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[cg] The illusion of charity? An article on world hunger


Hi, Folks!

I received this article from the United Church of Christ minister who
maintains an e-mail list on environmental issues.  I thought it was quite
thought-provoking and worth further discussion.

Take the time to read it -- I found it very interesting and quite relevant
to the current social-political situation.

Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's Organic Community Garden

>> The illusion of charity?
>>by Sean Gonsalves, Cape Cod Times 
>>                       March 30, 1999
>> 
>>   A veil of ignorance shrouds public opinion about world hunger. The
>> conventional wisdom says: people who starve in this world are victims of
>> famine, foolishness and/or fascism.
>> 
>> That people starve because of personal and social foolishness is beyond
>> doubt. That people starve due to dictatorial policies is also not worth
arguing
>> about. But, what follows is likely to provoke "patriotic" pundits to
polemics.
>> 
>> "Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to
>> eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat."
Those
>>                 are the words of Amartya Sen, the Drummond professor
>>                 of political economy at Oxford University and fellow of
>>                 All Souls College.
>> 
>>                 In his insightful book, "Poverty and Famines: An Essay
>>                 on Entitlement and Deprivation," brother Sen's "careful
>>                 use of evidence...gives weight and substance to the
>>                 view that human institutions, in particular capitalist
>>                 institutions, rather than nature or the growth of
>>                 population, are responsible for famine and starvation,"
>> as one book-reviewer put it.
>> 
>> Sen's work is based on decades and decades of empirical study and
>> scholarly analysis. He is a former economics professor at the London School
>> of Economics, Stanford and Harvard. He was also a former visiting
>> economics professor at MIT.
>> 
>> That's no guarantee Sen's work is correct. But we're talking academic rigor
>> here. Reading Sen is worth the mental effort. That is, if you care to deepen
>> your knowledge of a problem haunting the lives of billions of our
brothers and
>> sisters.
>> 
>> In the world today, starvation depends not merely on food supply but on its
>> distribution, Sen points out. "If one person in eight starves regularly
in the
>> world, this is seen as the result of his inability to establish
entitlement to
>> enough food; the question of the physical availability of the food is not
>> directly involved."
>> 
>> Sen analyzes the "theoretically unsound, empirically inept and dangerously
>> misleading" policies U.S. and other world "leaders" follow. He also gives a
>> detailed case-study analysis of recent famines, such as the Great Bengal
>> Famine of 1943 and the Ethiopian famines of 1973 and 1974.
>> 
>> About 34,000 children die every day because of hunger and easily treatable
>> diseases. According to a 1996 World Bank study, 1.3 billion people "live" in
>> grinding poverty, surviving (but-dying-slowly) on one dollar a day. Another 2
>> billion of God's children live in near-absolute poverty. Three billion
souls, the
>> majority of the world's population, live on less than two dollars per day!
>> 
>> Yet, more than 200 million Americans consume enough food annually to feed
>> one billion people in poor nations. Oxford economist Donald Hay has
>> observed that a mere two percent of the world's grain harvest would be
>> enough, if shared, to eradicate hunger and malnutrition across the entire
>> globe.
>> 
>> Because the global economy operates according to the "free-market"
>> economic dogma that our leaders worship, American policy-makers have
>> played (and do play) a huge role in relation to world hunger.
>> 
>> Many Americans give to charity - maybe a turkey on Thanksgiving or money
>> to that organization Sally Struthers does PR work for. That is a good thing.
>> Many lives are saved because of charity.
>> 
>> But, so as to not become spiritually complacent and self-righteous, we need
>> to ask a tremendously important question: If poverty and hunger are often
>> caused by institutional arrangements (i.e. "welfare reform," NAFTA, World
>> Bank and International Monetary Fund policies), and the affluent benefit
>> materially from such economic injustice, then what true good does our
>> charity do?
>> 
>> Ever heard of the saying: Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; teach
him how
>> to fish, he'll eat forever? If contemporary social structures serve to
maintain
>> the undemocratic, plutocratic privilege of the relative few at the expense of
>> the many, then our charity is nothing more than a salve for our guilty
>> consciousness and food for our starving sanctimony.
>> 
>> A Brazilian slum resident, Iracema da Silva, writes: "Sometimes I think 'If I
>> die, I won't have to see my children suffering as they are.' Sometimes I even
>> think of killing myself. So often I see them crying, hungry; and there I am,
>> without a cent to buy them some bread. I think, 'My God, I can't face it!
I'll
>> end my life. I don't want to look any more!' "
>> 
>> Those aren't the words of a woman who wants a "free lunch." It is the despair
>> of the dispossessed, lacking true liberty - a reality propagandists call
>> "free-market" capitalism.
>> 
>>     Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated
>>  columinist. He can be reached via email: sgonsalves@capecodonline.com
>> 
>>      Copyright  1998 Cape Cod Times. All rights reserved.
>
>



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