Monday, July 21, 2003

Editorial Title of the Day

Nestled in the final pages of today's Guardian we find a delightfully titled editorial by one Jeremy Seabrook, 'Crash Course On How to be Poor':

All "cures" for poverty have one thing in common - an obsession with wealth. The real problem in the world is not the poor, but the rich. The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but sufficiency. Poor people want enough for their sustenance. They want to be relieved from insecurity, which threatens them with constant eviction. They want a moment of security, peace and stability to bring up a new generation.

But they can't have it. If people were satisfied with what they have, what would become of a system that depends upon constant growth? How would the myth of infinite neediness be promoted by a market without limits? Even the rich are preoccupied by how much better off everyone else is. When they find it impossible constantly to upgrade their lifestyle, they express a form of dissatisfaction which unites them with the poor in a common project: a universal desire for more wealth.

The real criticism of money measurements of poverty is that they ignore millions living on less than a dollar a day who are virtually self-reliant. The global system is demolishing such aberrations so the whole world may be brought within familiar indices of poverty. In other words, humanity must be taught how to be poor.

This is the poisonous "gift" of globalisation - a system from which security, subsistence and sufficiency are eliminated. Belief systems that have taught restraint, frugality and thrift, philosophies that have counselled a joyful simplicity, must be junked to accommodate this discovery of industrial society: enough can never suffice, and there are no limits to desire.

[. . .]

The crusade against poverty is no such thing. It is a crash course in how to be poor - lessons long assimilated by the well-off, who have learned how to feel dissatisfaction with plenty, the inadequacy of excess.

The poverty with which international institutions are now concerned is an artefact crafted out of abundance. Only when the whole world has been immersed in the global market, baptised in the waters of forgetfulness so that even the memory of self-reliance is erased, can these noble agencies devote themselves to the relief of a poverty that has no remedy since it depends on a wealth without end.

Maybe just because it's an editorial, but Seabrook doesn't offer up too much of an alternative to what he espies in his quasi-Marxist, suspiciously utopian criticism, which one would be forgiven thought came to a thundering close for most everybody else around, say, 1989. Nevertheless, his animus against unchecked capitalism's undefined role in societal construction is warranted and worth thinking about.

By the way, if Seabrook floats your boat, or at least keeps just enough of your head above the inevitable torrent of the globalised commodity, then a little of the 'reformed' George Monbiot may be in order.