2000s >> 2007 >> no-1229-january-2007

Voice from the Back


“Poor people are needlessly dying because drug companies and the governments of rich countries are blocking the developing world from obtaining affordable medicines, a report says today. Five years to the day after the Doha declaration – a groundbreaking deal to give poor countries access to cheap drugs – was signed at the World Trade Organisation, Oxfam says things are worse. … The US has pursued its own free trade agreements with developing countries, tying them into much tighter observance of patent rights than anticipated at Doha ‘The USA has also pressured countries for greater patent protection through threats of trade sanctions’, the report says.” (Guardian, 14 November) The message is clear – patents and profits mean more than people inside capitalism.


The journalist Nick Cohen recently quoted a couple of property experts about house prices in London. “Lulu Egerton of the Lane Fox agency tells about putting a house in Chelsea on the market last week for £4.5m. She assures me it wasn’t a mansion, just a roomy town house …. Within hours, she had an offer of £5.25 m. … I ask Mira Bar-Hillel, the property editor of London’s Evening Standard, if she has a favourite example of irrational exuberance; an anecdote or statistic people will recall if a crash comes … She sighs and says : ‘Take your pick. I’m coming up with them every week. Russian oligarchs who don’t even ask the price of the homes they view, the average price of a flat in central London reaching £1m, garages selling for £150,000 and parking spaces selling for £100,000.’” (Observer, 19 November) The prospects of a bus driver, clerk or railway worker getting their feet on the so-called housing ladder at these prices is extremely remote, but perhaps if they saved up they might be able to unroll their sleeping bag in a highly desirable parking space.


We are all aware of the Hollywood fantasy where happy families sit round the dining table at Thanksgiving or Christmas time. It is all part of the Hollywood “feel good” factor, but unfortunately it is a complete fiction for many US families. “As America gets ready for Thanksgiving dinner, a new report says hunger is on the rise in New York City. One in six New Yorkers – roughly 1.256 million people – could not afford to buy enough food, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger reported yesterday, citing US Department of Agriculture data from 2003 to 2005. The hungry population jumped 112,000 people in that period compared to 2000 – 2003.” (New York Metro, 22 November) If any Hollywood mogul is thinking of a new treatment for the “feel good” element, how about Honey, I Starved the Kids!


Home of the brave and land of the free sing the proud American patriots, but the reality is somewhat different. “A record 7 million people – one in every 32 American adults – were in jail, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to figures released by US Justice Department yesterday. US prisons held 2.2 million inmates, an increase of 2.6 per cent over the previous year. More than 4.9 million adult men and women were on parole or probation, an increase of 27,000 over the previous year.” (Times, 1 December) Home of the brave we can understand but land of the free? Difficult concept.


In pre-property societies the old were valued as experienced hunters and food gatherers. In such societies to be old was considered honourable and they were respected and indeed venerated. The opposite applies in modern capitalism. “The Help the Aged survey conducted by GfK NOP, showed that 5 per cent, or 500,000 of those over 65 said that they had to cut back on basic food to pay council tax bills. Eight per cent, or 800,000, turned down their heating. More than a third of people over 65 living on the lowest household incomes spent 10 per cent on meeting the payments, the study showed.” (Times, 2 December) Our grannies and grandads are suffering, what are you going to do about it?


A great deal of prominence has been given by the media to the amazing development of capitalism in India and much publicity to the growth of industry and commerce within that country. There is one aspect of this development that has received little attention and that is the strains and problems that this development has meant to members of the working class. “An estimated 4,000 students commit suicide in India each year because of exam failure or fear of failure in a society where there is intense pressure to succeed academically.” (Times, 2 December) Kids are killing themselves for capitalism, it makes us feel sick, how about you?


A global study by the World Institute for Development Economic Research of the United Nations has recently revealed how unequal a society capitalism is today. “The richest 1% of adults in the world own 40% of the planet’s wealth. … The report found the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total of global assets. Half the world’s adult population, however, owned barely 10% of global wealth.” (Guardian, 6 December)

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