Posts tagged Neoliberalism

We know other marketplaces.

If you enjoyed Pigs as a Paradigm, here is some more from the same place, which may be something by way of a moral. This is in Aristide’s article Globalization: A View from Below, which is a frustrating mix of sharp and important insights and politically-blinkered non sequiturs. The article includes the story about the international-aid driven massacre of Haitian creole pigs, and also includes this, which I think is another of its best passages.

In today’s global marketplace trillions of dollars are traded each day via a vast network of computers. In this market no one talks, no one touches. Only numbers count. . . .

We know other marketplaces. On a plain high in the mountains of Haiti, one day a week thousands of people still gather. This is the marketplace of my childhood in the mountains above Port Salut. The sights and the smells and the noise and the color overwhelm you. Everyone comes. If you don’t come you will miss everything. The donkeys tied and waiting in the woods number in the thousands. Goods are displayed in every direction: onions, leeks, corn, beans, yams, cabbage, cassava, and avocados, mangoes and every tropical fruit, chickens, pigs, goats, and batteries and tennis shoes, too. People trade goods and news. This is the center; social, political, and economic life roll together. A woman teases and coaxes her client: Cherie, the onions are sweet and waiting just for you. The client laughs and teases back until they make a deal. They share trade, and laughter, gossip, politics, and medical and child-rearing tips. A market exchange, and a human exchange.

We are not against trade, we are not against free trade, but our fear is that the global market[1] intends to annihilate our markets. We will be pushed to the cities, to eat food grown on factory farms in distant countries, food whose price depends on the daily numbers game of the first market. This is more efficient, the economists say. Your market, your way of life, is not efficient, they say. But we ask, What is left when you reduce trade to numbers, when you erase all that is human?

— Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Globalization: A View from Below
In Bigelow and Peterson (eds.), Rethinking Globalization: Teaching Justice in an Unjust World (Rethinking Schools, Ltd.: 2002). 10.

Now I’d actually want to say a word or three in favor of mind-boggling scale, computer networks, and global markets. But I think what is most valuable in them — when they are valuable — is precisely their ability to interconnect and network bottom-up confederations of a lot of local, people-centered marketplaces, and to facilitate and loop in the kind of messy, informal, individually-driven, un-professional trade that Aristide celebrates. The highly centralizing, politically captured global market that aims to annihilate this, aims to annihilate it because it is a corporate-owned market herded, and driven by, some very powerful interests exercising tremendous amounts of interventionist political force in order to reshape their environments, to dominate their markets, and to protect their corporate empires, their preferred business models, and their commerce without a human face. Self-organizing markets are at their best when they are the Other Marketplaces. And a radical defense of trade and private property is essential precisely because it is only by sticking to our guns, and defending market forms down to the bottom, and especially in the hands of and for the use of the poorest and most marginalized, that we can move beyond half-measures, business balance sheets and number-crunching neoliberal economic reform; get out of the strip mall and into the bazaar; and get down into the people-powered Other Marketplaces that bring together the best of human sociality and mutual exchange.

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  1. [1] [Sic.]

Pigs as a Paradigm

This is a quote from Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s book, Eyes of the Heart, as quoted by k gallagher, who was in turn quoting Sabina England. I’d been meaning to repost this for some time, but some re-posting on the C4SS listserv reminded me of it to-day.

The history of the eradication of the Haitian Creole pig population in the 1980s is a classic parable of globalization. Haiti’s small, black, Creole pigs were at the heart of the peasant economy. An extremely hearty breed, well adapted to Haiti’s climate and conditions, they ate readily-available waste products, and could survive for three days without food. Eighty to 85% of rural households raised pigs; they played a key role in maintaining the fertility of the soil and constituted the primary savings bank of the peasant population. Traditionally a pig was sold to pay for emergencies and special occasions (funerals, marriages, baptisms, illnesses and, critically, to pay school fees and buy books for the children when school opened each year in October).

