Friday, December 10, 2004

The Devastations of Neoliberalism

Two damning indictments in one week. On Tuesday the International Labour Organisation released its World Employment Report 2004-2005 which headlines the fact that half the world's 2.8 billion workers are living below the $2 a day poverty line - the price of a cup of coffee. The Report goes on to show that there is a large and persistent decent work deficit in the world - "one that poses a great challenge in the fight against poverty". And then today, Unicef has published its The State of the World's Children 2005, with the sub-title "Childhood Under Threat", and reported on here and here. Again the issue of poverty is much to the fore:
Millions of children around the world miss out on their childhood as a result of poverty. Poverty deprives them of the capabilities needed to survive, develop and thrive. It prevents them from enjoying equal opportunities. It makes children more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, violence, discrimination and stigmatization.
Or in the more graphic language of the Independent:
They are a billion strong. Diseased, malnourished, uneducated, they are a people on the run from wars that take the lives of their brothers and sisters. And they are all children - half the children on earth today.
There are two especially chilling facts highlighted by the Report. One is the portrayal of the HIV/Aids pandemic as the worst catastrophe in history, one that is blighting childhood across the developing world, especially sub-Saharan Africa. The other is this: since 1990, 3.6 million people have been killed on the front line in wars around the word - almost half of them were children..

The facts alone are simply shocking. Put simply, life for most people in our age is intolerable and dehumanising. But they are more, much more, than merely the discontents of globalisation. The state of the world's workers, the state of the world's children are the logical consequences of a class project - for that is what neoliebral globalisation actually is - that compels market dependence on everyone. It is a project whose end product is more poverty and immiseration. This is how Ellen Wood put it a while back:
In conditions where the market has this historically unprecedented role in organizing human life and social reproduction, where people must go through the market to gain access to the most basic means of self-reproduction, the provision of all goods and services is governed by certain imperatives: the imperatives of competition, accumulation, profit-maximization, and increasing labor productivity.... Human needs and wants are always subordinate to capital accumulation and subject to all the crises and contradictions associated with an anarchic competitive market.
We live in a pitiless era. The devastations of neoliberal globalisation will require much more radical thinking of what is possible and much more imagination of what is desirable. In the short term, this means as much as possible detaching social life from the kind of market dependence to which we are all subjugated.


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