2000s >> 2006 >> no-1222-june-2006

Voice From the Back


The US government has recently had a crack down on illegal immigration and the French and British press have been full of the problems of immigration in those countries, but for one group there seems to be no problem in settling in another country. “Seven of the wealthiest billionaires living in Britain come from overseas, according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List. Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal comes out on top with a fortune estimated by the newspaper at £14.8 bn. Roman Abramovich drops to second place, but the Russian oil tycoon and Chelsea football club owner is reckoned to be worth £7.5 bn.” (BBC NEWS, 3 April). So far none of the seven billionaires seem to be having any trouble with housing, schools or social security and no one has suggested passes or tagging for any of them.


When socialists attack the inequalities of capitalism we are often told by its defenders that the owning class deserve their wealth because of their hard work or superior intellect. No one could ever accuse Paris Hilton of hard work, she recently celebrated her 21st birthday by having 5 birthday parties in 5 different countries, attended by thousands of friends. The rich tend to have more friends than the poor. If she couldn’t be accused of hard work she certainly could not be accused of possessing a grasp of world affairs. “The word ‘mother’ confused her, a friend of Paris Hilton explains the hotel heiress’s request to meet Mother Teresa’s children in preparation for playing the nun in a new film” (Observer,16 April).


In recent months we have highlighted the process of the capitalist class grabbing land and throwing off the previous occupants in India and China. Now from Botswana comes another example of this “primitive accumulation of capital” so well described by Karl Marx in Capital in the 19th century. “Since 1997, more than 1,500 Gana and Gwi Bushmen have been evicted from their homes in the Kalahari” (Observer, 16 April). They have been found to be “primitive and a barrier to progress” ever since De Beers took an interest in the area’s diamonds. .


The journalist Heather Stewart in her Letter from Washington describes the contrast between the rich and poor in what is described as the most affluent country in the world. “Men in chinos and women with neat hair and brilliant white teeth sip giant cappuccinos or chat animatedly into their cellphones. …Look closer, though, and there are signs of another DC. Tired looking black men stand on street corners holding out the same giant coffee cups to collect coins. The Washington Post details a horrific crime wave of car-jacking and gunpoint robberies. Less than a mile from the grandeur of the White House are neighbourhoods with all the deprivation and social issues of the poorest inner cities” (Observer, 23 April).


Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are in dispute with Iran in a bitter controversy. What is it all about? Civil rights, nuclear armament? No way. This is about caviar! “Iran may be increasingly out of favour with the UK Security Council, but the UN Secretarial for International Trade in Endangered Species gave the country the thumbs up last week, when it gave Iran’s quota to export 44,000 kilos of caviar this year. Exports from the other countries have been banned by the UN since January” (Times, 27 April). The price of caviar is currently £6,000 a kilo, so the furore is easily understood. After all Russia alone caught 650 tonnes in 2001. Millions of thousands of hard currencies is more important than war, poverty or civil rights to capitalist governments.


The world is failing children by not ensuring they have enough to eat, says the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef). It says the number of children under five who are underweight has remained virtually unchanged since 1990, despite a target to reduce the number affected. Half of all the under-nourished children in the world live in South Asia, Unicef reported. And it said poor nutrition contributes to about 5.6 million child deaths per year, more than half the total” (BBC NEWS, 1 May). Despite the efforts of Unicef and countless well-meaning charities capitalism is still starving millions of children to death every year.


Depression is the biggest social problem in the UK, says Richard Lanyard, a health economist who advises the Government on mental health. He claims that 15 per cent of the population suffers from depression or anxiety, and that the cost in lost productivity is about £17 billion” (Times, 2 May). It is typical of capitalism that not only does it drive us screwy, it can only see mental ill-health as a productivity problem.

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