Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let us talk about poverty

"if you take the whole world population, bring it to the United States, the density that you will create by putting six billion people in the United States, today density in Bangladesh is slightly higher than that." Mohd Yunus

"Rights cannot be substituted by credit. Rights need to be recognized as rights and collective rights to the common wealth of this planet—the atmosphere, the water, the seeds, the biodiversity. That needs a rights solution. Credit can come after that rights solution has been offered." Vandana Shiva

" Poverty is created by the system. The system includes everything, the institution, the concept, the policies and everything.. .."
".I am saying that the conceptual framework of capitalism itself is at fault. That’s what created all the problems. So we have to address that also."

Mohd Yunus

Muhammad Yunus is the first Nobel Peace Prize winner from Bangladesh. He has just come out with a new book called Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.


How can we look at Capitalism as our economic model when it is anti the majority of the world? Is it a good system which is broken or is it a bad system which needs to be replaced ? Why blame Capitalism when greed and exploitation are second nature to humans? What weight should we give to social responsibility over self interest?

Right wing philosophy has always been that Poverty is the fault of the poor. They are poor because they are lazy. Left wing ideals are less judgemental and more sympathetic to the poor and believe in providing minimum social services for the poor.

Yunus and Shiva are socialists, who want to both reduce and if possible eliminate poverty. Capitialism is closest to the right wing ideology which dominates the business world but as Yunus points out Capitalism is a system which is seriously flawed. He is saying that Capitalism creates poverty.

Our understanding that Capitalism creates riches is in fact totally erroneous. In fact is does create riches but only for a small minority and for these people it creates riches beyond imagination. If 1% of the world has 80% of the worlds riches and controls 80% of the worlds resources then surely there is something seriously wrong with the worlds economic order. In fact so powerful is the role of money today that Capitalists control Democracy, the Media, Banks, Governments.

The fact that whether the country is the US, Europe, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, Public opinion is not represented in the Government. Governments everywhere are in conflict with public opinion and in sync with business interests.

Money has become god and the final arbiter of values because God has been driven out of the affairs of men. Secularism and Democracy have become agents in the service of Capitalism. If we think we live in a troubled world and can't make sense of it, part of the problem is our inability to challenge the Capitalist spin that we are subjected to all the time. Part of the problem is that we measure our values in terms of money.

Capitalism is a two headed monster that with one head believes in free markets and with other tries to control free markets to its ends. It is a system based on greed and exploitatoin and I have often wondered at it's claims of success and in moments of weakness looked at it with admiration. The subprime crises came out of Capitalism's desire to exploit the poor ( in their language people with poor credit). I say Capitalism advisedly because it was not the Banks alone. It was the Banks, the Insurance Companies, the Rating Agencies,the Retirement Funds, the Accounting Profession and the Regulatory Authorities acting in concert to cook the books and defraud not just the poor but also the Investor in the stock Market.

We have been here before when the "System" tried to manipulate silver ( 1980), the debts of Third World Countries ( 1983). the currencies of third world countries ( 1996), Enron ( 2001), Worldcom. Colonisations have all exploited the colonised, whether it was by the Ottomans, the British, The French, The Belgians, the Spaniards, the Dutch or the Americans. The colonisation of the American Indian or of Black Africa or of India never benefitted the colonised but enriched the coloniser beyond all reason.

The enslavement of one human being by another is a piece of our History and we have arrived here by those means. This does not mean that we are destined to follow that pattern. How can we as enlightened human beings continue with systems which we know to have serious detriments to fellow humans ( in fact the majority of them) and have serious detriment to our environment and future generations?

The progress that we have made is that the Chinese and the Indians are exploiting their own poor rather than before when the Americans had exploited the African by enslaving them. In Bagladesh, Yunus is promoting self sufficiency and entrepreneurship amongst the poor. Where no one is doing anything is the Islamic countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria and it is guaranteed that the future terrorists will come from here. The poorer or more devastated the country, the more it will be ripe for angry and frustrated people. It is strangely in the interest of the Capitalist to not exploit people any more otherwise the backlash will destroy exploiter and exploited.

