Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Poor: Two Narratives (Part 1)

The SWS' survey findings on record levels of hunger has spawned discussions on whether the poor are victims of the government's (and society's) neglect or whether it is the poor who are, at least partially to blame due to their lifestyle, attitude and consumption habits. In a reaction to a self-confessed aristocrat's comment, I mentioned that 'blaming the poor for their misery' is an integral part of the ideology of globalization. Let me clarify where I’m coming from. As part of the narrative of globalization, Cameron and Palan in their book The Imagined Economies of Globalization explain that what we call globalization is made up of three 'economies'.

One is the Offshore economy of Multinational Corporations, Export processing zones, Banks and global institutions such as the IMF, WB and the WTO. These are the elements that we are able to closely associate with globalization. In a sense, though, 'offshore' is a misnomer if taken to mean that it exists outside the State for it is precisely the State (or States around the world) that has carved out this sphere (through laws, regulations and guidelines especially in the area of banking, trade and industrial policy). It has done so as part of a strategy of economic development, which brings us to the second 'economy' in the globalization narrative which is the Private Economy whose emergence, in the words of Cameron and Palan, has led to a...

"...shift in the orientation of state activity, indeed a change in the very principle of statehood, away from established functions associated with the nation - the latter viewed as a spiritual, political and cultural community - towards a more outward-looking, competitive and fundamentally economic principle."

This shift away from the previously established role of the State has led to the creation of the third 'economy', which is the 'anti-economy' of social exclusion. It is characterized, in the words of the authors with...

"...the idea that poverty and marginality are 'personal deficits' [that] implies that those unable or unwilling to live up to the emergent norms of the global labor market are in some way pathologically deviant. It also implies that responsibility for becoming more employable lies in the first instance with the unemployed themselves and not with the institutions of the mainstream labor market from which they are excluded."

While this third economy redefines what it means to be poor, it also transforms the character of those who are more fortunate:

"Civil Society, therefore, is no longer identified by a set of core values, rights and responsibilities but by levels of access to, and participation in, 'opportunities' in the mainstream economy. As John Lovering has pointed out, the key distinction made in the mainstream debate over social exclusion is not between exclusion and inclusion, but between exclusion and competitiveness."

This, as described above, is the place of the poor within the narrative of globalization and is what shapes the guilt-free mindsets of the Tim Yaps, Gloria Arroyo's and various aristocrats of this world. Personally, i find such a worldview distasteful to say the least.

Update 03-27-2007:From Expectorants, a compilation on thoughts regarding the poor (and the middle class).

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