Une réponse argumentée à la propagande néolibérale du «regardez il n'y a pas de problème avec le capitalisme et le néolibéralisme, puisqu'il n'y a jamais eu aussi peu de pauvreté dans le monde».
I simply pointed out that we cannot ignore the fact that the period 1820 to circa 1950 was one of violent dispossession across much of the global South. If you have read any colonial history, you will know colonizers had immense difficulty getting people to work on their mines and plantations. As it turns out, people tended to prefer their subsistence lifestyles, and wages were not high enough to induce them to leave. Colonizers had to coerce people into the labour market: imposing taxes, enclosing commons and constraining access to food, or just outright forcing people off their land. […]
The process of forcibly integrating colonized peoples into the capitalist labour system caused widespread dislocation (a history I cover in The Divide). Remember, this is the period of the Belgian labour system in the Congo, which so upended local economies that 10 million people died – half the population. This is the period of the Natives Land Act in South Africa, which dispossessed the country’s black population of 90% of the country. This is the period of the famines in India, where 30 million died needlessly as a result of policies the British imposed on Indian agriculture. This is the period of the Opium Wars in China and the unequal treaties that immiserated the population. And don’t forget: all of this was conducted in the name of the “free market”.
The narrative that you and Gates peddle relies on a poverty line of $1.90 per day. You are aware, I’m sure, that this line is not a neutral phenomenon, handed down by the gods or given in nature. It was invented by people, is used for particular ends, and is hotly contested both inside and outside of academia. Most scholars regard $1.90 as far too low to be meaningful […]
Here are a few points to keep in mind. Using the $1.90 line shows that only 700 million people live in poverty. But note that the UN’s FAO says that 815 million people do not have enough calories to sustain even “minimal” human activity. 1.5 billion are food insecure, and do not have enough calories to sustain “normal” human activity. And 2.1 billion suffer from malnutrition. How can there be fewer poor people than hungry and malnourished people? If $1.90 is inadequate to achieve basic nutrition and sustain normal human activity, then it’s too low – period. […]
Remember: $1.90 is the equivalent of what that amount of money could buy in the US in 2011. The economist David Woodward once calculated that to live at this level (in an earlier base year) would be like 35 people trying to survive in Britain “on a single minimum wage, with no benefits of any kind, no gifts, borrowing, scavenging, begging or savings to draw on (since these are all included as ‘income’ in poverty calculations).” That goes beyond any definition of “extreme”. It is patently absurd. It is an insult to humanity.
But what’s really at stake here for you, as your letter reveals, is the free-market narrative that you have constructed. Your argument is that neoliberal capitalism is responsible for driving the most substantial gains against poverty. This claim is intellectually dishonest, and unsupported by facts. Here’s why:
The vast majority of gains against poverty have happened in one region: East Asia. As it happens, the economic success of China and the East Asian tigers […] is due not to the neoliberal markets that you espouse but rather state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation (the same measures that Western nations used to such great effect during their own period of industrial consolidation). […]
Not so for the rest of the global South. Indeed, these policy options were systematically denied to them, and destroyed where they already existed. From 1980 to 2000, the IMF and World Bank imposed brutal structural adjustment programs that did exactly the opposite: slashing tariffs, subsidies, social spending and capital controls while reversing land reforms and privatizing public assets – all in the face of massive public resistance. During this period, the number of people in poverty outside China increased […] from 62% to 68%.
Since 2000, the most impressive gains against poverty (outside of East Asia) have come from Latin America, according to the World Bank, coinciding with a series of left-wing or social democratic governments that came to power across the continent. Whatever one might say about these governments (I have my own critiques), this doesn’t sit very well with your neoliberal narrative.
Here’s how well it’s working: on our existing trajectory, according to research published in the World Economic Review, it will take more than 100 years to end poverty at $1.90/day, and over 200 years to end it at $7.4/day. Let that sink in. And to get there with the existing system – in other words, without a fairer distribution of income – we will have to grow the global economy to 175 times its present size.
In your work you have invoked gains in life expectancy and education as part of a narrative that seeks to justify neoliberal globalization. But here again that’s intellectually dishonest. What contributes most to improvements in life expectancy is in fact simple public health interventions (sanitation, antibiotics, vaccines), and what matters for education is, well, public education. Indeed, the countries that have been most successful at this are those that have robust, free healthcare and education. Don’t forget that the US has worse infant mortality than Cuba.