Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Feast and famine

New York Times:

“The way we manage the global agriculture and food security system doesn’t work,” said Kostas G. Stamoulis, a senior economist at the organization. “There is this paradox of increasing global food production, even in developing countries, yet there is hunger.”

The apparent "paradox" might be explained by the fact that many communities don't control their own food. This makes them dependent on wages to purchase it. Communities that either lack adequate employment or who cannot afford global food prices will go without.

Given the chance, people will produce what they need to survive; but being divorced from the land and dependent on wages, they must produce on someone else's behalf before they can consider their own.

While much hand-wringing goes on concerning these, the most extreme inequalities of condition, few observers challenge the inequality of power on which they inevitably rest, and which is always the root of an evil. But it is only because inequality of condition is approached from a premise of unequal power that so little is ever achieved on this front, as the benefits of ending starvation must always be weighed against the overarching prerogative of power. For this, a lasting solution to hunger imposes an intolerable cost: the cost of surrendering power.


C-Nihilist said...

nice post.

inequality of condition is approached from a premise of unequal power

can you expand on this at some point? because i think i only half understand the implications of it. do you take requests?

Salty said...

I'll take a stab at it, though I'm sure LP could be more illuminating.

The premise of unequal power is the one that powerful people prefer. We normally call them "the rich" or "politicians" or what have you, but the underlying reason for this is simple selfishness. People who have power do not favor a condition of equal power, because that means they necessarily lose power. And because they HAVE power, they get to decide whether to even it out or not.

So, inequality of power is accepted at a subconscious level. Go read an MSM news article and the underlying assumption is always that unequal power is the only possible system, that there absolutely has to be someone directing others and benefitting more in any circumstance.

Try the opposite, and approach inequality of condition from EQUALITY of power. The people in bad conditions with equal power would use it to even out their conditions, and the problem would go away in a hurry. But because we always assume power must be unequal, there will always be someone left wanting. The fact that this group happens to be very large is indicative of how unequal the power is. People like LP (and myself) think that abolishing power differences is the way forward, and that flavors all of his posts. I believe that's called anarchism.

Anonymous said...

Its also just standard base-superstructure stuff. You can't simply view 'world hunger' as a superficial production or distribution problem (though these aspects are very crucial). You can't 'solve' it with redistribution at the surface level (churchly donations and such). You have to look at the problem at its base, at the level of labor. When peoples' (or whatever) power is reduced to labor power, etc etc.

I think a more direct way of explaining this is through a clarification of terms. What do we mean when we say "Power"? It doesn't really help to describe it as underlined by simple selfishness. Foucault, in the end, doesn't even really help that much. Though his work on power as a circulating force that simply passes through points that don't really "have" that power which circulates through them is somewhat useful.

Something like "an equality of power," even if we are willing to imagine it, is difficult to imagine, in large part because of history. Capital is power. At a popular or general level, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. A premise of unequal power, as a historical ideological force, is very powerful.

Define power. Try it out.

C-Nihilist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C-Nihilist said...

wow. amazing comments.

i was getting stuck on "premise," but if i read Salty correctly, it sounds like this means that a transfer of power is not an acceptable solution to the problem. the premise being that the current distribution of power is inviolable. and that the premise is held by "the system," rather than individuals who may approach the problem from their own premises, though there is a good chance individuals will not possess power enough to challenge the status quo.

Define power. Try it out.

i lean on Bertrand Russell and think of power simply as things like physical health and strength, wealth, armaments, civil authority and influence on opinion, though there are certainly other forms of power i have not mentioned.

Jenny said...

Or we could, y'know, restore their farming subsidies, un privatize the economy and then they wouldn't have to depend on exports:

JRB said...

I often use "power" in the pejorative sense of being concentrated in form, and maintained by force -- e.g., the "prerogative of power." Other times I will attach a distributional qualifier.

I don't typically refer to "power" in its diffuse or consensual form -- "empowerment" and so on -- because in that form I can't distinguish it from the active enjoyment of life. It can go by many names, whether autonomy, democracy, liberty, an so on.