The economics of world poverty

Capitalism spells plenty for the class who own the means of life—the capitalists—and poverty for the working class who produce that plenty. We are told this in The Observer (March 2nd, 1958):—

“One-third of the people of the world go to bed hungry every night.
“One-fourth of the population of the earth earns less than one dollar a week. This is about four dollars less than per capita expenditure in the United States on alcohol.
“The highest per capita income in Asia is in Japan and that is only $100 a year. The per capita income in the United States is over $1,500 a year.*’
“One-half of the population of the earth lives in Asia and yet they receive only 11 per cent, of the total income of the world.”
“Never before in the history of the world was there so much wealth . . . poverty, education, . . . so little coming to the knowledge of the truth . . . so much power. . . . prepared to be used for the destruction of human life.”

And it was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York who made the above statements to an audience of politicians and administrators at a meeting of national leaders in the ballroom of a Washington hotel, in February last.

Although Bishop Sheen was speaking to a representative gathering of capitalists, it is primarily an indictment of their world economy; its shortcomings and failures. Let us follow the course the arguments take: —

“Our moral duty to aid the under-privileged arises from the fact that we have superfluities and the superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor.”

(The “under-privileged,” the “poor” and the “rich” in this context, refer to the industrially underdeveloped countries; their poor standards of living, compared to those of the highly industrially developed countries.)

“A second reason for our moral duty to aid others is because the earth and the fullness thereof were made by God for all the peoples of the earth and not for the privileged advantage of few.”

This earth, this blessed plot!! made by God! This material universe upon which humans live and crawl, to fly now, many of them, is indeed something to set the imagination soaring, at least to those who have given this universal order more than passing thought.

It is common sense, common knowledge, the outcome of many generations of human experience, how the resources of the earth have been put to human use. It is likewise becoming more widely known that these resources, transformed by the labouring activity of the working class, result in the production and distribution of all those necessities which today make life possible. As to the part which God plays, we are reminded of the chat between a rural rustic and the local vicar:—

“Vicar (stopping to admire a garden): ‘Wonderful indeed what God and his brethren can make out of a garden.
“Rural rustic: 4 Ay, yer reverence, but you should have seen this ‘ere plot when God ‘ad it to ‘is self’.”

Bishop Sheen then made the following statement: —

“The under-privileged countries need our machinery for their fields, our clothes for their backs, our shoes for their feet and our food for their stomachs.”

In the terminology of capitalist economics what the Bishop is no doubt trying to explain is that exchange relationships between the industrially advanced nation states and the industrially backward ones of the world are not functioning as effectively as Bishop Sheen thinks they should. We were rather expecting, and interested to learn, why? But Bishop Sheen fails us. This is a problem which no doubt is confounding, not only the world’s stock exchanges, but likewise the economic professors of the world, too. As Bishop Sheen puts it—“ so much education . . . so little coming to the knowledge of the truth.” It would certainly seem that the professors have let the capitalists down. Just now America is, industrially, suffering a “stand-still,” though their millions of ‘unemployed could be howling busy. As Bishop Sheen goes on to say:—

“It is their stomachs that are empty; it could be our hearts that are empty.”

But how far do we get discussing empty hearts? It is common knowledge, for example, that the American economy has earmarked many billions of dollars on experimenting with the “H” bomb, guided missiles, and so on.

We were half expecting at this point that Bishop Sheen would come out with something more forthright than the following:—

“But governments are not completely inspired by an amor benevolentiae, or the love of others for their own sakes”

This revelation dates somewhat. Consider, for example, the hate let loose in the two world wars, diplomatically engineered by politicians, supported by the churches, inspired by capitalists’ greed for profit and plunder. But Bishop Sheen is not finished yet. He goes on to point out:

“Foreign aid has many aspects, military, political, economic and social. One of these aspects worth examining is the giving of aid in order to combat communism by keeping the under-privileged nations within the orbit of the free world.”

