Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Political Economy of Food Coupons


Malacañang announced its plan to distribute food coupons a day after the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released survey results showing that one in every seven families nationwide had nothing to eat at least once in the past three months.-PDI
What irony of ironies! The government that has perpetually been the cause of Philippine poverty for the last four years is now coming up with a new scheme to sugarcoat their inefficiency – the food coupons for the poorest families in the Philippines. It has been conceived by the Social Welfare Department, headed by the social democrat Secretary Dinky Soliman, as a means of giving temporary relief to the thousands of hungry Filipinos. The plan was parroted in the press days after a survey was published indicating the extent of hunger among our people – that a large percentage of our people have felt hungry for several days in the past few months. The timing was perfect, to highlight further the reactionary character of the current regime because the people know quite that this project is a mere palliative of the administration to give a semblance of a government that cares for its people but ends up doing just the opposite. This paper examines the experience of food coupons in other countries and exposes ineptitude of the government in coming up with an ill-advised project for the people.

In other countries, food coupons are used as a transient measure to bridge the purchasing power gap between the privileged and underprivileged portions of its population. In the United States, the benefits for its people are not only for food. The state also has provisions for those who are disabled and unemployed. All they need to do is to go to the local social welfare office and they will be given placed as persons in need of aid, provided certain prerequisites are met. Food coupons are among the privileges its citizens have and such measure has already been institutionalized as a means of redistributing the riches. In the welfare state countries in Scandinavia such as Norway and Finland, the benefits the people get are much immense that these countries are often cited as one of the top nations with the highest human development index, according to the United Nations. The redistributive provisions does not only include that for food. They have laws that ensure delivery of free education and healthcare, disability and pension benefits and even state-of-the art homes for the aged. This was done not as a mere temporary relief for its people something that is part of the development strategy enshrined in the principles of state welfarism. Although in this system, the government makes a milking cow out of its corporations, it does ensure income redistribution. The other first world countries, like Japan and Great Britain, among others, have similar programs for its marginalized sectors which their people continue to enjoy up to now. However, it is important to note the manner in which they have come towards such ability to redistribute – through imperialist wars, colonization, and the more cunning neo-liberal formula. Although their workers enjoy these benefits, most of the workers are also privy to class contradictions between their employers on matters such as work hazard compensations. Their people are also prone to lose heir jobs eventually as most of their home-based corporations are now shifting to Asia as their base of operations due to low labor costs. As such, their governments might not be able to sustain these programs further and regress back to a situation in which benefits and pensions are a thing of the past. This will happen unless these governments strut it out with their corporations through cunning neo-liberal exploitation in investments in Third World countries, which they do with great clout and influence.

In a Third World country such as ours, I have great doubts whether the food coupons will be of any help to the people than helping sanitize the bad image of the President and her failure to concretely address poverty. The target number of beneficiaries would be five million families in which food vouchers will be distributed in the schools. The strategy is two-pronged – to keep the kids in school so that their families may be able eat, according to Sen. Ralph Recto. Again, these are mere palliatives and insincere press releases made by a reactionary government posing itself as championing the cause of the poor. As long as the government des not recognize that their set of priorities in development is the one that hastens the spread of hunger among the people. All efforts such like this will be in vain. At a time of large budget deficits and a looming fiscal crisis, where then will the government get the funds to sustain an ambitious dole-out project such as this. Dinky Soliman admitted that these voucher will not be for long because it is important for the government o intervene in job generation but that precisely is where any hope in this plan dims out. For the longest time, the government has utterly failed in providing the people jobs from their so-called private sector counterparts. It has proven itself wanting in addressing the most fundamental of issues – higher wages, land reform and a government that is sovereign from foreign dictates on the economy and its policies. Food coupons are good as an emergency measure for victims of natural disasters like the one that ravaged Quezon and Aurora, to provide immediate relief for the affected families. But to institutionalize it in the schools to keep the kids inside would also be counter-productive as a large percentage of the poorest families Sec. Soliman passionately talks about are not attending school at all. They are there in the loobans and kanayunans helping their families live it through the day. It is another matter in determining who it really is that would be given the vouchers as there are no efficient databases to figure it out. Moreover, these five million families are only spread across the Metro Manila area and its surrounding provinces. What then will the palliatives be for those in the most depressed of areas like Samar and Bicol? Leave them to their landlords and compradors? The school-for-food program would also then make education lose its focus – that the kids should go to school for the rice and the canned goods and not for the lectures and the lessons. They do not have the books, the notebooks and the money for their projects anyway. The government, instead of wasting much time and money on this program should redirect it to education, healthcare land reform and housing which are more productive avenues to pour in taxpayer’s money. These are the fundamental elements that a country should give importance to because compassion for the plight of the poor should not at all be the prime mover for creating projects the poor. Projects for the underprivileged should be long-lasting and should address not only their situation but also that of the country in the world economic order. A government that is serious enough to do this must be able to face up to its international creditors in asserting an independent economic plan for its people as it has been proven that for as long as the increase in the Debt-GNP ratio continues, poverty will persist as much of the country’s resources will be dished out of the country leaving a very small bit of funding for those social services that really matter. This should be the two-pronged agenda of the government in fighting poverty – pour in funding to social services and adapt an independent economic agenda free from international credit bullying by being more aggressive in asserting rejections of conditionalities and pressure.

