human welfare such as medical research, food production  and sanitation inside a socialist society, where advertising no longer existed.     

Home alone
In Charles Dickens novels the old workers were condemned to eke out a miserable existence in a workhouse. Today things are much better, the old are allowed to freeze to death at home.” Pensioners in the UK are more likely to die from cold this winter than older people in any other Northern European country, campaigners warned today. Age Concern said that 22,000 pensioners were likely to die from cold-related illness this winter in the UK” (manchester online, manchester news, 2 December)

Infanticide
“Lack of food and education still afflict millions of children around the world, with nearly 10 million youngsters under the age of 5 dying each year from preventable diseases, the UN children’s agency said Sunday. UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy underlined the challenges of improving primary health care for children on a global basis as she opened an international conference in the Pakistani capital to encourage volunteers to help at aid agencies and in government programs. ‘Children under the age of 5 are still dying at a rate of nearly 10 million a year from preventable causes like diarrhoea, measles and acute respiratory infections,’ said Bellamy, who arrived in Islamabad on Sunday for a three day visit” (Yahoo News, 5 December)

All right for some
“The wealth of the super-rich has doubled since Tony Blair came to power, the Office of National Statistics said yesterday in a report on social inequality in Britain. Nearly 600,000 individuals in the top 1% of the UK wealth league owned assets worth £355 billion in 1996, the last full year of Conservative rule. By 2002 that increased to £797 billion, the ONS said” (Guardian, 8 December) We can safely assume that none of these super-rich will be among the 22,000 that freeze to death this winter.     

Contrasts
Two recent newspaper reports illustrate what a mad society capitalism has become. “The world’s most expensive weekend getaway is to be launched by an exclusive resort in Baja California, Mexico. The three-day package will cost $8.4 million (ú4.5 million) and promises a “bedside performance” by Sir Elton John and a private jet for whale watching” (Times, 1 December) “A record number of people are working in the global economy but half of them make $2 a day, or less, according to a report published yesterday. The International Labour Organisation’s World Employment report said that about 2.8 billion people were employed globally in 2003. But nearly 1.4 billion, the highest number ever, are living on less than $2 a day, while 550 million are living under the $1 poverty line” (Guardian, 8 December)