Yunus and Vandana Shiva are in the forefront of people looking at alternatives from the point of view of the poor. They deserve our respect and attention. In fact Vandana Shiva's approach is even much more grass roots than Yunus . The rights of people to water are as fundamental as the rights to air. Today Capitalism is making a lot of money selling water and in due course will make a lot of money selling air, aftere polluting it.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for your provocative thoughts and commentary of capitalism. I agree with about 99%. I know Muhammad Yunus's daughter who is a superb opera singer and I have sung in a chorus with her. She is a regular soloist in the New York area. She also sang an aria by Puccini in Oslo for her father when he was presented with his Nobel prize.

Your comments are perceptive and I agree wholeheartedly with you about the fallacies and devastation caused by unbridled capitalism. My one exception is your crtitique of secular society. Now I am personally very religious and have a masters degree in theology from the University of Louvain (Belgium, 1425).

But......... ......... .

I think that religion thrives best in secular society where people are free to practice their religion (any religion) or no religion at all, where all religions are respected and tolerated. On the other hand, history has shown that theocracies of any kind tend to be oppressive, narrow and ultimately unsuccessful - certainly in modern times. Let us consider the Papal States in the 19th century (and I am a Roman Catholic). This was a totally decadent era for the church in that era, backward, oppressive and doomed. Consider the Calvinist society in Geneva or the Lutheran society in Germany or the Anglican experience in English during the Reformation.

Consider Colonial America when the Putitans persecuted the Quakers, or today the fundamentalist regime in Saudi Arabia that denies others relgious freedom and imposes harsh punishment, ofen in a double standard manner: beheading a woman for adultery while memebers of the royal drink, gamble and whore in the playgrounds of the world. The Christian community in Syria prays every day that the secular Alawite regime, albeit minority and authoritarian rule, stays imn power and keeps both Sunni and Shiva extremists in line. They fear what would hap[p[en to them under a new theocracy. Saddam Hussein with all his faults never persecuted the Christian community, a woman was not forced to wear a veil, you could buy a drink and a man could get a haircut. No one would dare burn a church. Now look at what has a happened.

We have our own Christian Taliban here in America, those right-wing religious zealots who want to turn America into a Christian theocracy. No thanks to Falwell, Robertson, Dobson or Huckabee types.

Respect for the beliefs of and good intentions of others, seeking values that we share in ciommon with other faiths upon which to build good will and understanding, learning to live with one another in love and respect for all creation. That is what is important to me.

I want people to be free to worship. I would also be happy to have a good Muslim as president of the United States.

Well, just a few thoughts. Some time when we get together I would like to discuss with you the use of the apostrophe that seems to be causing you a little problem,

You write very nicely and lucidly. Much appreciated. And you areright ion target about capitalism/


Khusro Elley said...

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your kind comments. Your comments on Secularism are right on but Secularism has become popular by the failure of religions such as Islam to practice their own religion. This may be true equally of Christianity. I can certainly say about Islam that the emphasis in the Quran on tolerance for other religions is repeated over and over. Yet today Saudi Arabia is the most intolerant country as far as non Muslim religions are concerned and Islam in practice, today, is amongst the most intolerant of religions.

I would grudgingly give credit to Secularism for setting an example but Islam was there much before Secularism. In the History of Empires nowhere did non Muslims have more freedom to practice their faith than under Islamic rule. Alas this is now more a matter of History. In fact Islam has no future unless it reverts to it's teachings. I for one have not given up on Islam.

You have pointed out correctly to the tendency of all religions to eventually become rigid, intolerant, dogmatic and authoritarian. That is why I have said in one of my pieces that "religion has given a bad name to God." This is my biggest criticism of Secularism. Without meaning to, it has taken God out of the affairs of men. It pretends that the God of Muslims is different from the God of the Christians and by recognizing God, it is somehow taking sides. By default, Secularism has come to mean doing what is in the self interest of people. Self Interest in Capitalism dominated societies has come to mean the pursuit of money and unwittingly Secularism like Democracy has ended up serving the interests of Capitalism.

