All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust and the New Capitalism (2001)
The public-choice theorists would have us believe that nobody ever gets involved in governments or the political arena out of a desire to accomplish public goals.... Needless to say, the notion that citizens would voluntarily band together to fight injustice and poverty in faraway parts of the world is incomprehensible to this kind of thinking. This perhaps explains the frequent attempt to dismiss those in the anti-globalization movement as nothing more than a group of self-seeking opportunists - as if there is some kind of money to be made in championing debt elimination for the Third World.
Private courier companies are fine to handle the lucrative parts of the [postal] business. But they have little interest in servicing remote communities, so these areas get poor or non-existent service. Similarly, leaving health care and education to the private marketplace will result in fine services for the affluent but leave many others without access to decent services (or in some cases any services at all). While this kind of deficiency is bad enough when it comes to postal delivery, it becomes downright serious in areas like health care and education.
Utterly left out of Tax Freedom Day [a holiday marking how many days an average person must work before his or her annual taxes are paid off] is any notion that taxes are what we pay to buy services that we all need and use, and that would be much more expensive or even impossible to purchase privately - fire and police protection, highways, roads, canals, coast guard services, snow removal, water purification, schools, hospitals, libraries, etc. Tax Freedom Day could undoubtably be moved up to early January if we were prepared to walk out of our dwellings that morning onto a dirt path and take our chances on what might befall us.
Despite loud complaints from members of the financial elite about high tax levels, it's interesting to note that they still manage to live in the finest houses, eat at the best restaurants, shop at the most expensive stores. If this is coercion, we should all experience it.
Those tempted to slough off the helpful role of the state [in the earning of private property] should... "compare the fortune accumulated by Cornelius Vanderbilt in America with what he might have accumulated had he been adopted when an infant by a family of Hottentots."
[George W.] Bush explained that he wasn't willing to take the steps outlined in the Kyoto accords - steps that both the scientific world and the international political community had agreed, with a stunning degree of unanimity, were necessary for the future viability of the earth - because he wasn't willing to jeopardize the rate of growth of the American economy. In what sense is this a rational position?
All our confidence in our ability to act collectively is being undermined, with the subtext message Whatever it is, the private sector can do it better. Never mind that there's no evidence for this. Never mind, for instance, that the private US health-care system is 40 percent more expensive per capita than the Canadian public system, even though the Canadian system provides full coverage for all Canadians and the American system leaves some forty-three million without any coverage at all. This isn't because Canadians are smarter than Americans - it's because we have a public system and they don't.
"Short-term inequality remains a problem," writes [right-wing scholar Dinesh] D'Souza... "but is it a problem we can live with?" …After searching his soul for a few seconds, he apparently concludes that we can live with it. Of course, inequality always feels like less of a problem to those who don't live in corrugated shacks, which is why sales of D'Souza's book have probably been brisker in Manhattan than in, say, Addis Ababa or Khartoum.
Not only has capitalism failed to bring us to the brink of a scarcity-free world, but in a sense, you could say that capitalism invented scarcity - at least as a deliberate method of economic organization.... The flipside of this bounty, this endless feast, is scarcity.
Under the market system, there is demand for a product if a lot of people want it - but that demand counts for nothing if those people have no money. If they lack money, their demand essentially doesn't exist...This explains why the drug industry is not investing money to develop a cure for a disease known as sleeping sickness, which leaves its victims in a coma. The disease...killed 66,000 people last year and threatens to infect 60 million more - but the only people who are afflicted by it are poverty-stricken Africans with no clout in the marketplace. Interestingly, there is a drug called eflornithine that is effective in lifting victims out of their comas. But drug companies stopped producing eflornithine in 1995 because it was no longer profitable to continue. The drug was still desperately needed, but only by people without money. So, following modern market practices, these people were simply left in a coma.
[A]s things now stand, the case that capitalism will make the world - not just the West - materially better off has simply not been convincingly demonstrated. Indeed, with almost 70 per cent of the world's people experiencing a decline in their real incomes in recent years, the opposite appears to be true. The wanton celebration of market capitalism while so many people throughout the world are lacking basic food and shelter seems, if not downright vulgar, at least a little insensitive.
Canada got one break in the Walkerton tragedy: the deadly contamination of the Ontario town's water supply, which killed seven people in the summer of 2000, came from cow manure. If the contamination had come instead from, say, a toxic chemical produced by a foreign company, that would have been worse. Then the company might well have sued Canada for hundreds of millions of dollars.
One of the striking aspects of the new trade deals is that while they have invested corporations with a new set of rights, they have attached no responsibilities to those rights. Notice how the lawsuits all go in one direction - corporations sue governments for infringing their corporate profit-making rights. A government can't sue a corporation for infringing the rights of its citizens by, say, polluting local drinking water.
Like chewing gum or hair gel, water [according to the World Bank and IMF] is to be sold by the private sector at market rates. The needs of the people are all that's left out of this equation.... [A] World Bank document cites the "willingness to pay" on the part of the people in Ghana as evidence of their recognition of the "health benefits" of drinkable water. It's amazing, isn't it, how people are "willing" to pay huge amounts for things that they need in order to survive!
It is almost enough to make one's jaw drop to think that officials at the World Bank and the IMF would suggest that they have poverty alleviation in mind when they force governments to withdraw subsidies that enable poor people to get clean water to drink. If this is a policy aimed at helping the world's poor, it's interesting to imagine what a policy aimed at hurting the world's poor would look like.
[W]e are assured not just that things will work out over time, but that scarcity is "vanishing before our eyes." Why, look - even as we watch - those 2.8 billion people are going to find food on their plates. Look again in a few hours and their shacks will have toilets - and then air conditioning. In a few days, they'll likely have DVD systems and be doing their banking by cellphone.
[The] contention that today's rich person is simply the winner of a "race that is open for anyone to enter" takes no account of inheritance or how we are equipped as we enter that race. It doesn't acknowledge that some approach the starting line in streamlined Lycra suits and track shoes, with full knowledge of the rules, a determined attitude and belief in their own abilities, not to mention a close friendship with those setting the rules and choosing the winner. Others, hungry from not having had a meal that day, barely make it to the starting line, don't really understand the purpose of the race or its rules, lack self-confidence and are full of hostility, and are convinced that those officials at the side of the track are actually cops waiting to bust them.
[W]e have things fundamentally backwards today: we let the needs of the economy dictate the nature of our society, while we should let the needs of our society determine the nature of our economy.
Thomas Friedman dismissed the protesters in Quebec City as members of the "Coalition to Keep Poor People Poor." …The Coalition to Keep Poor People Poor might as well disband; its apparent goal is being accomplished in spades by pro-market forces. If the prospects of the world's poor improving their lot is one that supposedly upsets anti-capitalist protestors, they can confidently put their gas masks and get back to the shopping mall - global capitalism can be trusted to keep the poor in check without any help.