Poverty continues to be the greatest single cause of death and disease worldwide. In a world in which there are billionaires, excess and obesity the question of what causes poverty, deprivation and starvation is one that urgently needs to be addressed.
In a world in which approximately the same number of people die from obesity-related diseases annually as die from starvation-related diseases the phrase “that’s just the way it is” no longer seems sufficient as either an explanation or an excuse. It is clear that the problem is less one of availability of resources, and more one of access and distribution.
Access and distribution
Access to the resources necessary to survival, in our monetary economic-driven society, is restricted by access to capital. One who has access to sufficient capital has, by definition, access to the resources necessary to survival, whereas one who does not have access to sufficient capital does not, by definition, have access to the resources necessary to survival.
Australian statistics reveal that 20% of Australians have 62% of the nation’s wealth, leaving the other 80% to pick at the remaining 32% between them. These statistics are not nearly as stark as those in some other parts of the world, but nevertheless demonstrate an inequality in resource distribution that is ever-increasing.
In Australia, a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world, one could be forgiven for being shocked that there are thousands of homeless people in each state and third-world conditions in many indigenous communities. All this despite the fact that there are more vacant homes in Australia than there are homeless people who could fill them. Clearly there is a problem with equality of distribution of resources if it is possible for some to live in mansions while others struggle to find a corner of a park to sleep in without being harassed and moved on, and for some to enjoy the luxuries of fast cars, fancy restaurants and overseas holidays while others struggle to feed their families with sufficient nutritious food.
Poverty in Australia is a problem set to worsen as the knock-on effects of the global financial crisis cause increasing unemployment and under-employment as well as the slowing of trade in many sectors such as some of the nation’s top earners: tourism and international education. Instead of being assisted by our government through this time of need, Australians are facing budget cuts, meaning that there is decreased access to job-seekers’ allowance and other welfare programs for the already needy. Superannuation is also suffering, causing many to worry over an insecure retirement following a lifetime of hard work.
Unemployment and under-employment are unlikely to ever be rectified due to the phenomenon of technological unemployment, which has been putting people out of work the world over for centuries. In a world in which a machine is all set to take your job it would be naïve for any of us to believe that this could not happen to us – even if it meant sacrifices in quality for increased production and profit – it is well-known where corporate interests lie. Machines can work 24/7 without bathroom and meal breaks, don’t get paid and never complain about it. Replacement of human labour with automated processes has occurred steadily since the agricultural revolution, and, later, the industrial revolution. It is precisely phenomena such as manual primary sector workers being replaced, over the centuries, by machines such as ploughs, tractors and harvesters that led to societies being pushed into secondary sector labour — that of factory production – as well as people being removed from their land and, therefore, the possibility of autonomy. Now we, in the so-called developed world are living in a service era in which our secondary-sector production jobs have either been taken over by automated machinery, or offshored to developing countries where people work under slave-like conditions for starvation wages, awaiting their eventual replacement by machines. The only work society has left to offer most workers is in the tertiary, or service-sector, and even this is rapidly being taken over by automated systems such as ATMs replacing bank tellers, self-service checkouts in supermarkets, and vending machines in offices. These are nothing new. As soon as it becomes possible to replace workers with machines this occurs, usually resulting in society’s less qualified workers being rendered literally unemployable. Increasing competition in a narrower and narrower job market is causing a stagnation in purchasing power and a slowing of the economy, an incredible irony in a world in which those who are paid the most highly are those who produce nothing of value for society – being those who are paid fortunes to move money around the banking and finance systems, creating loans and debts out of thin air. The crisis of technological unemployment is not a redeemable situation unless society wishes to reverse the benefits of technology, an unlikely scenario.
Cost of living
In addition to decreasing access to resources, prices of goods and services continue to rise. Once affordable homes are now out of reach for many, particularly the young. Higher energy bills cause some families to have to choose between heating/cooling their homes and other basic necessities. Even food is becoming increasingly expensive, causing many people to compromise on nutrition in order to be able to afford other necessities, with nutrient-poor food generally being more affordable than nutrient-rich food. It is no surprise, with this knowledge in mind, that those with lesser financial resources statistically suffer more health complaints and have shorter life expectancies. Loans and credit cards have a large proportion of Australians enslaved to debt, much of which may never be paid off, all for the sake of compromising future needs for the needs of the present.
It is well-documented that less equal societies – those with larger income and wealth gaps between citizens – experience knock-on effects that are hugely detrimental to society. Such effects include high crime rates – particularly violent crime – higher rates of both physical and mental health problems including addictions of all kinds, poorer average education outcomes, and lower levels of innovation. With increasing inequality, Australia can only expect some turbulent times ahead for the majority of society, while the wealth having access to abundant resources, remain largely unaffected.
With reduced access to the necessities of survival within Australia, the majority of Australians are being placed in a position of increasing difficulty with regard to assisting our fellow human beings in need across the world. With increasing competition for increasingly scarce resources helping others, however great their need, ceases to be a priority, replaced by the struggle for one’s own survival.
Money, an artificial barrier
The irony of all of this is, of course apparent, when it is recognized that the Earth provides all that is needed, and requires no payment for any of it! In other words, it is not the Earth that demands payment for the vegetables you eat, the construction materials for your home, or the sources of energy used to facilitate production. It is simply the monetary system. In this system abundant resources are wasted because people simply cannot afford to pay for them. Babies die of HIV/AIDS in Africa not because there is no treatment, but because their countries cannot afford to pay the pharmaceutical industry for the extortionately-priced drugs they peddle for the sake of profit. Children die of malnutrition the world over not because there is an inadequate supply of food in the world, but because their families lack the money to pay for it or have no access to producing their own food due to land usurpation. The elderly are often subjected to poverty in their later years not because they have failed to work hard and paid taxes all their lives, but because they are inadequately supported by society, despite taxpayers’ money circulating around government budgets often being annexed for corporate subsidies that further enrich the already extremely wealthy, rather than being directed where they are most needed.
When it is recognized that the monetary system places an arbitrary barrier between humanity and access to the resources necessary for survival then it becomes possible to think laterally regarding solutions to the problems of poverty and inequality caused by the spiraling cyclical system in which all resources rise to the top.