|The Political Economy of Love And The Eradication of Extreme Poverty in The World|
The eradication of extreme poverty in the world, alongside the proliferation of nuclear weapons, climate change due to pollution, and various forms of violence (war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, terrorism), is one of the four or five most dangerous challenges facing humanity today.
6th June 07 - Dr Zeki Ergas ~ STWR
If the primacy of reason is replaced by the primacy of love, it will inevitably lead to a better, more equal and more just sharing of the world’s resources. This is the meaning of the concept of the ‘political economy of love’ in the title of this essay, which can be seen as superseding the ‘political economy of reason’ which has been, one way or the other (in the liberal and Marxist senses) the dominant concept until now.
The concept of political economy was first coined, by classical economists, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was later appropriated by Marxists and is presently used by both the Marxists and the liberal economists, even if what they mean by it is different. For the liberals political economy generally means that the political and economic aspects of life in society are related, and they include power relations into that relationship. For the Marxists the concept is far more involved and includes: a) how goods and services are produced by a combination of capital (including technology) and labour; b) how income is generated, and wealth accumulated by means of that production; and c) how, finally, that wealth is used to acquire power and social status in society. The reality is that relations between capital and labour have been in constant flux: capital has often dominated and exploited labour; but, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that has not prevented labour from making some important gains. The emergence of trade unions and national legislations seeking to improve the working conditions in the factories have been, after the Industrial Revolution, important gains for labour. In the last two decades or so, globalisation, that is, the penetration of world markets by multinational corporations in search of profit, has primarily benefited capital. But, again, increasing productivity and, concomitantly, rising wages in the rich and in the ‘emerging’ countries have also benefited labour.
Wealth and power have always had an incestuous relationship: wealth has been used to acquire power; and, vice versa, power, to acquire wealth. Presently incestuous relationship appears to be accelerating all over the world. In the rich and, increasingly, in the ‘emerging’ countries, wealth is massively converted into political power. In the United States, for example, the extremely rich are allowed to spend millions of dollars of their own money in election campaigns, distorting thus, to say the least, the spirit, if not the letter, of the democratic political process. It is (in the spring of 2006) estimated that in the next American presidential elections (of 2008) no less than one billion dollars will be spent by the two major Republican and the Democratic candidates, doubling thus the US$ 500 million spent in 2004. In the poor countries, it is the opposite that is happening: power in the form of ‘grand’ corruption is used widely by the political elites to acquire immense wealth that is taken out of the country.
A related development is the rapid growth of the extremely rich. That development is taking two forms: individuals or families; and countries that are major exporters of petroleum and natural gas. These two forms are, of course, linked. According to a recent Bloomberg report, there were, in 2005, one million individuals/families whose wealth exceeded US$10 million; and that number is expected to almost double, in 2008, to 1.9 million. As for the oil and gas exporting countries, the current account surpluses – the difference between the exports and the imports -- of Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait were, in 2005, estimated at about US$ 473 billion. What happens to all that money? Is it used wisely? In the four countries mentioned above, oligarchic elites (without seemingly any real accountability to the people) appear to be engaged what a newspaper report has called ‘pharaonic’, i.e. gigantic and very expensive, projects, such as, in Dubai: an artificial ski resort that can accommodate 1,500 skiers, that opened its doors in 2005; ‘The World’ project made up of 300 small artificial islands emerging from the sea (the Gulf) on which are built luxurious residences, which are sold to extremely rich international buyers, at prices varying between US$ 7 million and US$ 37 million; and the ‘Burj Dubai’, which will be, in 2009, the highest tower in the world. Similar projects worth hundreds of billions of US dollars are in the works in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
A parallel development in the rich countries – in Switzerland, for example – has been the rapid growth of the luxury goods and services ‘industries’. Expensive jewellery and watches, five-star hotels, fashion boutiques, private banks and business lawyers’ offices that charge huge fees, and so on, are doing extremely well. There is a waiting list for certain makes of ‘complicated’ watches worth US $ 10,000 and more. A recent article in the National Geographic (April 2006), ‘Where Dogs Have Their Day’, begins: ‘On any given afternoon in San Francisco’s Marina District, dogs fill the streets and parks, the outdoor cafés and shops. They keep appointments with their masseurs (at US$ 75 an hour) and acupuncturists; they sit for portraits and for readings with their astrologers.’ Banks are making billions of dollars of profits serving the extremely rich, and they have embarked upon a massive expansion program, going ‘where the money is’, opening new branches, in Asia, North and South America and Europe. Offshore banking which serves mainly as a means for tax evasion is growing by leaps and bounds.
