Abundance and Poverty

Some time ago, under the above caption, the now defunct News Chronicle, in a leading article, asked “is it really beyond the wit of man to devise a means of sharing out more fairly the world’s bounty?” This was by no means the first challenge to society to meet the paradox of want in the midst of plenty, and the report that to-day, in Toronto, thousands of children are starving, provides ample evidence that the challenge has not been met


The statement comes from Dr. Morris Zeidman, a Presbyterian minister who runs the Scott Mission, which has “opened its doors to feed the hungry children of the city’s unemployed.” Referring to a woman who could not drink the soup provided, a mission worker said, “Some of these people have been subsisting on so little that they now find it hard to stomach ordinary food ” (The Guardian 10/3/61).


Is this, we may ask, part of the heritage of freedom for which members of the working class fought and died in two of the bloodiest wars in history? Must people go without the basic essentials of life at a time when productivity has increased to heights never known before? When man was the slave of nature, shortage and want could be explained in something like intelligent terms, but to-day, when his productive capacities are virtually unlimited, he must find some other answer.


Thirteen years ago, Lord Boyd Orr, then Director-General of the World Food and Agriculture Organisation, could say “There was no difficulty about producing food for the present population of the world, or even twice that number, but the problem was, could politics and economics arrange that the food that was produced was dispersed in the countries that needed it?’’. Seven years later, the Oxford economist, Mr. Colin Clark, remarked that in two years no authority had disagreed with Professor Dudley Stamp, who pointed out that if Danish agricultural standards were to be practised on the available cultivable land, there would be enough food produced to give an excellent diet to probably seven times the world’s present population.


What Lord Boyd Orr and Mr. Colin Clark failed to recognise, or at least make no mention of, is the fact that however capable man may be of producing wealth, it is ultimately the question of ownership which decides whether or not he will partake of that wealth. Food, like every other commodity in our modern world, is produced primarily for profit, and the fact that it eventually may satisfy hungry children in Toronto or elsewhere is incidental and of secondary importance.


The answer to the News Chronicle’s question will not be found in the speeches of politicians and economists; if it could, the question would not be asked after a century of Parliamentary Statutes and fact-finding Commissions, designed to reform capitalist society in the interest of those who make it tick.


A. F.