Labor Week
Starvation For Profit
By Jessica MacGilvray
May 22, 2011 - 1:44:59 PM

Fruit and vegetable stand. Photo by Jocelyn Holt
The cost of food has doubled in the past two years. There are many injustices in this world, but few are so plainly wrong as the profiteering of food.

Some of you may ask, "So what?"

People have always starved in the underdeveloped world where poverty is endemic and burgeoning populations make starvation a daily fact of life. Whereas it is true that suffering and death have plagued humanity since time immemorial, there are some profound differences today.

Historically, the famines of the world have had natural or social origins: crop failures or wars deprived people in some localities of sufficient food. In the past, there was neither the ability to store the food, nor the ability to transport it economically from areas of plenty to areas of scarcity. In some past times, there have also been large corporations, such as the British East India Company, that manipulated markets for their own ends, artificially depressing or inflating food prices in certain regions for a time in order to achieve some political purpose, but this was an exceptional circumstance of short duration, not a general rule.

Today a new situation threatens millions of people around the globe. In the new global economy it is commodities traders who are responsible for the enormous price hikes in basic food.  While tens of millions face starvation, a few more billionaires reap a windfall.  Glencore, for example,  controls more than half the global copper market and almost 10 percent of the planet's wheat trade. They generate tens of billions of dollars in net profit annually through speculation in volatile markets.

Huge multinationals like ConAgra and Monsanto use their considerable influence on governments to ensure that their products gain exclusive rights in local markets, freezing out other multinational and local/regional competitors. These limitations on regional markets simplify speculation in commodities and create a climate promoting huge profits. Huge profits result in a huge toll of human suffering.

At a time when we have the ability to produce, store and deliver an adequate minimum food supply for all the world’s population, it seems wrong that we choose to not do so in order to secure the immense profits of a very few. Why do the rights of a privileged few to earn profits from what is essentially gambling take precedence over the lives of millions of poor people all over the world? In our modern world, is it human life that is sacred or the obscene profits of billionaires?

Such unregulated speculation in world markets is a highly applauded feature of the New Capitalism, i.e. globalization. Many people have called into question the rights of the beneficiaries of world capitalism over the rights of the losers of world capitalism. In much of the world, it is this disparity of power, this inequality of justice that is the real driving force of revolutionary unrest. When will the rich be rich enough to cease from profiting on the suffering of the poor?  When they are made poor themselves by violent and inevitable political change.

It is a pity that we are setting the stage for such a global conflict. One would think people capable of more foresight and planning, of a higher appreciation for the value of human life and empathy for the call for universal justice in the world. But all those voices of reason are silenced in the corporate media that knows no other God than profit, has no higher ideal than growth and places no value on human misery or on lost human potential. It is a very sad reflection on the human condition that profits come before people and that brotherhood and sisterhood are just words we use in the family of man to pacify those we dispossess.

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