World View: *Capitalist priorities*Educating the workers?
I have just received a letter (dated 19 April) from a friend in Cleveland, Ohio. It is worth quoting almost in full as the contents demonstrate the priorities, as well as the contradictions, in the United States, the “land of the free”.
“I am unemployed at the moment. I am receiving unemployment benefits, but they are very low. In this country, such benefits amount to half of the salary you were drawing, and they last half a year. It’s a real bummer, as we used to say.
Other than that, though, I’m in good health, which is a good thing because people in this situation usually don’t have good health insurance, either. Some hospitals and many doctors won’t treat a person without such insurance. As it happens, I live quite close to a local charity hospital. So I’m assured of emergency care if I need it.
What’s that I heard about this being the “greatest nation on earth”? (they actually say that, you know).
News from the Balkans is quite depressing. This country is being led towards a ground war, with troops being called up, etc. I’m enclosing a newspaper clipping, complete with the “appropriate” photograph.
A couple of months ago, Congress was in such an argument about how to spend a surplus of funds that normal legislative business was not being taken care of. That argument, of course, is totally irrelevant now.”
The enclosed clipping, an article by Paul Richer from the Los Angeles Times, stated that the Kosovo campaign will cost $4 billion through September, and that already there are insufficient reservists and volunteers. “We’ve gotten to the limits of volunteerism,” said a Pentagon official.
Apparently the only people who have gained anything from all this are the Iraqis. The Pentagon has had to scale back its activities in the “no-fly” zones in northern and southern Iraq, and shift the planes to Europe. The “appropriate” photograph from the newspaper is of Amanda Brown, 8, holding up a drawing she drew, bidding goodbye to her father, as he and other members of the 133rd Airlift Wing leave Minneapolis for Europe.
Meanwhile, back in the States, if Amanda Brown or anyone else falls ill and needs hospitalisation, but haven’t gotten insurance cover, then they won’t get suitable treatment. Such are the priorities of American capitalism.
As this journal has always pointed out, world summits and conferences are as notorious for the verbal rubbish arising from them as they are for highlighting the inadequacies of capitalist society and all attempts to reform it.
Remember, if you will, the Food Summit in the 1970s, at which Henry Kissinger announced to the world that global hunger would be eradicated within 10 years! Today the number of humans starving around the world is double the 400 million figure that enraged those delegates of 25 years ago.
Almost 10 years ago, there was another great meeting of the well-intentioned. This one was in Thailand and organised by the World Bank and various UN agencies, and called to debate the issue of education. To cut a long story short, the delegates of the 150 countries represented at this gathering were so appalled at the state of global education that they signed up to a plan to establish universal primary education by the year 2000. A good idea, you may think, but with months to go before that deadline, the world still has 125 million children out of school, 150 million who will drop out of school unable to read and write, with these figures being set against a world adult illiteracy rate of 20 percent, or 875 million adults.
The recent Oxfam report Education now: break the cycle of poverty, which hits at the shortcomings of the latter makes interesting reading, particularly for critics of New Labour, fond of juxtaposing Blair’s education policies with children saving Walker’s crisp packet tokens to exchange for school books.
The report reveals that there will be no real commitment to universal primary education until the year 2015, and even then there will still be 75 million children out of school with the proportion in sub-Saharan Africa actually higher than now, and that the cost of educating every child now out of school is $8 billion—which is about 4 days’ global military spending, or Europe’s pet food bill for 4 months.
While OECD countries spend an average of $4,636 per year on each child’s education in the developing world the figure is $165. And while Britain, whose annual education bill is some $3,553 per child, is far below the OECD average, it is still 130 times more than is spent on a child in Zambia.
Oxfam is keen to point to the benefits of universal primary education, stating that it not only improves life, but that it increases democracy and enhances a country’s growth. They have observed that every year spent in school decreases the risk of child death by 8 percent and that in sub-Saharan Africa the completion of primary education increases a farmer’s output by 8 percent.
The report insists that human capital is vital for growth and for integrating the developing world’s imported technology where there is little relevant infrastructure. It further points the finger of blame at organisations such as the IMF and World Bank, whose structural adjustment programmes often mean a country has to cut back on education spending as prerequisite to the securing of a loan, and that the concurrent debt burden means a lesser chance of spending on education.
There is a blatant cycle of disadvantage woven into the poverty-education equation, a kind of Catch-22. Poverty means less education which results in further poverty and accompanying poorer education. Oxfam’s solution, involving total reform of the Heavily Debted Poorer Countries Initiative through the implementation of a “human development window” that would offer the incentive of debt-relief to governments prepared to invest four-fifths of savings in poverty-reducing initiatives. Oxfam suggest the debt burden could be shored up with more carefully thought out aid programmes. At present only 2 percent of the aid programme provided by the West is put into education. If this figure was raised to 8 percent, then $4 billion could be invested in education, or so the projection runs—incidentally this is also Europe’s annual ice cream bill.
Moreover, Oxfam would like to see reform of IMF and World Bank programmes, with the ring-fencing of education funds. The former would be most opposed to Oxfam’s suggestions, not least because of its commitment to structural adjustment programmes and because of its reluctance to aid that might be diverted away from school books and into military projects.
There is a lot the average socialist could argue in favour of improved education standards throughout the world, taking on board much of what Oxfam argues. Even less-liberal economists cite rates of return on investment as a chief incentive. But is a more highly educated global working class really in the interests of capitalism, as already suggested? Only if those workers’ newly-acquired skills are going to be exploited for profit. The capitalist class won’t want to educate workers more than they have to, if this means eating into their profits. It’s a fair bet the education issue in the years ahead is as welcome in the US, for instance, as the idea to set up an International Criminal Court, or to vote in favour of access to food being a basic human right at the UN.
This is not simply socialist cynicism taken to the extreme. Capitalism is a filthy and rotten and decrepit social and economic system, whose apologists will stoop to any level to ensure their profits are never threatened. If this means starting a war, destroying crops from above with poison sprays, overthrowing a democratically-elected government, then so be it—there is no shortage of evidence to support this. Likewise with global education. The real winners in the long run from education can only be the working class.