Why is there poverty? The Occupy movement pointed to the illegitimate appropriation of wealth by “the 1%.” I am looking in vain for a glimmer of that understanding in the Global Citizens Movement. I see a noble desire to assist those less fortunate, so we are intrinsically addressing the more fortunate, or those who count themselves as such. The call for struggle by the oppressed is displaced by a call to altruism. I also see a pack of craven corporate sponsors and non-profit spin-offs from the 1%, all brought to you by MSNBC. It pains me to say this, since I think highly of certain MSNBC hosts and their work.
Today (as I write) the Global Citizens festival takes place in Central Park, amidst the headquarters of corporations and the homes of plutocrats who run the Global Government and bring us world poverty. Will they be called out? I doubt it. To get a ticket, you have to acquire points on the website for doing global citizen-y things. If I strangle an Exxon lobbyist, can I come?
The best interpretation that can be put on this is that it is a call on global governance, such as it is, to finance greater aid to the least-developed countries. So global public goods, with an appeal to enlightened self interest (disease that begins in Bengla Desh can come to Hackensack), which as far as it goes is fine.
I have to hope it could all be a springboard to higher political consciousness. My misgiving derives from people mistaking fairly anodyne policy advocacy for political struggle, from mistaking the character of the global government. Given the poverty of our democratic institutions, what is most called for is a resurgence of extra-parliamentary action. Strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts, disruption. Organization outside the Democratic/Republican duopoly.
A prime example of mistaken character is the provision of the stage to the new Prime Minister of India, one Narendra Modi. Who is Mr Modi? Well he’s a fucking fascist, is what he is. He has been implicated in communal massacres in India. For CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, avid recycler of prose, he is “development man.” For comic relief, Modi was introduced by Hugh ‘Wolverine’ Jackman, professional Walmart suck-up.
At least one theme in the movement is the need to teach the poor how to take care of themselves, for instance by washing. Melissa Harris-Perry had a segment on this topic employing a Sesame Street-style muppet and the assistance of Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL). It’s hard to imagine children sitting still to watch MSNBC, unless Mommy’s on the teevee, but it supports the impression of talking down to the world’s benighted peoples from the elysian heights of the First World, not least with the participation of a representative of the political faction that is a threat to all that is good in the world, including more development assistance — the House GOP caucus.
I wouldn’t put this on MHP, but more broadly there is the prevailing delusion that what the poor need is to know how to care for themselves. Condescension aside, this glosses over the capacity of a high employment economy to eliminate a good share of poverty. It was amusing to hear a Global Citizen fellow talk about how “we” had reduced global poverty. The truth is that rapid economic growth in India, China, and the “Four Tigers” has produced a ton of poverty reduction, along with many human and environmental casualties.
Currently what we need in the U.S. for more growth is more deficit spending, not more babble about the Federal debt. Some of the poor really do need the sort of counsel that social workers can provide, but more of them with paltry labor market opportunities just need money, health insurance, and access to child care.
As for the poor in the global south, the chief objects of Global Citizen’s altruism, of course they need assistance of the type that Global Citizen is supporting. But they also need to throw off the yoke of corrupt autocrats of the Global Government, such as the aforementioned Mr. Modi.
In a similar vein, we recently had a no-politics (or all-politics) climate march in New York City. If I had been in town, I would certainly have gone. But . . . what exactly is going on with the climate, you might ask? Climate negotiations are aimed at an agreement to do nothing about climate change, since the negotiating partners represent corporate interests and popular political prejudices favoring continued carbon emissions. Never fear, Leonardo DiCaprio has been doing “work” on climate change. (Unfair snarky coverage here and here.)
If you wanted one book to introduce you to development issues, this would be a good one.