Against Totems

I’ve just come across a piece by Frederick Kaufman in the British Medical Journal . He interviewed Amartya Sen as part of an investigation into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s approach to fighting hunger through something called “Purchase for Progress”. You can read more about it at the BMJ or at Fred’s site, but the paragraphs that caught my eye are here:

programmes like Purchase for Progress take for granted the idea that free market dynamics can transform the indigent peasant into a bona fide agribusinessman, and that assured future sales of grain will increase output, help alleviate local conditions, and thus mitigate world hunger.

But as the titans of global food aid seek solutions to mankind’s greatest health threat—a hunger related death every four seconds—they may do well to remember Amartya Sen’s warning and retain a healthy scepticism regarding the worship of a totem market economy. Free markets may have worked well for oligopolists like Bill Gates, but the World Food Programme cannot simply will them into existence. In fact, the imposition of commodity markets within the world’s least developed countries has a history of failure.

One Reply to “Against Totems”

  1. I don’t feel Amartya Sen has done enough to educate USDA/USAID, World Bank and IMF economists and intellectuals on how to solve the third world food problems. These organizations seem to have and continue to implement polices that run counter-intuitive to Dr Sen’s suggestions. Rather than give freedom to the third world to develop its own food programme and encourage true democracy to take hold, instead they have always sided with free market capitalism to solve the third world food distribution problem. It seems that Amartya Sen’s ideas seem to stay trapped in books and theory.

    Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations represents the worst aspects of Western imperialism with ideas such as the “Purchase for Progress.” They want Africa to purchase American goods (fertilizer and genetically modified seeds) and feel indebted to America for this “aid.” Africa already has an inferiority complex and policies that reinforce this inferiority will only entrench the continent further into capitalist slavery.

    Jesus said don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing when it is helping a brother or sister out.
    The truly Christian way of giving charity is to give it in secrecy and not as some publicity stunt. Society should not know who is giving and getting aid because otherwise it inflates the ego of the giver and decreases the self-worth of the receiver. This sort of simple Christian psychology is missing in almost all of the policies of the Western world, but it has found a home in Hindu bhakti movements such as Swadhyay.

    It makes me very angry when the West still sells free market capitalism (which is not free market at all since Western agriculture is grossly subsidized by its governments) as a solution to the poor African farmers’ problems. Amartya Sen is MIA in this policy discussion. He can’t convince anyone of his ideas other than arm-chair intellectuals who do nothing but sit around and award Nobel prizes. It’s sickening how little emotion he shows with regard to third world injustices, especially ones which have pillaged Africa.

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