Hunger should never be an opportunity for mere photo ops to fuel the pipe dreams of the people.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Prospects on the Future of the Human Race

Terry Ridon

The doomsayers will always be there preaching about the end in sight and remote predictions of asteroids and meteors crashing towards earth in the near future. The Discovery Channel documentary underscored the efforts of scientists the world over in discovering new ways and prospects in how to deal with the future of human civilization. A lot of tests have utterly failed but research continues to go on even as efforts to simulate earth conditions in a controlled environment were daunted by scientific errors in calculation and foresight. Nick Bostrom’s paper, although not entirely exhaustive, was able to provide examples in which humankind will eventually face its end and the ways and means on how to avoid such so called existential risks. His assertions were startling, if not downright overstretching horizons, but nevertheless leads scholars into rethinking strategies and policies towards preparing the world towards the inevitable – whether it be change or annihilation.

Science fiction gives us a glimpse of a future that is real. Centuries before, man have not ever imagined of flight, if at all space travel! Nor was there ever prospects on supercomputers and robotics. Did Niels Bohr or Ernest Rutherford ever dream of nuclear fission and the H-bomb? I don’t think so. But I believe humankind will soon be depending a lot of their lives on computers and information technology, whether to make their lives easier or more efficient. With the advent of nanotechnology, the opportunities are immense and a lot of the usual risks in living would eventually find its answers in that – more than the research that can be taken form stem cell studies as nanotechnologies have the capacity of creating molecular sized factories with the capability of hastening the time, for example, to bake Turkey during Thanksgiving, or cook puto-bumbong during Misa de Gallo. With advanced research being done on gene modification, it will only take a matter of time and lots of money to be able to reconfigure the genes and traits of infants, if at all able stifle the spread of hereditary diseases. And of course, human physiology will also adapt with the changing relationships of man with its environment, especially with regards to machines and computers. In the movie Manchurian candidate, the capacity of mind control is available to the highest bidder, needing only medical access to the brain’s tiny hypothalamus. Human culture will also change, not towards dynamism and variability, but a culture that homogenizes the entire human race. With the world getting smaller through globalization and new communications technology like fiber-optics, it is impossible not to imagine the hegemony of Western culture over indigenous ones. All tools of trade, communications, arts and music, literature will all be geared towards that standard, that modern Western standard of culture of subtlety and finesse in which all other cultures purportedly lack. And this change, I think towards this kind of society can never be separated from the political economy of a world order such as what we have today. Even as humankind evolves with new technologies to make their lives better, easier and faster, the exploitative nature of a system like this persists and would probably take on more cunning forms. A generation ago, all the workers wanted was to be regularized in their workplaces and factories in order to avail of benefits from their corporations. But now, most of the companies offer only contractualized labor in the guise of streamlining and rationalization. And society supposedly has developed so much from those days of large mainframes to these days of the iPod. All I am saying is that, although nanotechnology will inevitably be part of our lifestyles soon, in the way cellphones are right now, and sure, even the masa will all be listening to Brit-rock bands like Keane with a homogenized yet bastardized world culture, but the fact remains that no everybody will be able to avail these technologies if the humankind continues to be stuck in an exploitative world economic order such as this in which those who can pay are kings and all others who cannot can just cry their asses out, where then is the fulfillment in that? Where then is the progress and evolution of humankind in that? And I think it is in these contradictions from which man will start his race towards extinction. Nick Bostrom said that an asteroid hit is a remote possibility so we can rule it put for now and even the possibility of an extra-terrestrial invasion. But a war of nuclear proportions, or