By: Harsh Mander
In India, there are near-constant debates about defining and measuring poverty, hunger, malnutrition and starvation. If these were merely of academic interest, this writer could pass them by in his uneducated ignorance. Any confusion could be rationalised by echoing an irreverent professor at the Delhi School of Economics, who compares statistics to a hapless and impoverished tribal man, arrested by a police inspector in a dreaded Indian police station. “If you torture both enough,” the professor tells his students, “you can force them to admit to anything!”
Yet we cannot afford to ignore the sometimes complex calculations of estimating poverty and hunger levels. Especially since the 1990s in India, these calculations have been deployed by public planners and finance managers to justify cutting back public expenditures on food security, by targeting a hitherto universal public distribution system (through a country-wide network of subsidised foodgrain ration shops) at only those who are officially ‘certified’ to be poor. The same calculations of allegedly declining poverty and hunger are used to limit public expenditures on a range of other programmes for the poor – such as pensions for destitute old people and maternity benefits – and to minimise official acknowledgement of the adverse impacts of the policies of ‘structural adjustment’ programmes. Continue reading
This appears to be an interesting report, thanks to this blog
Worldwide, between 320 and 440 million people live in chronic poverty. They need not. Five policy measures could help them escape the poverty trap, says the second international Chronic Poverty Report 2008-2009, launched in London last month.
The report was produced by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), a global partnership of universities, research institutions and NGOs from countries including Bangladesh, India, South Africa, Uganda and the UK, and is funded by the UK government’s department for international development. The centre is led by the University of Manchester, UK and the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
It intersperses these personal stories with analysis, and identifies five factors which underlie poverty: insecurity, limited citizenship, spatial distribution, social discrimination and poor work opportunities.
The solutions to these ‘poverty traps’ include nets of social protection, particularly through cash transfers to households; public services for the hard to reach poor; anti-discrimination and gender empowerment measures; building individual and collective assets, and strategic urbanization and migration policies
Food Is Different
Globalization has made more food available worldwide to more people at lower prices. But the current crisis demonstrates the limits of globalization and that the market for food may not be the same as for other products.
by Bruce Stokes
Globalization’s Pluses and Minuses
The world has become more dependent on imported grain in the past 40 years, but failing global grain stocks make it harder to ease shortages and high prices.
Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, warns that the unfolding food crisis could force 100 million people deeper into destitution and set back efforts to reduce world poverty by seven years.
In the midst of this crisis, the immediate humanitarian challenge is to feed the hungry. But the suddenness and breadth of the emergency has raised fundamental questions about the future of agricultural policy that will drive debates in Washington and other world capitals for years to come. The questions being posed about agricultural policies are complex and hard to answer.
Was it a mistake over the past generation to increasingly trust market forces to feed the world? Or are the problems that bedevil farmers today the residue of continued government interference in agricultural markets? Are current food prices a problem or the ultimate solution to future food needs? Does the world food system suffer from too much globalization or not enough?
In the search for answers to these questions, Washington is a Tower of Babel. Partisans of all stripes have seized on the crisis to justify their long-standing ideological positions on agriculture. Free-market proponents support a swift completion of the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations, which would cut American and European farm subsidies and allow developing countries to increase their food exports to rich countries. “The solution is to break the Doha Development Agenda impasse in 2008,” Zoellick said in April. Continue reading
“Over the last few years, colonialism, especially as pursued by Europeans, has enjoyed a revival in interest among both scholars and the general public. Although a number of new accounts cast colonial empires in a more favorable light than has generally been customary, others contend that colonial powers often leveraged their imbalance in power to impose institutional arrangements on the colonies that were adverse to long-term development. We argue here, however, that one of the most fundamental impacts of European colonization may have been in altering the composition of the populations in the areas colonized. The efforts of the Europeans often involved implanting ongoing communities who were greatly advantaged over natives in terms of human capital and legal status. Because the paths of institutional development were sensitive to the incidence of extreme inequality which resulted, their activity had long lingering effects. More study is needed to identify all of the mechanisms at work, but the evidence from the colonies in the Americas suggests that it was those that began with extreme inequality and population heterogeneity that came to exhibit persistence over time in evolving institutions that restricted access to economic opportunities and generated lower rates of public investment in schools and other infrastructure considered conducive to growth. These patterns may help to explain why a great many societies with legacies as colonies with extreme inequality have suffered from poor development experiences.”
By Simon Caulkin
TO piece together the fragments of today’s worldwide crisis is to grapple with a sense of deja vu. The sweep of globalisation; strident inequalities (the Financial Times recently ran a breathless piece about the Bond-style security mechanisms built into the luxury homes of the international superclass — alongside stories of food riots); vast intervention by central banks to prop up the banking system; the origin of the crisis in the explosive mixture of masters and leftovers of the universe — what does all this remind you of?
It takes a reading of Francis Wheen’s concise and lucid Marx’s Das Kapital — a biography (Atlantic) for the penny to drop. The cantankerous ghost hovering over the global turmoil and glorying in the discomfiture of its chief agents is that of London’s Highgate Cemetery’s most eminent denizen and the UK’s great revolutionary.
The sense of the grinding of the gears of history, the shifting of the political and economic plates, comes straight from Karl Marx (although some might also want to add an element of Groucho). When the governor of the Bank of England talks of protecting people from the banks, and plaintively recommends that graduates should consider a career in industry as well as the City of London (financial sector), shimmering eerily through his remarks is the Gothic vision of alienation and auto-destruction that Marx outlined 150 years ago. Continue reading