Meanwhile, in striking contrast, while some progress has been made to reduce ‘ordinary’ poverty, largely in the ‘emerging’ countries, little or no progress has been made on extreme poverty, and about 1.5 billion people, close to a quarter of the world’s population, continue to scrape a miserable ‘existence’ (if that is the correct word), having to live with the equivalent of less than US$ 1 a day. In addition, two more billion people must make do with less than US$ 2 a day. As a result, as it has been repeated ad nauseam: thousands of children die every day from hunger, malnutrition and preventable diseases; millions of adults are the hapless victims of AIDS and malaria every year, and tuberculosis is making a comeback; and hundreds of millions of largely unemployed people must live in slums, in shacks made of cardboard and without sewers, access to clean water and electricity.
Given all that, it is not surprising that Marxism, whose definitive demise had been, with great fanfare, announced after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1989, appears to be staging a strong come back. A growing number of knowledgeable observers of the social ‘scene’ are acknowledging that Marx’s analysis of what is wrong with capitalism remains valid in the age of the neo-liberal globalisation -- even if the cures that he proposed, based on too an idealistic a view of humanity, have, largely, turned out utopian. Thus, albeit in a modified and so far unconscious forms, ‘class struggle’ is back. Admittedly, the ‘bourgeoisie’ and the ‘proletariat’ are no longer the two dominant social classes in the contemporary world, as they were in the days of the Industrial Revolution, but the exploitation of the ‘working class’, especially in the poor and the ‘emerging’ countries continues. As for the rich countries, the primary (agriculture) and the secondary (industry) sectors of the economy continue to shrink, whereas the tertiary (services) sector – tourism, commerce, insurance, banking, education, health, telecommunications, etc. – is expanding disproportionately. As a result, we have, increasingly, a situation that can, metaphorically, be compared to a person who has a huge head on top of a badly shrivelled body (resembling thus to the alien creature in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. movie).
The Primacy of Reason
The primacy of reason is the overall concept on which modernity and the Western civilisation are based. It can even be asserted that rationalism has been, and still is, the foundation stone on which sits the whole building of Western civilisation. Reason was behind the ideas and theories of the ‘classical’ and ‘neo-classical’ economists, such as: Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Vilfredo Pareto and Joseph Alois Schumpeter. Adam Smith invented the ‘division of labour’ and argued famously – in the Wealth of Nations -- that if individuals are allowed to pursue their selfish interests, society as a whole will benefit; Ricardo is known for his theory of international trade according to which if each country specialises in the economic activities in which it has a ‘comparative advantage’, all countries engaged in international trade will benefit; John Stuart Mill is the champion of ‘liberty’ and ‘utility’ in human affairs; Pareto emphasized the positive role of the elites and first introduced mathematical models; and Schumpeter focused on the crucial role of the entrepreneur engaged in ‘continuous technological innovation’. All these economic thinkers represented, of course, progress in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But the problem is, as social reality has changed in the twentieth, and now the twenty-first centuries, inevitably, new elements have appeared that, at least in part, have turned the advantages of a ‘market’ economy into liabilities -- as can be seen clearly from the consequences of globalisation.
The primacy of reason was the great revolutionary idea of the eighteenth century. So much so, in fact, that the century itself came to be known, deservedly, as the Age of Reason. And all the great economists mentioned above, and their heirs or inheritors -- such as, John Maynard Keynes, who defended the right of governments to intervene in the economy, mainly to fight unemployment by creating jobs; and Thorsteen Bunde Veblen, who wrote about The Theory of the Leisure Class -- relied, of course, also on reason. A parenthesis here to note that Adam Smith, the father of them all, believed in the ‘invisible hand’ (God in other words) regulating economic activity, and that is hardly a rational concept (parenthesis closed). The origin of the primacy of reason goes (at least) back to the Ancient Greeks, but it was in the eighteenth century that it was systematically used as the main weapon against the forces of obscurantism -- represented at that time mainly by the Church and the Royalists who defended the principle of the divine origin of authority and political power. The struggle for liberty and, to a lesser extent, justice, was won thanks to the victory of the ‘enlightened’ people who defended the primacy of reason. The latter, moreover, has been the main engine of the development in science and technology. As a result, the quality of life improved considerably in the Western world, owing to progress in hygiene, medicine, communication, transportation, and so on. The diffusion or dissemination, however, of that progress in the rest of the world has been patchy and extremely unequal. To give but one example, at the beginning of the twenty first century, life expectancy at birth is almost 80 years (the average for men and women) in the rich countries, but only about half than that in some of the poorest countries, such as, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.
