Some side effects of the Gates Foundation’s investments seem to be less intentional, but equally damaging. By pouring huge amounts of contribution into high-profile killers like HIV/AIDS, Gates guarantees increased demand for specially-trained staff and clinicians, causing staff shortage in local hospitals, leaving more children susceptible to birth sepsis, diarrhea and asphyxia. Worse off, due to more generous funding and pay raises from Global Fund, doctors and nurses move into HIV/AIDS care, resulting in "brain drain" in other medical fields.
If you’ve read any conservative commentary on the war on poverty in the past week, you’ve likely seen this talking point: “We spend $1 trillion each year on welfare and there’s been no reduction in poverty.” That’s crazy! Then, a sentence later, you’ll probably see a line like this: “It’s true. According to a recent report, we spend a trillion dollars on means-test programs each year, yet the official census numbers show no reduction in poverty.”
If you are reading that second line quickly, you probably think it bolsters the credibility of the first line. It’s an “official” number, and the census and the report probably quote accurate numbers too, night? They do, but the second sentence is actually used as an escape hatch to say something that isn’t true. We don’t spend anywhere near a trillion dollars on welfare unless you mangle the term “welfare” to be meaningless, and we do reduce poverty.
So what should we take away from this?
--The federal government spends just $212 billion per year on what we could reasonably call “welfare.” (Even then, the poor have to enter the institution of waged labor to get the earned income tax credit.) And there have been numerous studies showing that these programs, especially things like food stamps, are both very efficient and effective at reducing poverty. They just don’t show up in the official poverty statistics, because that’s how the poverty statistics are designed.
-- Publicly funded services have never been thought of as welfare. I drive on publicly funded roads, but nobody analytically thinks of roads as belonging to category of “welfare.” If the poor take advantage of, say, a low-income taxpayer clinic, how is that welfare? Do taxpayer clinics encourage illegitimacy, dependency and idleness and other things conservatives worry about when it comes to welfare? This confuses more than it illuminates, which I imagine is the point.
Medicaid makes this very obvious. If a poor person gets access to decent health care, that’s not free money they get to spend on whatever they want. They aren’t “on the dole.”
-- The fact that Social Security and Medicare, major victories of the War on Poverty, aren’t here makes it clear something is wrong in the definition. Even though these are anti-poverty programs associated with the War on Poverty, nobody thinks of them as welfare, though they should fit this definition as well.
Development discourse wishes to present itself as a detached center of rationality and intelligence. The relationship between West and non-West will be constructed in these terms. The West possesses the expertise, technology and management skills that the non-West is lacking. This lack is what has caused the problems of the non-West. Questions of power and inequality, whether on the global level of international grain markets, state subsidies and the arms trade, or the more local level of landholding, food supplies and income distribution, will nowhere be discussed. (emphasis added)
Globalization may have been the watchword of the 1990s, but it's still a work in progress. As interconnected global markets get ever more interconnected, average incomes are converging. The last 10 years have seen developing countries grow far more rapidly than high-income countries, closing the gap in average incomes. Economist Arvind Subramanian estimates that China in 2030 will be about as rich as the whole European Union today and that Brazil won't be far behind, clocking in at a GDP per capita of around $31,000. Indonesia, he reckons, will see a GDP per capita of $23,000 -- about the same as tech powerhouse South Korea today...
In short, if developing countries continue growing at the rate we've seen recently, inequality among countries will shrink -- and inequality within nations will return as the dominant source of global inequality.
Does that mean Marx was right -- if just a couple of centuries off on his timing? Not exactly.
The reality is that this new middle class will have lives that Victorian-era working-class Brits could only dream about. They'll work in LED-lit shops and offices rather than in dark, hellish mills. And they'll live nearly 40 years longer than the average person in 1848 based on life expectancy at birth. But will they share common cause with their fellow factory workers an ocean away?
Maybe, but not because the barricade is the only option. Marx predicted that the global working class would unite and revolt because wages everywhere would be driven to subsistence. But as wages increase and level out around the world, the plight of the proletariat -- hard work, low pay -- today more than ever means easier work and better pay. And it's bringing hundreds of millions of people, in China alone, out of poverty. Clearly, the communist revolutions of the first half of the 20th century proved far, far worse for living standards than the well-regulated markets of the latter half.
But that doesn't mean Warren Buffett should breathe easily. In fact, it is exactly because the rich and poor will look increasingly similar in Lagos and London that it's more likely that the workers of the world in 2030 will unite. As technology and trade level the playing field and bring humanity closer together, the world's projected 3.5 billion laborers may finally realize how much more they have in common with each other than with the über-wealthy elites in their own countries.
They'll pressure governments to collaborate to ensure that their sweat and blood don't excessively enrich a tiny, global capitalist elite, but are spread more widely. They'll work to shut down tax havens where the world's plutocrats hide their earnings, and they'll advocate for treaties to prevent a "race to the bottom" in labor regulations and tax rates designed to attract companies. And they'll push to ensure it isn't just the world's richest who benefit from a global lifestyle -- by striving to open up free movement of labor for all, not just within countries but among them. Sure, it's not quite a proletarian revolution. But then again, the middle class has never been the most ardent of revolutionaries -- only the most effective. The next decade won't so much see the politics of desperate poverty taking on plutocracy, as the middle class taking back its own. But it all might put a ghostly smile on Karl's face nonetheless.
Several authors have noted that Thailand’s political predicament appears to contradict the longstanding idea in political science that as populations become wealthier and more educated, they will become more democratic. In Thailand, the wealthy, urban middle class are perhaps the least supportive of democracy. It’s not the only place where this seems to be the case.
More broadly, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a leading Thai scholar on the monarchy, argues that Thailand’s protracted political turmoil has been exacerbated by the contrast between a deified king and politicians who appear crass and venal in contrast. “We have an image of monarchy that is flawlessly excellent in everything,” he said in 2010. “If we had not built this image in the first place, we would not have so many problems and complaints with politicians.”
Anuchyd Sapanphong, a Thai soap opera star, recently posted on his Facebook page that he disliked corrupt politicians so much he wished he had been born during the time of the absolute monarchy.
“I don’t think we are suited for democracy right now,” he said on his page. “We don’t understand it that well — including me.”
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