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[afro-nets] Food for a greedy thought

  • From: Claudio Schuftan <claudio@hcmc.netnam.vn>
  • Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2005 09:54:37 +0700

Food for a greedy thought

Human Rights Reader 121


Under capitalism, to lament the current increase in inequality
is to bemoan the economic growth paradigm itself.

1. In a world where 51 of the world's 100 biggest economies are
corporations, capitalist globalization has led to the urbaniza-
tion and feminization of poverty and to widespread social mar-
ginalization. One third of urban households worldwide live in
absolute poverty. Many rural households are female-headed.

2. The international community will not be able to move effec-
tively against poverty and other human rights (HR) violations
until the neoliberal global restructuring that Globalization
promotes is modified by an ethic about which its proponents con-
tinue to be terribly ambivalent.

2a. [Pro-market globalizers tell us: "One cannot throw away the
huge gains from Globalization just because some people are left
out". The easy counter-argument to this is that it is not just
'some' people. Noteworthy also is the fact that books by anti-
market, anti-globalizers seem to have better arguments; but
books by pro-market globalizers seem to have better book sales].

3. Capitalist globalization does not pursue its aims consis-
tently; it tinkers with parts of the economic system and it de-
termines its means according to its ends, i.e., to maximize
short-term profit. Globalization certainly does not fight the
most urgent evils of society: it is for the good of share-
holders, and not stake-holders! It makes neighboring countries
compete for foreign investors rather than foster common growth
strategies. It all boils down to elite pacts: local administra-
tions and Capital gain from providing international markets
with cheap goods at the expense of workers who hardly earn
enough to survive.

4. The IMF and the WB --that pay lip service to be putting-a-
human-face-on-globalization-- do not practice enough self-
criticism of the right kind and thus have demonstrated an in-
ability to learn from their mistakes. As an example, the World
Bank's Development Policy lending that has replaced Structural
Adjustment Programs still suffers from some of the same major
flaws. HR issues are not addressed or even considered.

4a. [There have, therefore, been numerous calls for the democra-
tization of International Financial Institutions. The more pro-
gressive NGOs think that IFIs should at least consider applying
the 'Double Majority Principle' in which decisions would need a
majority vote from both the rich and the poor countries voting

5. On assessing progress towards HR under capitalist globaliza-
tion, political scientists are as divided as economists about
whether market reforms can be effectively implemented in an eq-
uitable manner in democratic and less than democratic regimes.
The truth of the matter is that behind free market forces, there
are always persons/people biased by an ideology based on narrow
political interests (J. K. Galbraith) .which leave little (if
any) room for equity. Greed also drives these forces to periodic
crises and these crises are often self-fulfilling: they are the
reaction to perceived and not real risks. When risk is per-
ceived, greedy investors ultimately display a 'herd behavior';
they panic and 'run on the bank' (actually 'run on the country',
as was shown in the recent Asian crisis).

5a. [International commodity prices are also volatile, because
they are driven by the same greed and herd behavior (see oil
prices in the last 5 months). Other than herd behavior, on aver-
age, low income countries record a so-called 'commodity price
shock' every 3.3 years].

In all these cases, common people' rights --including the right
to health-- are the losers.

6. Economists are also fond of using 'models'. Often these are
econometric. In HR work, we do not use such models. We think
gross abstractions make computer-simulated models irrelevant --
and models usually fit more developed countries; there, they are
perhaps somewhat less irrelevant; but they sure represent a
straightjacket when applied universally. One problem with rely-
ing on models is that solutions may seem far easier than what
they really are. Our analysis would be better informed by assum-
ing a greater anarchic state as a starting point rather than a
pristine world as portrayed by the models. One can only suspect
that elegance-rather-than-relevance is the appeal for the use of
these models by our friends the economists.

7. Another thing that irritates HR activists is the current call
for 'evidence-based data', especially in health. This concept,
imported from clinical sciences, has seen calls to use it in
cases of HR violations!? Is there a need for more evidence, I
ask myself? 'Evidence-based' sometimes sounds to me like a col-
lection of anecdotes, and one could easily share the skeptics'
view that the plural of 'anecdote' is 'no data'! The naked truth
behind many an 'anecdote' is that they sound good and have some
superficial plausibility, but, upon reflection and examination,
they are found to be largely devoid of much real substance or of
real in-depth analysis. (Mind you, the press actually has the
habit of using such 'anecdotes' as an analytic tool of the
'facts' to explain away the real negative consequences of capi-
talist globalization).

7a. [The above is why, in the HR domain, handling media contacts
clumsily leads to inaccurate reporting; so, there is a need for
periodic, meaningful public relations campaigns by HR activ-

Claudio Schuftan
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Mostly adapted from D+C 31:11, Nov 2004; 31:12, Dec 2004; 32:1,
Jan 2005 and 32:3, March 2005; and F&D, 41:1, March 2004 and
41:3, Sept 2004.