New Internationalist

The No-Nonsense Guide to World Poverty

Globalization, climate change, terrorism, fair trade, human rights, health, poverty… The No-Nonsense Guides help make sense of these vast and complex issues, all in under 150 pages - providing a concise, ‘no-nonsense’ view that you can read anywhere. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting each No-Nonsense Guide in our series with blog posts from the authors concerning the subject of each book. Chapter 1 and the Table of Contents are available for the No-Nonsense Guide to World Poverty on our website. 

NN PovertyThe No-Nonsense Guide to World Poverty
by Jeremy Seabrook 

Relief of poverty is the new piety in a secular world. Poverty-reduction programmes, safety nets, the uplift of the poor, millennium goals – everything conspires to convince the world that everything that can be done is being done to raise people out of poverty, to eliminate it or make it history. 

If war on poverty has been declared, this is perhaps because wars on abstractions – terror, addiction or illegal migration – create an impression of purpose, when the very intangibility of the combatants dooms them to failure. 

The truth is that poverty, far from being the enemy of the global economy, is its indispensable ally. For if poverty – easily ‘curable’ given the wealth of the world – were truly to be defeated, all the arguments in favour of economic growth would disappear. And that would undermine the deepest purposes of the perpetually expanding economy.

The wonder is, not so much that enormous quantities of wealth have been created, as that poverty should persist in societies where the diseases of excess and over-consumption also disfigure the lives of so many in the richest countries the world has ever known. To have created a sense of inadequacy out of such riches is the true economic miracle of globalism.

Poverty, in the sense of a subjective sense of insufficiency, must be maintained, in order to justify the dogmas of constant growth. The fact that no one any longer is able to define the meaning of ‘enough’ means that we are all poor. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are poor – just imagine the philanthropic works they might accomplish had they a few more billions available; the Queen and the Duke of Westminster are poor; self-rewarding bankers are poor; chief executives feel their worth is never recognized; the professional classes are under-valued; carpenters and bricklayers are poor; the homeless are poor; the addicted and drug-destroyed are poor; beggars are poor; the destitute are poor. What could be more conducive to global harmony than that all classes and conditions should come together in a common desire to relieve their common affliction? 

What a happy consensus! The whole world joins in a common endeavour – the generation of wealth; or rather, that particular version of it which also engenders such powerful and irremediable feelings of impoverishment. It is hard to resist such overwhelming ideological force; and few people are foolish enough to call into question the common wisdom of all the right-thinking Right-thinking people in the world. 

The book is based on a simple proposition – that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but sufficiency. As long as the pursuit of more continues to outrun the desire for a stable security, poverty must persist. And it is to the perpetuation of poverty, in one form or another, and not to its removal, that the global system is dedicated. 

In other words, ‘remedies’ for poverty (as if it were a disease rather than a human-made condition) will not be found without dismantling the structures of injustice and growing inequality which are the foundations of the global economy. It is to the concealment of this basic truth that the endeavours of charity, philanthropy, corporate responsibility, the exaltations of celebrities, governments and all the concentrations of wealth and power in the world exhibit such resourcefulness.  

If there really is no alternative; if there are no other visions of a world than those which have been colonized and sold back to us by global capital; if we really are unable to alter systems which are, after all, only a product of human devising, then we are all poorer – much poorer – than any of the preachers of universal wealth-creation realize, since basic freedoms have been abolished. The recovery of more modest and more just resource use is vital, if we are to avoid playing out the existing farce till the crack of doom; an event which, given the way in which economic growth already strikes with such violence at the limits of what the planet can bear, is probably closer than we care to imagine.   

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