Pillar Fight: The "New" UN Blames the Poor
by Mickey Z.
March 11, 2004

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"Make no mistake," declared Paul Martin, Canada's prime minister and co-chairman of the U.N. Commission on Private Sector and Development. "This is a new pillar of development - unleashing local private enterprise, supported by strong, indigenous, democratic institutions."

With at least a billion people on the planet subsisting on the equivalent of one US dollar a day or less, a March 8 report issued by the U.N. commission explained that its "new pillars" includes "access to bank loans, encouraging job skills and training, and setting up simpler, fairer rules and regulations can all help small-scale business flourish."

Conveniently, Forbes magazine just announced there are 587 individuals and family units worth $1 billion or more...an increase from 476 in 2003. All together, the world's billionaires are worth $1.9 trillion...a total higher than the gross domestic product of the 170 poorest countries combined. Score one for better access to bank loans, I guess.

"While the rich continue to accumulate wealth for themselves, millions upon millions of people around the world are trying to survive under conditions of unspeakable degradation," writes Jamie Chapman at the World Socialist Website. "One estimate puts the cost of satisfying the entire world's need for food and sanitation at $13 billion-less than 1 percent of wealth of the world's billionaires."

Here in the US (where 275 of the world's billionaires dwell), we like to tell tales about rich folks being "self-made" examples of the American Dream. That's part of the American Dream myth...the fable of individualized success that tells us if we outwork and outthink and out-hustle the competition, this is the land of opportunity. Anything is possible. If we succeed, it's simply because we deserved it more. This myth is helpful for praising success...but mighty damaging in explaining failure. If you fail, the blame is on you...not anything related to this white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy we call home.

What about the rest of the world? How easy is it for them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

"According to the World Bank," says Mike Eckel, of the Associated Press, "the cost of starting a business in Angola is US$5,531 - about eight times more than that country's per capita income. In New Zealand, the cost is about US$28 - about 1 percent of per capita income." Sounds like we need to encourage more job training.

Enter the "new" U.N., eschewing any hint at redistributing wealth or any mention the ominous consequences of a planet inhabited by billions of humans with literally nothing to lose. The pillars the new U.N. sleeping on include big ideas like micro-loans with "relatively easy repayment terms," and on-the-job training.

"As well," writes Eckel, "large, multinational corporations should be encouraged to work with small-scale business for outsource work or to be suppliers of goods and services, the commission said." (If you listen closely, you can hear Thomas Friedman groaning with pleasure.)

So precisely how does one "encourage" large multi-national corporations to do the right thing for the world's poor? According to the U.N. Commission on Private Sector and Development, the "onus lies on developing countries."

Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo (man who knows a thing or two about wealth disparity) was the commission's other co-chairman. "Developing countries must have the right policies to develop if they want to develop," he stated articulately.

"This is a new U.N. today," added Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Program, " a U.N. which... celebrates the private sector and the power of markets and consumers."

Let's check the scorecard:

* 587 billionaires are worth more than 170 countries.

* Nearly 4 billion people around the world earn less than $1,500 (US) a year.

The new U.N. has nothing better to offer than the celebration of free (sic) market consumerism.

What happens if it's the 4 billion who get the last at-bat?

Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Prime Books) and Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). His most recent book is The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet. He has been a vegan for nearly nine years and can be reached at mzx2@earthlink.net.

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