In 1982 international agencies assured Haiti’s peasants their pigs were sick and had to be killed (so that the illness would not spread to countries to the North).[1] Promises were made that better pigs would replace sick pigs. With an efficiency not since seen among development projects, all of the Creole pigs were killed over a period of thirteen months.

Two years later the new, better pigs came from Iowa. They were so much better that they required clean drinking water (unavailable to 80% of the Haitian population), imported feed (costing $90 a year when the per capita income was about $130), and special roofed pigpens. Haitian peasants quickly dubbed them prince a quatre pieds, (four-footed princes). Adding insult to injury, the meat did not taste as good. Needless to say, the repopulation program was a complete failure. One observer of the process estimated that in monetary terms peasants lost $600 million dollars. There was a 30% drop in enrollment in rural schools, there was a dramatic decline in protein consumption in rural Haiti, a devastating decapitalization of the peasant economy and an incalculable negative impact on Haiti’s soil and agricultural productivity. The Haitian peasantry has not recovered to this day.

Most of rural Haïti is still isolated from global markets, so for many peasants the extermination of the Creole pigs was their first experience of globalization.

— Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization (Common Courage Press, 2000). 13-15.

This insanely destructive scorched-earth massacre of indigenous pigs — carried out by an alliance of multi-national inter-government agencies, and followed by a reconstruction project that amounted to a context-ignorant, centrally-directed forced march towards neoliberal modernization — is a near-perfect illustration of colonialist logic and its real-world effects. The results were a massive ratcheting up of the fixed costs of living for peasants; the violent destruction of locally-based, resilient sources of capital; a massive subsidized transfer of capital and trade into the hands of corporate managers; and the attempted, government-driven remaking of an agricultural economy along lines dictated by the business models of the Metropole. The ruling elite in the U.S., their allies in the international development racket and in the ruling elite of the government that controlled Haiti destroyed local economies, forcibly remade markets in their preferred image, and then called the results progress and integration into global markets. It is of course globalization of a sort — the sort practiced by Alexander or Caesar or Genghis Khan. Whether or not it has anything to do with markets, depends on what it is you think that you are defending, or criticizing, when you talk about markets. If self-organizing markets are going to be worth anything at all, they have to mean more than a cash-nexus yoked to human relations by any means necessary and kept on there no matter the cost to the people’s livelihoods or to the lives of people, animals and the earth. Where markets are valuable, they are valuable precisely because of basic respect for human-scale ownership and evolving patterns of trade, and the people-powered, decentralized, informal and adaptable sorts of relationships like those that emerged around raising and keeping creole pigs — not because of engineered commerce, or the formalized, centralized, high-overhead, government-driven models of industrial agribusiness hog-production.

And if you think colonialism, neoliberalism and forced modernization are only about what happens outside the borders of the U.S., think again. This parable has wings, and colonial reconstruction knows no borders. It’s not the first time that the U.S. government has massacred pigs as a matter of policy; and it applies to lots of other kinds of small-scale personal capital and localized markets, in the internal as well as the external projects of colonizing governments. See, for example, Scratching By, Enclosure Comes to Los Angeles, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc. etc. etc.

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  1. [1] [Aristide is referring to the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture’s program to eradicate African Swine Fever in Haiti — by eradicating the pigs. There was an outbreak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which began in the Dominican Republic. The military dictatorship controlling Haiti at the time attempted a quarantine which slaughtered 20,000 pigs in the area of the Dominican border; they did not pay any compensation to the farmers. IICA, with the collaboration of USAID, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the military dictatorship in Haiti, began the extermination campaign in the 1980s. IICA planned to compensate farmers US $40 for each pig they slaughtered, but when the dictatorship announced the program they made no mention of compensation; so middle-men frequently bought the pigs at a fifth of the fixed compensation. See also Phillip Gaertner, Whether Pigs Have Wings. —CJ.]

Patents kill, part III

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Patents kill people.

