Thirty years after the original release of Band Aid’s ‘Do they Know It’s Christmas Time’, poverty and famine still continues to reduce the quality of life within over-exploited countries globally. What’s most offensive about white saviourdom in the context of these feel good sing-alongs is the lack of critical analysis that is necessary to understand why an entire populace can live under the brutality of starvation in a world that throws away three times the amount of food it would take to feed all 7 billion of us, daily. Instead of buying into the encouragement of the western working class to give away their pennies to ‘feed the world’, we should be questioning why exactly that world is not fed. And for that there is only one answer: Capitalism survives on the myth of artificial scarcity.
Artificial scarcity, most familiar in the West, is the program of austerity that keeps wages low, prices high and bellies empty. It cites that resources are limited, that there is not enough energy or homes or jobs or food to go around. This is a myth, one perpetuated in order to sustain capitalism and drive profit up whilst letting people starve both at home and abroad. While the majority of us go hungry, tighten our belts, lose our jobs and have our homes repossessed there are many within the wealthy elite who survive beautifully. Their wealth is amassed through our labour and even our unemployment. The withholding of goods drives up competition and convinces workers that it is natural to destroy each other in order to survive. This is the inherent crisis in capitalism. In order to survive one must consume. In order to consume one must directly or indirectly limit another’s ability to survive. So, we appease our guilt with charity Christmas songs but don’t realise that we as workers and consumers perpetuate this poverty while the rich grow more powerful utilising a regime of profit starvation.
There’s a wonderful argument amongst vegans, interesting only in its reductive banality, that promotes the false idea that if we were to stop slaughtering animals for food, then the grain produced to feed the 150 billion animals annually could be used to feed humans. This buys into the agenda of state-imposed artificial scarcity and perpetuates the myth that there is not enough food for us. As much as the idea of full animal liberation excites me, it is not so that I can chew on the wealth of soy inevitably coming my way.
Artificial scarcity leads us down a long, dark path away from recovery. It creates villains where there are none, at least not in the vicinity of those most affected by its power, because artificial scarcity is manufactured into almost every facet linked to production. We are confused into thinking that what we believe to be rightfully ours (not because we laboured to produce it, which is the real issue, but instead, for example, because our genealogy matches our current geography) is being stolen from us. The idea coined by Lenin that ‘fascism is capitalism in decay’ confronts the real issues of austerity and the withholding of goods. The rise in fascism and food banks in Britain are inherently linked. Jingoism and the rise of the right are the monsters created by austerity, capitalism and artificial scarcity.
With unemployment and the unnecessary withholding of goods, we are forced to compete with each other for jobs that could just as easily be carried out through automation (machines). However, because a commodity (such as food) has its value determined by how much labour it takes to produce it, these jobs are often sourced through underpaid migrant workers which in turn breeds contempt amongst the native proletariat leading to a rise in far-right popularity. It is interesting that the deeply entrenched Islamophobia in Britain can be directly linked to the overfunding of defence that supports our neo-colonial interests.
According to the Trussell Trust’s paper Below the Breadline: The Relentless Rise of Food Poverty in Britain ‘20,247,042 meals were delivered to people in food poverty in 2013/14 by three of the main food aid providers (Trussell Trust, Fareshare and Food Cycle). This is a 54 percent increase on 2012/13, when the same providers distributed just over 13 million meals’. In the same paper we are reminded that ‘the richest one percent of Britons own the same amount of wealth as 54 percent of the population’. We need not question why in the UK, the 6th richest economy in the world, food poverty is so high. Defence spending outranks education spending (which might I add is predominantly focused on secondary schools which have been heavily academised since 2010). Military spending is higher than welfare for family and children, housing and unemployment combined. Yet, the richest Britons make their money from property, retail and investments in technology companies; three areas of capital that are necessary to human development and comfort. But we are stuck with increased homelessness, pointless jobs and underfeeding. Scarcity does not exist, but we need to believe it does to survive. We protest for access to education and are locked up or beaten. That is unsurprising. We ask for houses, we are given hostels. We ask for food and we are made to create food banks.
This is a system that need us more than we need it.
It is necessary for us to suffer in order for them to succeed. It is necessary for us to starve so that they may eat. It is necessary us to work so that they might rest. At some point, the world is going to need feeding and no band aid, no sing-along, no church based food bank is going to cut it.