Monday, August 30, 2010

Poverty Makes the World Go Round

How do you undermine the rights and autonomy of whole populations and, instead of censure, receive only praise? Simple, you just call it development. A multinational that respects little aside from money, and certainly has no time for democracy, is bad enough. Yet, when it joins forces with an institution with similar qualities, but happens to be an international 'charitable' foundation, there is very little anyone can do to rein in their actions, no matter how exploitative, destructive or manipulative they may be.

The Gates Foundation has been bullying countries into dancing to its tunes for some time now. And Monsanto's monopolistic behavior is legendary. But both these institutions recognise just how far they can go as long as they bleat on about 'helping' people, saving lives, feeding the hungry, etc. How can anyone object to such philanthropic actions, whatever their motivations? They certainly couldn't object to 'donated' food merely on the grounds that it is genetically modified (GM), could they?

Some like to make out that opposition to GM is based on a fear that the foods are damaging to people's health. Perhaps some people do have such fears. And those with an interest in pushing GM do not themselves know what effects the technology could have on health or the environment (or if they do know they have never made their findings public), so they certainly don't want anyone else to know. Because people's fears are based on lack of information, rather than availability of information, the industry can churn out any kind of deceit to defend themselves (or pay pseudo-academics to do it for them).

But others are more worried about the fact that multinationals like Monsanto want to monopolise agricultural production, from the choice of seeds, the varieties of produce, the agricultural inputs, the agricultural practices employed, all the way to what people eat, how much they know about what they eat, how much they pay for it, how food is produced and stored and anything else they can control. They are not just food facists, Monsanto runs the whole gamut of facism.

Couple this with the man who wants to do for food what he succeeded in doing for software and you've got a real threat to democracy, health, the environment, the economy and even global security. If there’s anything about facism Monsanto doesn’t know, Bill Gates and his Foundation will soon fill in the details.

People in developing countries may have been kept in the dark but they are not stupid. They know that there are reasons for high food prices and lack of access to food; they know that the prices are not necessarily high because of shortages and that lack of access to food is not necessarily because of their country's inability to produce it.

There is little secret about the fact that famines, food shortages and food insecurity, including recent instances of these, are not caused by lack of food; many countries experiencing these phenomena have plenty of food. It is obvious to many that it is people with large amounts of money who created prices beyond the means of those living in developing countries. And you don't need to be a genius to know that shortages of (edible) food can be created when most land is used for products destined for the rich; biofuel crops, flowers, luxury fruit and vegetable, tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber, sisal, animal feed (for Western animals) and the like.

One of the financial institutions that did very well out of the recent handouts to the rich, Goldman Sachs, also made a lot out of the food price speculation that created the food crisis a few years ago. They raked in an estimated billion dollars; even by Gates’ standards, that’s a lot. They do very well out of human misery, benefiting from it, as well as causing it. So who would pass up the opportunity to share in their returns? The Gates Foundation certainly wouldn't.

Is it really philanthropy to extract money from people and then give some of it back to them? We don't really know how much the Gates Foundation's ill gotten gains come from the countries that eventually 'benefit' from its 'largesse'. The Foundation, in its great (undemocratic) wisdom, decides who benefits as well as who loses and they are certainly not going to tell members of the public, especially not in developing countries. The Foundation aims to keep its wealth intact, regardless of how it achieves this. Any doubts or worries that arise can be assuaged by some pretty pictures of happy children or mention of names like ‘Kofi Annan’.

It comes as no surprise that the Foundation now has a considerable investment in Monsanto. This multinational has much to gain from developing countries and has shown that it is unscrupulous enough to do whatever is required to maximize its gains. The Foundation's sham 'Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa' (AGRA) has never denied that it will take advantage of GM if and when it sees the benefits. Gates has been investing in Monsanto for years. Some have probably been wondering when pay day was due.

This diabolical coupling does have one feature that may not be completely negative: it brings into clear focus the intimate connection between the unscrupulous grabbing by some institutions and the equally unscrupulous ‘philanthropy’ of others. Gates and a small handful of other rich people and institutions control the means of production where the products include poverty, disease, starvation, environmental destruction and a whole lot of other ills. And where would we be without all of them?


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