The Primacy of Love
The idea of the primacy of love is common to all the great religions and ‘philosophies’ of the world – including the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism. But it is the theory that mankind has largely been unable to put into practice. That inability has recently been explained by some scholars as related to the ‘need’ of the primitive man to ‘compete’ for ‘scarce resources’. There was, of course, in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes who, in the Leviathan, argued that man was a creature motivated only by self-interest, and that is why, Hobbes thought, a ‘sovereign’ authority was needed to make him ‘behave’. Be that as it may, it was probably true that, in those dark ages, the ‘survival of the fittest’ was a good way to describe social life. For the scholars mentioned above , during that period of ‘social Darwinism’, humans used the reptilian part of their brains. But, these same scholars insist, man no longer uses his reptilian brain, and he no longer lives in a situation of global scarcity, and in an advanced and ethical civilisation, ‘cooperation and altruism’ are not only possible, but necessary, in order to build sustainable world.
I shall add that in such a wealthy and technologically advanced world the existence of extreme poverty is a violation of a fundamental human right. Therefore, while the primacy of reason should certainly remain valid in the fields of science and technology, and in the related fields of material production, and so on, it should be, in the field of political economy, that is, in the distribution of income and wealth and resources, replaced by the primacy of love. I believe that the very survival of the human species, and indeed of the planet itself may, ultimately, depend on mankind’s ability and, more importantly, its will, to make that quantum leap. If and when the ’political economy of love’ is adopted by the Powers That Be, humanity will be able to usher in a better world based on peace, justice and solidarity.
The Political Economy of Love
What then would be the main elements, or components, of a world based on the political economy of love? I shall, in the following pages explore briefly the following three relevant subjects that I have studied in relatively more detail in other essays:
I - The abolition of war and the establishment of a culture of peace;
II - A larger role for women in world affairs; and
III - A Global Marshall Plan to eradicate extreme poverty in the world.
The Abolition of War and the Establishment of a Culture of Peace
Of course the idea that war is bad, or even evil, and that it should be abolished, is not new. The oldest and best known statement on that subject may well be Prophet Isaiah's famous injunction: 'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.' Plato wrote in Phaedo that, 'The origin of all wars is the pursuit of wealth, and we pursue wealth because we live in slavery to the cares of the body'. Seneca, in his Epistles, warns us that 'We are mad, not only as individuals, but also as nations. That is so because while we condemn manslaughter and murder, we do nothing to stop war the slaughter of whole peoples.' There have been in the past good reasons to go to war. As St. Augustine observed a long time ago: 'Peace is war's purpose ... (E)very man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by waging peace.' The war against Nazi Germany was such a war. But is that an argument against the abolition of war? Thomas Merton declared that: 'Our task is to work for the total abolition of the war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished, the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent …' For Merton, 'At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything.'
David Applebaum, the editor of the Parabola (an entire issue of the magazine was devoted to the subject of peace), said that 'To abolish war would require a sea change in the heart of man.' The latter can be achieved only if the spirit of non-violence known in Sanskrit as Ahimsa becomes ingrained in the souls of men. Gandhi has based his action against British colonialism on Ahimsa -- and on Satygraha, the truth. Linus Pauling (the only person to have won two undivided Nobel Prizes, one for chemistry in 1954 and the other for Peace in 1962) and his wife, Ava Helen Pauling, have braved constant harassment and threats by the FBI to persevere in their fight against the scourge of war for two and a half decades after the Second World War. Daisaku Ikeda, the President Soka Gakkai, a buddhist organization devoted to peace, and a friend of Linus Pauling, has received, in 1983, the United Nation's Peace Medal. Among the several distinguished thinkers, scientists and philosophers who have participated, in 2003, in an Oxford University Conference (the contributions to which were published in the Parabola magazine issue mentioned above) were Pir Vilayat Khan, Peter Russell, Ervin Laszlo, Michio Kaku and Andrew Harvey. Pir Vilayat Khan, a Sufi master, said, ‘The universe is evolving towards an even greater destiny and we are the means of this global transformation.’ Peter Russell, the physicist, affirmed that: ‘Today we are in the early stages of a shift in the worldview ... (based on) space, time and matter (which) ... does not allow for the existence of consciousness, which is the fundamental quality of the Cosmos.’ For Professor Ervin Laszlo, the President of the Club of Budapest, ‘We operate in an outdated worldview ... We have to shift ... to trust in our inner sources of consciousness and knowing.’ Michio Kaku said ‘We are privileged to be alive at the birth of the most incredible transition in human history, the birth of a planetary civilization … I have dedicated my life to the prospects of a peaceful world. I believe we will see the day when nations do live in harmony and peace.’ For Andrew Harvey, the mystical thinker, ‘We are going through a dark night of the species as a whole ... The mass media is feeding us trivialities ... The rich world is locking itself into materialism ... We need to become mystic activists ... (T)he world can become the living kingdom of this divine humanity.’