Patent restrictions, inflicted in the name of intellectual property, are in reality nothing more than government-granted monopolies — granted in a deliberate effort to lock down ideas, which are, by nature, non-rivalrous resources, discoverable and available to all without conflict, deprivation or exclusion. This effort to monopolize access to human knowledge, and to extract monopoly profits for a term of years, can operate only by forbidding anyone else to peacefully produce — to imitate, duplicate, independently develop, or make improvements on the margin, to new technology and potentially life-saving discoveries. It has nothing to do with protecting property, and everything to do with protecting corporate power at the expense of massive invasions on property — on the equal liberty of generic competitors to make use of their own resources, computers, labs, chemicals and plants to produce and to market similar wares. In the industries dominated by patent privilege, incumbent trans-national corporations, like Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, ransom their fattened profits from legally-secured captive markets, and do it ultimately at the expense, not just of would-be competitors, but also at the expense of those who depend on patent-encumbered technologies for their well-being, their health, or their lives. When this is done to relatively privileged people and useful or enjoyable technologies, this is a crude form of protectionism, and an exploitative burden for the benefit of entrenched capitalists. When it is done to the poorest, most marginalized, and most desperate people, it is an obscene and lethal crime. And that’s what’s happened — just what’s happend — with pharmaceutical corporations’ protected monopolies on antiretroviral drugs for HIV in Africa. Patents kill. They killed millions in the last two decades alone, that open competition and lower prices could have saved. And this crime against humanity was inflicted knowingly, deliberately, not just by Big Pharma — they had no power to stop generics; they couldn’t have done it alone — but by the concerted effort of the United States government, the E.U. governments, the World Trade Organization, and WTO-controlled client states throughout the developing world. Due to the TRIPS protocols on international patents and copyrights — negotiated in the Uruguay Round of GATT and enforced through the World Trade Organization — neo-liberal trade agreements became the key mechanism for a deliberate international governmental campaign to protect the industrial structure of corporate capitalism, even though it meant suppressing the production and trade of affordable HIV drugs in the global South, and even though this inevitably meant millions of preventable deaths.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. . . . As we turn now to another film about what some have described as the crime of the century. The new documentary, Fire in the Blood, explores how major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the United States, prevented tens of millions of people in the developing world from receiving affordable generic AIDS drugs. Millions died as a result. This is a part of the trailer of Fire in the Blood.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Over two million people were reported to have died in that year alone.

YUSUF HAMIED: The whole of Africa was being taken for a ride.

BILL CLINTON: It’s fine for people in rich countries to say this is what it ought to be. They don’t have to live in these little villages and watch people die like flies.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Where are the drugs? The drugs are where the disease is not.

DONALD McNEIL: You fight our patent monopolies, we will make sure you die.

NELSON MANDELA: As long as drugs are not available to everybody, he will not take them.

JAMES LOVE: It was just kind of a crisis of humanity. People just weren’t really human for a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt of Fire in the Blood, the film tracing how Big Pharma refused to allow countries to break patents and allow for the importation of cheap generic AIDS drugs. The problem continues today, as the World Trade Organization continues to block the importation of generic drugs in many countries because of a trade deal known as the TRIPS Agreement. Fire in the Blood just had its North American premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival.

For more, we’re joined by two guests: Dylan Mohan Gray, director of Fire in the Blood, based in Mumbai, India, and Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, a Ugandan AIDS doctor featured in the film, recognized as one of the world’s foremost specialists and researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS. He played a key role in founding Uganda’s HIV/AIDS Joint Clinical Research Centre, and is author of a new book, Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dylan, let’s begin with you, why you made this film.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, basically, I think the story sort of came to me by accident, to be honest. I was working on a film in Sri Lanka in 2004, and I had a day off and just happened to read an article in The Economist, of all things, which—it struck me as very interesting, because it was about one of the characters in our film, Dr. Yusuf Hamied, who’s an Indian generic drug maker, and it was talking about how he was bringing in low-cost antiretroviral medications to Africa. Yet it seemed something interesting was going on beneath the surface. It seemed like this was obviously, you know, to my mind, a very good thing that he was doing, but they were going out of their way, I felt, to attack him, but it wasn’t clear why. So, it piqued my interest. And, you know, not long later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Hamied. And through him, I met several of the other people that became contributors to the film.

