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Cooking the Books 1 - World poverty not yet history

At a meeting in London on 2 February the Make Poverty History campaign decided to disband itself. A case of making itself rather than poverty history.

That world poverty most definitely hadnt been made history was illustrated by a news item the previous week. Global jobless rise hampers efforts to cut poverty, read the headline in the Guardian (25 January). £1.5bn living on below $2 a day is same as 10 years ago. The article was reporting on the annual global employment survey from the International Labour Organisation. There are some 2.85 billion workers in the world, more than half of whom are existing on less than $2 a day. The number of unemployed in the world stands at 191.8 million.

When in the 1790s Malthus claimed that the cause of poverty was a tendency towards overpopulation, a view still held by many, he was answered by his contemporary, William Godwin, who was the first to point out that every extra mouth brought with it an extra pair of hands. According to the ILO, there are 192,000,000 pairs of hand in the world that are not currently being used. In a world geared to serving human welfare, these could be put to producing the useful things needed to make world poverty history.

The ILOs sister UN agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, estimated, as quoted in a book review in the Toronto Globe and Mail (30 July), that in 2004:

“852 million people faced chronic hunger, up 15 million from the previous year. And in the same year, according to Unicef, one billion children - nearly half the children in the world - were severely deprived. More than 600 children didn’t have adequate shelter, and every day, 4,000 died because of dirty water or poor sanitation.”

It was to mobilise people to protest against such obscenities in a world of potential plenty that the Make History Campaign was set up - ostensibly. It now seems that the charities and others behind this were exploiting the good will and empathy with suffering fellow humans that most people feel have, for a passing narrow political end: to bring pressure to bear on the leaders of world capitalism gathered at Gleneagles in Scotland last July to get them to adopt a few much-publicised but ultimately ineffectual measures peddled by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The phoney Make Poverty History campaign may be over - and the charities behind it gone back to trying to empty the ocean of world poverty, each with their own teaspoon - but the campaign to make capitalism (and so world poverty) history continues.