A Larger Role for Women in World Affairs
The idea that women must play a more central or pivotal role in world affairs is gaining ground. There are more women in top positions in national governments. Recently, three women were elected president of their countries in Germany, Chile and Liberia. The socialist government of Spain has recently introduced the 40 per cent rule for women to occupy important positions in business and politics. In the United States the possibility that a woman may be elected president in 2008 is no longer considered as utopian. Women have created hundreds of NGOs whose purpose is the building a better world by, inter alia, empowering women. Having said that we must also recognise that women have still a long way to go before they acquire their fair share of power in the world. Presently, of the 185 highest-ranking diplomats at the United Nations, for example, only seven are women.
Probably the very first literary work whose subject is women’s commitment to peace is Lysistrata, a play by Aristophanes. In it, women refuse to grant sexual favours to their men, as long as the latter continue to kill one another by waging war. Admittedly the play is a comedy, but it does illustrate thepower that women have over man to bring about political change. Women have long been active as campaigners against war. Julia Ward Howe, an American has, in 1872 -- seven years after the end of the American Civil War (which remains, with more than half a million dead, the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States) – proposed a national ‘Mother’s Day for Peace’. It took more than forty years, but, finally, President Woodrow Wilson declared, in 1914, the ‘Mother’s Day for Peace’ a national holiday. 1914 was also the year about thirty women of different nationalities created in Geneva the World Union of Women for International Peace. Three years later, the WUW had 6,530 members in Switzerland, and many more in other European countries.
More recently, in the last decade of the previous century, women have sharply increased their commitment to peace, development and justice. Rigoberta Menchu, the winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, said that ‘Peace is not only absence of war when there are no battles and no fighting. Peace is also to have enough to eat, living in a decent house and respecting one another.’ The fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing, in 1995; 189 national delegations attended it. Ten years later, in 2005, participants to the ‘Review of the Beijing Platform Implementation’ urged, with respect to the ‘Millennium Development Goals’, that ‘attention be paid on to how ‘both women and men are being impacted’ by them, and to ‘the critical role of women in achieving all of the goals, and to ways in which targeting women and girls can expedite their achievement.’ Also in 2005, the General Assembly of the European Women’s Lobby has called on the European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union) to create the post of ‘Commissioner for Peace’
A Global Marshall Plan to Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Promote Development in Poor Countries
The world is ten times richer today than it was a century earlier, despite the quadrupling of its population, which has grown from 1.5 billion to 6.5 billion. So there is no question that the resources to eradicate extreme poverty once and for all exist. It is therefore difficult not to ascribe that monumental failure to the insensitivity, selfishness and greed of the political and economic leaders of the rich countries. It is more or less certain that, at their present levels, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI, largely by multinational corporations) and multilateral and bilateral aid by rich countries are insufficient to do the job. What is needed is the equivalent of the American ‘European Recovery Program’ that has helped Western Europe to rebuild its economy after the terrible devastation of the Second World War. According to that Program, known as the Marshall Plan -- named after its main architect, the American Secretary of State of the time, George C. Marshall --, the United States, has transferred, between 1947 and 1952, to seventeen European countries a total of almost 13 billion dollars. That is an average of 1,3 per cent of its annual GNP, which translates as more than 130 billion of today’s dollars. In comparison, the total American foreign aid in 2005 was some US$ 15 billion, of which a third goes to Israel and Egypt …). The US made a decisive contribution to the European reconstruction. It often observed – rightly -- that the Marshall Plan was NOT primarily a humanitarian enterprise, and that its true motivation was national interest. With Eastern Europe controlled by Stalin, and the Soviet Union emerging as a dangerous competitor, strengthening Western Europe economically and militarily (thus, also, the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, or NATO) was seen as an absolute necessity. So be it. Nonetheless, the Marshall Plan was a great success and Western Europe, not only recovered from the devastation of the Second World War, but it surpassed its pre-Second World War affluence, eventually creating the European Community, and later the European Union, which, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1989, is now expanding to Eastern Europe, to form a strong economic and, hopefully, in due time, a powerful political union.
