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January 20, 2007

Poverty Is A Security Issue Development  War and Peace

Economist Jeffrey Sachs, leading light of the UN's Millenium Development Goals project, points out that eradicating poverty is in the security interest of the world's rich nations. Poverty creates instability, conflict, and war. Reuters:

Curbing poverty in Third World countries will not only satisfy life and death needs for the poor but also provide security for rich nations, one of the world's best-known economists said on Wednesday.

Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals, said extreme poverty was fuelling conflicts in places such as Somalia and Sudan's Darfur region.

"Instability will grow where poverty festers in an extreme form, that's what we're seeing in the Horn of Africa. This isn't a crisis about Islam, this isn't a crisis about geopolitics, this is essentially a crisis of extreme poverty," Sachs said.

"Whether it's Darfur or Somalia or other conflict regions, people are in conflict because they're so poor they cannot stay alive — that's what needs to be addressed for security for rich countries," he told a news conference in Nairobi.

Sachs said it was targeted investments in tools like mosquito nets, medicines and fertilisers that would help in the fight against poverty.

"Africa's small-holder farmers could double or triple their crop yield within even a single season if they have access to improved inputs," he said. [Emphasis added]

Unfortunately, rich nations make an enormous amount of money supplying arms to the world — which makes for a conflict of interest, to put it mildly. The US is the biggest arms dealer by far, but all five permanent members of the UN Security Council are heavily involved. And nearly half of weapons exports go to the developing world. While instability may not be in the interest of the US population as a whole, it is very much in the interest of enormously powerful sectors of US society. Ditto for the world's other rich nations. War is big business; poverty reduction, not so much.

One more example of capitalism's fatal flaw — profitability is a poor, in fact a potentially suicidal, organizing principle for human activity: it may well be more profitable to destroy the world than to save it, and it may well be more profitable to kill people than to make them prosper. The free market can be very good at working out how to make something, but it's often not good at all at determining what to make. Actually, it's often not so good at the how either, since it fails to take account of environmental destruction and other so-called "externalities" that are left out of profitability calculations. So people can devote enormous energy and resources to making weapons, creating all sorts of toxic waste in the process, and, from the perspective of mainstream economics, their activity is entirely rational — more rational, in fact, than working for peanuts to help poor people lift themselves up. A crazy notion of "rationality," that.

Posted by Jonathan at January 20, 2007 06:35 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


These are simplistic analyses. People are poor in these regions because their primitive religions do not allow the kind of mental, cultural and economic atmosphere that allow prosperity. The fascist Right takes this too far and shoves its neglect under the rug with it, but it is a necessary condition.

More important is the fact that these areas are deserts. Soylent Green countries are imploding because they are wildly overpopulated and their populations cannot be supported by the degraded environment.

Giving these people food and support will just make the problem worse. All the humanitarian efforts of the 80s did was just allow all those people who would have starved to eke along for another couple decades--and have babies.

It is a cruel fact, and the West's exploitation of the poor is highly culpable, but it still remains that we aren't going to be able to save the endless flood of poor brown people. The planet cannot support 6+ billion human beings. The end.

Posted by: Derek at January 21, 2007 11:34 AM

While poverty "sucks", the driver for violent change is the delta between the haves and the have nots, with the have somes in the middle getting the brown , short, sticky end of the stick.

Posted by: at January 22, 2007 10:17 AM

Derek's comment leads me to wonder how much truth
is in a line from "Inconvenient Truth", something like:

"The most effective contraceptive is the expectation
that ones children will survive"


Posted by: at January 23, 2007 11:27 AM