Fifty two billion pounds is a lot of pelf in anybody’s currency. Tabloid newspapers occasionally run articles fantasising about the things their readers could spend their money on if they were rich enough. Maybe a premier division footballer or two; a re-election victory; two tickets for the sixth farewell tour of a sixties rock/pop group; a four bedroom detached house in the south-east of England; a signed Damien Hirst pickled onion; a day trip on the USS Enterprise; a decent little Middle Eastern war. Money, if you have enough of it will buy you almost anything. Many people think that if you throw enough money at a difficulty it will go away.
A Guardian journalist, Jonathon Freedland, writing in the Daily Mirror recently (9 April), identified many problems affecting a large part of the world. His intent was to contrast the high financial cost of the American and Iraq conflict with what he saw as other socially beneficial schemes deserving of similar spending. The spending of comparable amounts to £52 billion that had already been allocated toward the conflict could, he felt, be far better spent in assuaging the problems to which he alludes.
Some of his propositions are eminently sensible. For example, who does not want to make “the world a fairer, cleaner, healthier place”? Or, provide an education for the “estimated 120 million kids world-wide (who) never see a classroom”? Who would not want to solve the health problems caused by the “lack of clean water (which) causes 80 per cent of health problems in most developing countries? One in four people still can’t get a clean glass of water”. It is easy to comprehend that “a billion people go to bed hungry every night”, which is “a fact so awful you have to imagine you’re one of them to really take it in.” A straw poll on these ideas conducted almost anywhere would produce the sort of unanimity usually only found amongst ballots conducted by dictators and despots. Surely a conclusion drawn from these facts alone is that here are issues which require immediate action to resolve them? Does not this resolution require co-ordinated collective global action?
Freedland writes of the United Nations’ targets to eliminate “extreme poverty and hunger”. As he notes, at present poorer countries are indebted to richer ones to the amount of £32 billion pounds. The United Nations Development Goals (all quotes taken from its website) notes that “the Millennium Development Goals are an ambitious agenda for reducing poverty and improving lives”. The targets include:
“Halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger. More than a billion people still live on less than US$1 a day . . . Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five. Every year nearly 11 million young children die before their fifth birthday, mainly from preventable illnesses. By 2015, reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. By 2020 achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.”
The problems themselves are highly visible. Many individuals and agencies are dedicated to eradicating them. Many resources are expended in pursuit of a final solution to poverty, hunger and disease. But under the present social system, capitalism, this is a labour of Sisyphus.
With which remedies proposed by Freedland, by the dis-United Nations, by various charities, by non-governmental organisations, by pontificating politicians, by genuinely concerned citizens, and by those existing on a dollar a day, does the Socialist Party disagree? Answer: The supposed solution of throwing money, or rather, trickling money at the problem.
Why? Because even if the global ruling class wanted to palliate the condition of those surviving in nineteenth century conditions it has so many other things to divert and engage its attention. Things such as safeguarding energy supplies, protecting profits, and brainwashing workers into continued acceptance of a social system which perpetuates the environment which condemn so many in the world to an unfair, dirty, unhealthy place. This is not to say that some, probably many, of the capitalist class are not as appalled and angered by the plight of other human beings as anyone else. But they are, like us all, immersed in a system predicated on profit for profit, not need. There’s not much profit to be made from those unable to spend more than a dollar a day. Freedland is right, however, to call for co-ordinated global action with the immediate priority of resolving the myriad problems which capitalism creates but cannot rectify. Only world socialism can provide the framework to do that.
So the question is, when do we adopt the only rational alternative to the existing social system? Do you really want to wait until 2015 to partly ameliorate, if at all, problems caused by, and perpetuated by, capitalism?