The eradication of extreme poverty is primarily a humanitarian enterprise, but it is also in the interest of the wealthy countries to get rid of it once and for all because the enormous and growing gap between the rich and the poor individuals and countries is not sustainable in the long run.
At a minimum a Global Marshall Plan to eradicate extreme poverty in the world should include the following elements:
A) The immediate and complete abolition of all the international debt of the poor countries;
The eradication of extreme poverty in the world is a duty, an obligation, and in the interest of the rich countries. I believe that to reach that noble goal the primacy of reason must be replaced by the primacy of love in the distribution of resources in the world. Then the ‘political economy of love’ will supersede the ‘political economy of reason’ and humanity will be able to build a better world based on peace, justice and solidarity. It has also been my contention that a Global Marshall Plan is the best means, or instrument, to eradicate extreme poverty in the world by promoting economic development. The humanitarian or ethical dimension is, of course, determinant. Mankind can no longer continue to see a quarter of its total population to suffer from the terrible consequences of extreme poverty, which, I repeat, is a very serious violation of an essential human right. Humanity needs a world that is socially, economically and ecologically BALANCED. The growing gap between the rich and the poor, be it persons or countries, is unsustainable and catastrophic in the long run, and must be done away with.
Zeki Ergas, a writer and scholar, is Secretary General of PEN International’s Swiss Romand Center (www.penromand.ch) and a member of that same organisation’s Writers for Peace Committee; he is also the founder and executive secretary of Millennium Solidarity Geneva Group, (www.millennium-solidarity.net)
Notes1 The inspiration for this essay – especially the concept of the ‘primacy of love’ -- came after a telephone conversation with Mohammed Mesbahi, the founder and chairman of Share the World Resources, www.stwr.org .
2 China, Russia, India and Brazil, four of the biggest ‘emerging’ countries, are sometimes referred to as the CRIB countries: C for China, R for Russia, I for India and B for Brazil
3 ‘Grand’ corruption, as opposed to ‘petty’ corruption, which (like the informal sector) is a means of survival in the poor countries.
4 Les Riches Toujours Plus Riches, in Tribune de Genève, 17 mars 2006
5 Où Vont les milliards du pétrole? Vers des rêves de pharaons, in Tribune de Genève, 22-23 avril 2006
6 Hazel Henderson, ‘Beyond Economism – Policies Guided by “Earth Ethics”’, in Kosmos: An Integral Approach to Global Awakening, Spring/Summer 2006, Vol V, No.2
7 My three essays are: ‘Extreme Wealth, Extreme Poverty: Are the two Related?’; ‘Settling a Historical Debt to Eradicate Extreme Poverty in the World’; and ‘Why Civil Disobedience Campaigns Will Be Necessary to Eradicate Extreme Poverty in the World’; all three published in www.globalmarshallplan.org
8 T. Morton, The Root of War is Fear, an essay first published in 1961. Re-published in the book, Passion for Peace, edited by William H. Shannon (Crossroads Publishing Co., 1995).
9 In Parabola, a quarterly magazine of ‘Myth, Tradition, and the Search for Meaning’. Vol. 27, No 4, Winter 2002.
10 See, ‘UN Commission on the Status of Women CSW 47th Session’, in WWSF (Women’s World Summit Foundation) Global Newsletter, No.2, (Double Edition) July 2003, p.4.
11 The Global Marshall Plan Initiative (GMPI) was launched on October 11, 2003 in Stuttgart, supported, inter alia, by the Club of Rome and the Club of Budapest. www.globalmarshallplan.org. See, F. J. Radermacher, Global Marshall Plan. A planetary Contract (For a Worldwide Eco-Social Market Economy). Global Marshall Plan Foundation, July 2004. By the same author, Balance or Destruction: Eco-social Market Economy as the Key to Global Sustainable Development (Vienna 2004).
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