Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty and GDP


Here I am, Chicago Illinois, first time ever in US soil. Things are getting pretty interesting. Right now I'm on a Starbucks, there's a free hot spot and thanks to that I can live blog. I hold my tea paper cup and it says:

Starbucks is committed to reducing our environmental impact through increased use of post-consumer recycled materials. Help us help the planet.

Funny how this could have been a perfect starting point for last year's topic: the environment. I wonder if that really helps the environment. Of course the use of post-consumer recycled materials has been proved to cause less environmental impact than brand new materials. But is that really the point? What's the real cost of a product? It turns out that poverty and environment are really interconnected topics, the more you exploit "poor countries" resources the more you damage the environment. It's all connected, and it's all part of the same game, the game of economic growth. We live in rich countries, we have wealth, hospitals, bridges, advanced technology, corporate merchandises, cars and iPods. We are rich, indeed. According to the World Bank 1.4 billion people, or one quarter of the population of the developing world, lived below our international line of $1.25 a day in 2005. $1.25. That's very poor. I can't even buy my Starbucks tea with that.

I am a fisherman from Sierra Leone. Every day I wake up at 5, bring my fishing nets to the sea and do what I know to do. I fish. The whole morning goes by, in the afternoon, when the sunset approaches, I take my fish back to my humble place. On the way home I find a friend, who just got back form the market where he sells his home-grown vegetables. They would go very nicely with the fish a just got. I give him my biggest catch, a five-kilos tasty cod. He gives me back a bag of various vegetables and a smile. My wife will take care of the cooking, she's a really good cook. As I go back I see my son and daughter helping out my wife, tonight we'll have a great dinner. I feel happy. And rich.

So what's poverty? Is is the inability to pay for everything you need? Or rather the inability to get what you need? Imagine I grow vegetables in my backyard, make my own yoghurt, get the meat and the milk form local producer for very little money and high quality, but I work part time and get half the salary. Am I poor? According to international organizations who take the GDP as a reliable indicator, yes. But I wouldn't feel poor. Actually I would feel much richer. By having to work less and for less money I would be able to spend more time on the things I really love: reading a book, riding the bike, spend time with people I love, direct a film, play the bass, learn the piano and drums. A speech from Robert Kennedy sums it up the best.

"The gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them.

"The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles with nuclear warheads....

"And if the gross national product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials....

"The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America except whether we are proud to be Americans.

He was running for president, so he had to say Americans. I am not, and I would say "it can tell us everything about us except whether we are proud to be humans". If we really want to end poverty we have to stop sending money to organizations who look like they are going to help "poor countries". Poor countries are actually much richer than the so called rich countries. They have more resources and more space. We just exploit them under the false promises of helping hem. As John Perkins illustrated in his book "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man", Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign "aid" organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet's natural resources. Their tools included fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.

If we really want to end poverty we have to leave the poor countries alone, trying not to export our rotten ideal of crony capitalism, but ideals of community, compassion and uncorrupted leaders. Something we are not really familiar with even ourselves. First, let hem be. Second, change our mindset, since our model is rotten, it relies on the poorness of someone else in order to survive, if they become like us we will all be dead soon. We should be more humble and learn that even the smallest actions, if shared by millions actually make a difference.

Photo credits bahrania.