In this respect, however, caution should be observed. In giving such aid it must be remembered, he says, that the Russians can and are doing this—to further communism and if it extends its “slave holding” methods, it will be in the position to give even more than the “free West.” It does not follow, he further suggests, that the powers which give the most to the under-privileged, will be assured of winning their allegiance. Besides, this aid by Russia and the “free West” there is, he points out: —

“What might be called a third world power . . . God and prayer! . .. One out of every seven persons in the world is a Muslim. 375 million of them in a world constitutes a great supra national force! ”

Think of all those millions of potential customers, he whispers to his capitalist audience! Now we are really getting to the capitalist heart of the matter: down to the skin and the bone, stomachs withall! Bishop Sheen is now in “full cry” with his sales talk. Cautions may now be discounted; they are superseded by the introduction of this “third power,” the Holy Ghost of the church—considered by Bishop Sheen the “inspiration” of the “free world.”

Whilst not even attempting to disillusion the Bishop, we should just like to say by way of an aside, that it has been hushed about that the Russian orthodox church played a very significant part in world war two. This took the form of encouraging the Russian armies to resist the German invasion at its crisis. For this the Russian church were promised a more sympathetic consideration [♦] for their future status in the Soviet realm. Likewise, no doubt the Russian elite who top this realm will be correspondingly condescending to the Russian church in their attempts to set an example of respect for the formalities of church traditions. We shall expect to hear that it is now the right thing to attend the services whilst winking the other eye, if it but help to reconcile the Russian masses with their enslaved conditions. After all have not the free West been winking both eyes at their own church with its mumbo jumbo for generations! fobbing the working class off with “pie in the sky” as a consolation for the poverty of their material conditions. This is confirmed by Bishop Sheen when he opines:—

“The Soviets would have the world believe there is only hunger of the belly. One great country which has risen to prosperity because it holds that God has endowed men with certain unalienable rights must recognise that “not by bread alone doth men live.’

What kind of “prosperity” the millions of unemployed in Bishop Sheen’s America may be anticipating, now and in the immediate future, can be better imagined than described. The road up to this “prosperity” for the working class of America, it’s grim industrial struggles with its armed thugs and strike-breaking battalions—outstanding and distinctive features—is one long story of brutal repression, equalled and surpassed only by Russian slave labour and concentration camps of the present era.

To sum up, it would seem that Bishop Sheen has in mind a religious revival as a means of combating communism. If the Russians see things in a similar light than we may expect bibles by the billion, missionaries by the million, air-shipped to the uncharted wastes of Asia, Africa (including Timbuctoo, too). Bibles or boots, missionaries or machines, Gods or goods, the material needs of the industrially undeveloped countries and their toiling and impoverished millions will remain unsatisfied, just in the same way as the working class of the most advanced industrial nations goes unsatisfied today.

Finally, it must be noted that the guy who reported Bishop Sheen’s sermon, states that the Bishop embroidered on it as he spoke. What we have missed, we may never know! As far as it went it may have been well intended —for his capitalist friends. That he never once revealed, however, that the private property institutions of capitalism-exploitation of the working class for profit—the resulting poverty and degradation, plus the war-mongering which flowed therefrom, was the primary cause, gave us pause for reflection.

Capitalism is like this; populations thinned by starvation—unemployment—or war (a whole world plunged in twilight) and we felt tired with Bishop Sheen. He said a lot, but left. ..”. . . so little coming to the knowledge of the truth . . .” and we also went to bed hungering for it, like some of the “one-third.”

O. C. I.

[♦] This “hearsay” is confirmed by “Pendennis” in The Observer, April 13th, 1958, in an article “Five Monks to Moscow.” The writer says: “They will be the first monks to have been invited to visit Russian monasteries since the revolution. . . For years the Church virtually went underground untilin 1942 Stalin appealed to the priests to encourage the war effort (italics ours) and congregations and services suddenly reappeared. Since the war the church in Russia has been very much more in evidence. . . .”

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