a nanowhatever war in the future continues to be a clear and present danger to entire humankind since the Cold War up to those times when we have nanoweapons already. This is based on the assumption that the states around the world and its military are only there to preserve and exploit the current economic order led by the US. They are the ones who stockpile and keep the most number of nuclear weapons now and they continue conducting classified researches on weapons technology, perhaps on nanoweapons. As I said, as the current economic order continues with its exploitative nature, the contradictions will lead to untenable heights and the exploited peoples and nations around the world will fire back in anger in desperation. Then you have another world war, a war with nuclear arsenals and possibly nanoweapons. I would like to believe that progressive countries such as Cuba, North Korea and Russia would be at the forefront in fighting the US and its allies with their own nuclear weapons and what you have is a world that is on the brink of annihilation with the immense number of nuclear warheads that will be used and bombed on every major city in the world. And the skyscrapers and steel bridges will crumble and New York City will be vaporized. So will the Havana cigars and the Pyongyang kimchis. Every country will eventually have to take sides and inevitably fall prey to the power of the nuclear bombs. Say goodbye to Japanese electronics and Tokyo University. The French can French Kiss their way to oblivion as the Champs de Elysees will be bombed, finally. (Hitler forgot to do that, the French were too scared to fight that they surrendered haha) Well, the Filipinos, well, will maybe survive a little. We’re like cockroaches. You can find us anywhere haha. If we play our cards right, people might survive this. If not, say hi to the cockroaches at the top of the food chain! But this I think, as Mao Zedong saw it, is the only way in which man can eventually progress towards a better society and a better people. It is from the ashes of a nuclear winter in which humankind can build an entirely equitable society because the notions of individualism will have vanished together with the structures that permit it as the surviving peoples will have to learn to depend on each other collectively to build and construct a new society and civilization better and more resilient than before, free from the exploitative and oppressive scheme of things that gave rise to the nuclear war. This I hope is how Nick Bostrom saw the posthuman society.

The surefire way to protect humankind from extinction is to rise above the world order that hastens its destruction. The world will not be having problems with global warming and the greenhouse effect if it were not for the culture of consumerism permitted by the global corporations today. The decreasing biodiversity and forest cover will not have happened not because they forgot about sustainable development but because there is money and profit from exploiting the mines and trees. Even the Philippine Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling banning the exploitation of mining areas by foreign corporations! There would be no protracted war today by the Commies if only those who owned vast tracts of land gave it the peasants and there would be no rallies during May One and November 30 if the captains of industry just gave the workers their due salary and benefits. But what we have is a world order that is centered on profit and money and institutions in government and society that allow this framework to flourish. These are the systems which we should change as these systems make way for cultures and world-views to be McDonaldized, to allow the continuing of such an inequitable scheme of things. Nuclear wars can be avoided if only the developed nations knew that in order for the Third World to industrialize, they should rechannel their intensive military spending to Debt relief and Food programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These acts are levelers and equalizers in the wake of depressing conditions around the world. Assuming that countries spend on weapons because of gathering threats from rogue states, what they do not tell you is that weapons together with wars are worth a lot of money, not because it costs a lot, but because it gives so much profits especially for governments with investments on weapons research. Again, at the center of it all is the raw reality of the interplay of money, profit and power. This is what consumes the leaders of the world order that we have and certainly this is what will lead us towards the war that hopefully, would be the Great Filter in the future.

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