New Emperors, Old Clothes

Vandana Shiva, if you don’t already know of her, and you should, is a scientist, prominent eco-feminist, and social commentator best known for her works covering South Asia and the intersection of business practices and poverty. Her most recent essay, printed by The Ecologist, is a must read. In part,

From Bob Geldof to Gordon Brown, the world suddenly seems to be full of high-profile people with their own plans to end poverty. Jeffrey Sachs is another one. Unfortunately, he’s not a here-today, gone-tomorrow celebrity/ politician, but one of the world’s leading economists, head of the Earth Institute and in charge of a UN panel set up to promote rapid development. So when he launched his book The End of Poverty, people took notice.

But, there is a problem with Sachs’ and so many of the other end-poverty prescriptions. Sachs doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. ‘A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,’ he writes, before adding: ‘The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.’ This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been ‘left behind’; they are the ones who have been robbed. The riches accumulated by Europe are based on riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the takeover of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without Africa’s slavery, the Industrial Revolution would not have led to new riches for Europe or the US. It was this violent takeover of Third World resources and markets that created wealth in the North and poverty in the South. Two of the great economic myths of our time allow people to deny this intimate link.

Shiva details these two myths, the first is the tendency to blame the destruction of the world’s natural resources on one another rather than what we percieve as the greater ideal of economic “growth.” Secondly, she states the assumption that if one only produces what one consumes, one is not producing.

If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then this does not contribute to GDP, and so does not contribute towards ‘growth’.

Wandering around my garden this summer I have often pondered the idea that for me, gardening is a privilege of wealth (one must have land and income to begin producing one’s own vegetables in the “developed” world), whereas producing one’s own food in other areas of the world is a necessity. In many ways, living ecologically responsible in the United States requires a certain amount of wealth and privilege. It costs more to shop in local markets or ethically responsible stores. It costs as much to buy an electric car as it does a small SUV. As Shiva states, “people do not die for lack of income, [they] die for lack of access to resources.” In the U.S. where we have comparatively plenty of access to both, “It’s not about how much more we can give, so much as how much less we can take.”

Do read the rest of Shiva’s essay.

via Cultural Dissent

16 comments for “New Emperors, Old Clothes

  1. July 8, 2005 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks for pointing to that essay. Food for thought (no pun intended).

  2. Joseph
    July 8, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    What on earth is an “eco-feministe”?

  3. July 8, 2005 at 8:43 pm

    Hey, Joe. It’s eco-feminist, not -feministe. Read more closely before you get your hate back.

    Haven’t I banned you before?

  4. Joseph
    July 9, 2005 at 9:28 am

    So sorry, that must have been the first spelling mistake on the internet ever. I’ve ruined everything.

    And no, you haven’t banned me before, because you’ve posted multiple times about how open you are to discussion with people who have different points of view. Or was that all a lie?

    So can someone please tell me what an “eco-feminist” is?

    Is that like someone who fights against mysoginist oppression and rape in the animal kingdom or something?

  5. kim
    July 9, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    I recently wrote about privilege and living responsibly on my own blog, but I haven’t thought as much about Shiva’s points on the link between Third World poverty and the riches of the industrialized world – very interesting.

    Joseph, eco-feminism is a discipline that explores the links between the exploitation of the earth and the exploitation of women. There are some interesting resources here.

  6. jam
    July 9, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    yo Joey

    “Ecofeminism is a biocentric environmental movement with cultural and social concerns. The movement believes that a relationship exists between the oppression of women and the degradation of nature. Ecofeminist theorists consider the interconnections between sexism, the domination of nature, racism, and other social inequalities.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecofeminism

    not that i believe you’re actually interested or anything, mind you… but hey, it took me all of 2 seconds using this newfangled contraption called “Google” – maybe you’ve heard of it?

  7. July 10, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    I don’t know too much about Vandana Shiva as a feminist, my only knowledge of her comes from her opposition to the development of Golden Rice, a GM foodstuff that could prevent tens of thousands of cases blindness caused by vitamin-A deficiency in India and other third world nations.

    I have a huge problem with her kind of leftism. She wants to see poor people fed, but only her way. Not by corporations, not with GM food–food that could potentially cure a legion of health problems, if allowed to be developed properly. I would say it’s paternalistic, but given that she’s an eco-feminst, maybe maternalistic would be a better word. But oddly, that word has mostly good connotations.

  8. July 10, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    “could prevent tens of thousands of cases blindness”

    Should read: “could prevent millions of cases of blindness.”

  9. July 14, 2005 at 2:56 am

    Hey there Lauren,

    long time reader – first time commenting.

    I’ve just finished ‘The End of Poverty’ and while it has many holes it certainly does not portray the west in a very positive light.

    There are two erroneous things in the excerpts you posted.

    The first is that Sachs repeatedly acknowledges that most western countries attained their current economic position through shockingly brutal colonisation:

    “Through political genius and sheer ruthlessness, British forces gained the upper hand in India… from it’s inauspicious arrival in 1602 to the final conquest of the subcontinent in 1857, the British East India Company, backed by the British Crown, bamboozled and fought its way to power… double crossing it’s allies and defeating its foes on the battlefield, buying, bribing and fighting its way to complete control.”
    p172

    “Little surpasses the western world in the cruelty and depredations that it has long imposed on Africa. Three centuries of slave trade… were followed by a century of brutal colonial rule. Far from lifting Africa economically, the colonial era left Africa bereft of educated citizens and leaders, basic infrastructure and public health facilities.”
    p189

    And it goes on with a similar tone towards colonialism and post-colonialism throughout the book.

