Tag Archives: USA

US poverty: a good example to follow?


Official US date recently released shows that the number of US citizens living in poverty rose to a record 46 million last year.  Yet the world is encouraged to believe that the US model of ‘democracy’ and ‘economic growth’ is the one that should be followed to eliminate poverty.  Surely there is a contradiction here?

The BBC reports the release of these data as follows: “The number of Americans living in poverty rose to a record 46.2 million last year, official data has shown. This is the highest figure since the US Census Bureau started collecting the data in 1959. In percentage terms, the poverty rate rose to 15.1%, up from 14.3% in 2009. The US definition of poverty is an annual income of $22,314 (£14,129) or less for a family of four and $11,139 for a single person. The number of Americans living below the poverty line has now risen for four years in a row, while the poverty rate is the biggest since 1993. Poverty among black and Hispanic people was much higher than for the overall US population last year, the figures also showed. The Census Bureau data said 25.8% of black people were living in poverty and 25.3% of Hispanic people. Its latest report also showed that the average annual US household income fell 2.3% in 2010 to $49,445. Meanwhile, the number of Americans without health insurance remained about 50 million. The data comes as the US unemployment rate remains above 9%”.

Is it not time that global organisations, aid agencies, and governments across the world stopped pretending that economic growth leads to a reduction of poverty?  Capitalism fundamentally depends on the maintenance of inequalities: between rich and poor countries, between rich and poor people.  The increase in US poverty revealed in these data reinforces such arguments.  The US ‘system’ enables Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to acquire huge wealth, while large numbers of their compatriots are consigned to poverty.

Freedom carries responsibilities.  The focus of US capitalism on the freedom of the individual at the expense of the wider public good is surely not a model that the world should be encouraged to follow.  As the BBC report notes, 50 million people in the US do not have health insurance.  While the rich can have the benefit of the latest medical research, such care is beyond the means of the poor.

These figures should be seen as a wake up call to economists and politicians across the world.  Unfettered capitalism, fueled by a self-reinforcing cycle of individual greed, can never lead to a reduction in poverty.  Only when governments act explicitly to support the most marginalised in their societies can we begin to redress the balance.

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Putting the USA in its place


Am I the only one who gets infuriated when I hear citizens of the USA referring to themselves as Americans, as though the only Americans in the world are US citizens?  America is a continent, indeed for some two continents: South America and North America.  Guatemalans, Canadians, Argentinians, Brazilians, Peruvians are all Americans.  We therefore need to invent a new word to refer to citizens of the USA, and their language.

Perhaps we should all start referring to USans (as in Jamaicans but from the USA),  USish (as in English or Spanish) and USese (as in Portuguese).  The trouble is that these do not roll easily off the tongue!  However, at least it might begin to stop the rot.  Why do so many US citizens really  think that they have a natural born right to rule the world!  If we stop calling them Americans, it might make them think twice about the real place of the USA.

Britain once imposed its rule over much of the world, but most of us born here now realise the perils of imperialism. By encouraging USans to realise that they  come from a relatively small country lacking in culture and history, we might actually be doing them a huge favour, helping them to find their true place in the world – not as an aggressor seeking to impose one particular vision of so-called democracy on the rest of the world, but instead as a peaceful neighbour seeking to do good.  After all, the USA has merely 4.5% of the world’s population, and is dwarfed by China with 19.5% and India with 17.3%.  When China and India take their rightful places as world leaders, what will poor USans do then? At the very least, the next time you hear a US citizen referring to themselves as an American, do ask whether they come from Ecuador, Venezuela or Costa Rica and see what the reaction is!

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Reflections on Obama’s acceptance speech


In response to my own blog earlier in the day,  I have to admit that Obama’s acceptance speech contains much that is good – I only hope that he is able to live up to these fine words!

It is good to see him acknowledge that there are others far more deserving: “Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics.  I cannot argue with those who find these men and women — some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I”.

Likewise, it is good to read his statement that “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war.  What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace”.

I cannot, though, agree with his statement that “the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans”.  He claims that “We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest”. I am quite convinced that there are many in the USA who have advocated war specifically because they want to impose their will on the world. The USA as a state has regularly promoted war  – in Iraq, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Grenada…  Many people across the world have suffered explicitly because of US foreign policy – this is indeed self-interest; whether or not it is enlightened is a matter for debate.

Obama’s  agenda is in the interest of a capitalist US economy based on the individual rather than the communal values that so many people elsewhere in the world value so much.  He says, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting”. To me, what matters more is how the individual behaves within the context of the communities that they are part of; it is the responsibilities that we have to others that are of more importance than a claim that we have any rights as individuals.

And, please, will he, along with other citizens of the USA, stop claiming that the USA is America. He claims that “America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens”.  This is debatable, but there is a huge difference between one country, the United States of America, and the entire continent, or indeed continents of America.

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