World Food Day: Global Crises’ Double Standards

Published on, by Ramzy Baroud, 24 October, 2008.

… It’s rather ironic that those who cried foul every time a Third World government dared intervene in their national economy – even if to guarantee the welfare of the poorest segments of society – said nothing as the US, the UK and others defied every rule of the free market economy long championed by neoliberal economists. Even leading US Republicans who chastised “Big Government” at every turn (especially to block welfare programmes that mostly benefit the poor) cheered the government on as it moved to bail out the rich who, as usual, are likely to remain unaccountable for risking the retirement funds and life savings of millions of Americans.

A dominant argument to justify government behaviour is, yet again, the trickle down effect: a term coined by a Ronald Reagan speechwriter that simply means that what is good for the rich is, eventually, good for the poor. While elites in every society eagerly infuse such “Reaganomics” at every turn, the world’s poor is yet to feel the trickles, which poses an interesting question: Why the unprecedented and historic urgency to bailout the rich (for the sake of the poor, at an imaginary point in the future), while the poor can easily be saved without such roundabouts plans?

The fact is that neither America’s poor nor Africa’s poor are on the minds of European leaders, nor the Bush administration, as their high officials continue to hold anxious meetings and offer the most generous rescue packages. If indeed it’s the plight of humanity that is worrying these governments, then maybe they should consider the following, according to Oxfam, UK: “The number of hungry people now stands at 967 million. And around 24,000 people die daily of hunger-related causes. Around 2.7 billion people live on less than £1 a day; up to 80 per cent of this income goes on food.” Care International’s calculations are equally bleak, with 220 million people of the number above on the brink of starvation.

According to Oxfam, the main reasons for world poverty are also manmade: “biofuel policies, high fuel prices, growing global demand, unfair world trade rules, and climate change.” Long before the Wall Street financial crisis, there existed a much more dangerous crisis, the world food crisis, dubbed a “perfect storm”. The latter is much more consequential for it affected the very lives, not simply the standard of living, of many millions around the world.

Barbara Stocking wrote in the New Statesman, “According to the latest figures, the food crisis has resulted in an extra 119 million malnourished people, bringing the total to almost one billion — nearly one in seven people now goes hungry. This is hunger on so vast a scale that it is difficult to understand how the world arrived at this point.”

It’s very telling that trillions have already been spent to patch up leading world financial institutions, while out of the comparatively small sum of $12.3 billion pledged in Rome earlier this year, to offset the food crisis, only $1 billion has been delivered. The hope that at least extreme poverty can be eradicated by the end of 2015, as stipulated in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, seems as unrealistic as ever, not due to lack of resources but a lack of true concern for the world’s poor.

Whether the American, European or any other government infused bailout packages rectify the financial crisis or not, chances are that 16 October 2009 will bring similarly devastating news about the plight of the world’s poor and which is likely to remain that: mere “news” that requires little action, if any at all. (full text).

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