    The second thing is just quite bizarre. When Shiva states “He seems to view it [poverty] as the original sin. ‘A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,’he writes, before adding: ‘The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.’ This is a totally false history of poverty.”

    This is where the data cannot lie. Sachs outlines the fact that the world average per capita income from biblical times until around the 1820’s did not significantly rise. In fact, it stayed about the same due to equivalent methods of farming and technology.

    After 1820 the numbers go through the roof due in no small part – as Sachs continually points out – the western countries accumulating “riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America”.

    There are some serious holes in the book, but the ones you mentioned are simply not there.

    A bientot,
    Benvolio
    p.s. love your blog – have put many an Aussie friend onto it btw.

  10. July 14, 2005 at 11:12 am

    Thanks, Benvolio. I was commenting from her statements in the article, not the books (unfortunately as I see now), and I still think her writings on wealth and food supply are valuable. Maybe I should check out Sachs.

  11. jam
    July 14, 2005 at 1:35 pm

    Mr. Gupta wrote: I don’t know too much about Vandana Shiva as a feminist, my only knowledge of her comes from her opposition to the development of Golden Rice, a GM foodstuff that could prevent tens of thousands of cases blindness caused by vitamin-A deficiency in India and other third world nations…. I have a huge problem with her kind of leftism. She wants to see poor people fed, but only her way. Not by corporations, not with GM food–food that could potentially cure a legion of health problems, if allowed to be developed properly.

    now, perhaps it is true that Ms. Shiva’s opposition to the miraculous GM Golden Rice is all about her own ego & she really doesn’t care about the poor communities she has consistently sided with & supported for many years. maybe she’s just a big lefty poser (like they all are) & all she wants is to get her way – damn the hungry! she says. i’m going to feed them myyyyy waaayyyyy! yeah, it all makes sense now that i think of it.

    but what if… what if Golden Rice isn’t as miraculous as folks like Monsanto have made it sound? and what if… stay with me here, i’m going to make a leap… what if the corporations who own it aren’t big lovebunnies who just want to help feed the hungry & cure their failing peepers? i mean, i know this goes against everything we know about corporations & the history of their interactions with impoverished communities around the world – but still, i just have this weird nagging feeling…

    i know, i know… talking like a crazy person again.

  12. July 14, 2005 at 1:42 pm

    maybe she’s just a big lefty poser (like they all are) & all she wants is to get her way – damn the hungry! she says. i’m going to feed them myyyyy waaayyyyy! yeah, it all makes sense now that i think of it.

    When your logic runs backward, and you invent premises to justify a bigoted or stereotypical presumption… well, this is what you get.

  13. July 14, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Monsanto would just as soon kill poor people as feed them. Whichever would make them richer.

    http://www.geocities.com/northstarzone/MONSANTO.html

  14. July 14, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Oh, Christ. Not the “golden rice” thing again.

    Golden rice produces 1.6 micrograms beta carotene per gram of rice. The breeders’ goal is 2.0 micrograms per gram. At 2.0 micrograms per gram, a person would need to eat 16 lbs. of cooked rice every day to get sufficient Vitamin A. That’s an 11,000 calorie per day diet from rice alone. Three servings of ½ lb. cooked golden rice per day would provide only 10% of a woman’s daily Vitamin A requirement, 6% if she’s breast-feeding. Kids would need 12 pounds of golden rice per day at 2.0 micrograms per gram rice. At current beta carotene levels, women would need to eat 20 pounds of rice a day, kids 15 pounds. And you cannot absorb beta carotene without adequate amounts of zinc, protein and fats, elements often lacking in the diets of the poor. And if you have diarrhea, forget any gain at all.

    Contrariwise, that hypothetical woman and child could get all the beta carotene they need each day from eating a quarter cup of cooked carrots.

    Golden rice is a smokescreen. It will help, at best, only people with marginal vitamin deficiencies – the kind who can be most efficiently aided by education and supplementary food crops such as carrots, papayas and mangos and spinach. It will not help the people at greatest risk of blindness, who can be efficiently helped through distribution of inexpensive vitamin supplements.

    But it’s a handy stick to beat anti-corporate activists with, so the misinformation about the actual benefits of the stuff gets ignored.

  15. jam
    July 14, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Other Ryan wrote: When your logic runs backward, and you invent premises to justify a bigoted or stereotypical presumption… well, this is what you get.

    oh dear. that’s what i get for being sarcastic… maybe i should’ve added one of those horrible little smiley icons? i sorta figured using terms like “lovebunnies” would’ve gotten it across….

    in any case, if anyone else thought i was serious – just for the record: Doctor Shiva is one of my heroes.
    and i think Golden Rice is a sham.
    and i look forward to the day when we’re all dancing on the ruins of multinational corporations.

    ok? yeesh.

  16. July 14, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    oh dear. that’s what i get for being sarcastic…

    Sorry – I didn’t mean you, but what you were responding to.

Comments are closed.