When America gained it's independence, Secularism was a good compromise for preventing the Shias and Sunnis of Christianity from clashing with one another. Now there is a need to return to values which are in the interest of societies and humanity rather than individuals and communities. Unfortunately Secularism has become a religion and one which is anti religion. It is a safe haven for Humanists, Atheists and non practicing Christians, Jews, Muslims who are rightly offended by the bigotry and hypocrisy of the " practicing."

If the only purpose of Secularism was to allow people the freedom to practice their faiths, then I would be all for it. Unfortunately it has exceeded it's mandate and as in France it has become intolerant of people who are not secular. Now it must compete with other religions for the hearts and minds of believers with the disadvantage that by definition it is godless.

The fact, that today Religion is synonymous with poverty, illiteracy , bigotry and intolerance and makes a revival of Spiritual values an uphill task, does not deter me. The fact that even within my own Yahoo group, I am in a minority as far as being critical of Secularism does not stop me from expressing my views. Unjust acts done in the name of Religion does not make Religion bad just as our distress at the suffering in the world does not make God "cruel."

I appreciate your thoughts and am glad to correct the situation where I have been guilty of being critical without explaining where I am coming from. At the same time I do not want to lose perspective or my audience to lose perspective. The real war is the War on Poverty and not the War on Terror.


Anonymous said...

Your subtle distinctions on the subject make great sense. For example, you are correct when criticizing secularism as becoming a kind of :"religion" in and of itself and, as a result, often becoming intolerant of "other" religions.

I have no problem (although I am saddened) with the rise of militant atheism and apostasy from the region of our fathers. I can only speak from the experience I have with my own religion(s), The fact is that I was raised a Protestant in my youth and later in my teen years I became a Roman Catholic and went on to earn a graduate degree in theology.

In my later years I have become more appreciative of the values of the Protestant faith and have in my own heart a kind of synthesis of both expressions of Christian faith. This is why I am an active believer in ecumenism. But I have also discovered great values in Islam and from my own (rather superficial) study of the Koran I find so many values that we Christians share with our Muslim brothers.

In many instances the fact that so many have abandoned the religion of their fathers is often the fault of the leaders of that very religion and the way it is practced or perverted. Many of my fellow Catholic, for instance, are very upset at the backsliding of our church since the Second Vatican Council that caused us such hope and enthusiasm for positive church reform. sMany like myself feel the Second Vatican Council has been hijacked and our church has become more rigorous and resistant to reform.

There is an old Latin maxim "Ecclesia semper reformanda" )The church is always in need of reform.: I think this is true of all religions. Self criticisms is not the same as abandoning one.s faith. In my own understanding I see, for instance, how many cultural elements have crept into Islam over the centuries that, as you have stated, are in direct contradiction to the true spirit of Islam. These cultural intrusions over the centuries have been used and passed off as if they were apart and parcel of Islam. Reform implies examining the original intent of the founder and trying to reflect in our lives the true message of our faith.

How then can one reconcile the Inquisition, the burning of heretics at the stake, the excommunication of theologians who raise hard questions and address serious issues, how can we reconcile this with the spirit and person of Jesus Christ who his own life did not hesitate to talk to and minister to Samaritans, pagan Romans, prostitutes and tax collectors. If there is no love in religion then it has deviated from its true meaning.

As Paul said, if I have faith enough to move mountains, but have not love I am an empty vessel. If Catholics look at the pope and the powers that be in Rome and do not see Jesus Christ then it is no suprise that they will fall away and look elsewhere.

I find love witnessed in people of many faiths in the way they treat their neighbor and society in general; That's why we look to a man like Yens as a model of faith in action, a Mother Teresa, a Handy and all those who work for peace and reconciliation.

I thinks secular societies became necessary to the degree that religion failed. For instance it was not from the Christian religion as it was practiced in Europe but from the Enlightenment that concepts of freedom of conscience, human rights, freedom of the press, resistance to capital punishment, etc.arose. It's a tragedy and a shame for religion that it had to be non-religions types like Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and others who first promoted these ideas in Europe and not the church.

The great Saint Augustine of Hippo in North Africa said wisely:

"God has many souls that the visible church does not have. The visible church has many souls that God does not have."