And I used to be in the academic world, and, you know, the historian in me was just completely shocked and scandalized that, A, I didn’t know more about the story, and, B, that there was so little written about it or, you know, there were no comprehensive accounts of what had happened—you know, something that had killed 10, 12 million people, and it seemed to have happened almost without a record. So, you know, the impetus to make the film, primarily, was actually to create a record, a memorial and a chronicle of what happened. And as you say, I mean, we consider this to be the crime of the century.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi is featured in the film. And it’s an honor to have you here with us—

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —before you head back home to Uganda, where you had been imprisoned, jailed, as you tried to bring generic drugs into Uganda, to get these drugs at a cheaper amount. Explain what Dr. Hamied did, this—I mean, what Cipla, the head of Cipla did, this drug company, how he challenged the rest of the world in saying he would cut the prices of AIDS drugs from—what was it? The amount that people would have to pay for the triple cocktail, before and after Hamied?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, there was a misinformation, worldwide misinformation, that AIDS drugs were too expensive to manufacture. The second misinformation that was there was that Africans would not be able to use these drugs, that it was impossible to use these drugs in the African condition. Dr. Hamied called the bluff of all of those who were propagating this false information that cost so many lives of people.

AMY GOODMAN: How?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, he just literally announced that it is not true that these drugs can only be manufactured at such an exorbitant cost. He demonstrated that they could be demonstrated at relatively affordable cost, which would save millions of lives because of affordability. So it was the issue of affordability and access where Hamied came in and acted.

AMY GOODMAN: So before him, drug companies were charging like $15,000 for a year for one patient to get a triple cocktail for the year. And he cut that price to less than a dollar a day? $15,000 to $350 for the year?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Yes, and that action was incredible. For the first time, millions of people who were dying stopped dying in Africa, because they started accessing life-saving drugs.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you end up in jail in Uganda?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, it was—I was arrested, but I was rescued because Uganda government was concerned about the plight of the citizens who were dying in such a big number. So an emergency meeting that rescued me from arrest took place in front of the government ministers, and at that meeting I made it clear: I said to the meeting that, Look, your relatives are dying of AIDS. Your citizens are dying of AIDS. I’m a doctor working among the AIDS patients, and I have no tools to save my patients’ lives. All I have done is to import affordable drugs, which will increase access. These drugs are at the airport. They are under your care. You can block them from coming in, but as far as I’m concerned, I have done my job of bringing life-saving drugs to Uganda. And I think they understood. And every one of them had relatives who were suffering from AIDS, or at least a friend whom they knew who had died from AIDS. And so, this was—it was not very difficult to convince them that this action was necessary, and I needed to be out saving lives with drugs instead of being arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: Another of the heroes in the fight to bring life-saving drugs to HIV/AIDS patients is Zackie Achmat of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. In 1999, Achmat, who is HIV-positive, went on a treatment strike in solidarity with others who couldn’t afford medication. He’s featured in Fire in the Blood.

ZAKIE ACHMAT: If my sisters or brothers or cousins had HIV or had AIDS and needed medicines, they wouldn’t have been able to get it. And I grew up in a house where your mom would say, If all the kids can’t have chocolate, one is not going to have it.

NARRATOR: Having made up his mind, Zackie Achmat announced that he would boycott antiretrovirals until the South African government made them available to everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Dylan Mohan Gray, talk about the significance of Zackie Achmat and what the whole issue of patents is about in these U.S. companies.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, Zackie Achmat, as you said, is one of the great heroes of this story. And I think the boycott that he undertook, very much with a sort of a Gandhian impetus in mind, you know, it was a very deliberate action that he took. And as he says in the film, you know, he grew up in a family where his mother said, if one child couldn’t have chocolate, then none of the children were going to get it. And that’s a very simple way of looking at it, but that’s something I think we can all identify with. He grew up, you know, struggling against apartheid in South Africa, a very strong sense of solidarity with his fellow man. And, you know, he could easily have accessed the drugs, because he was an internationally known activist, but he said, No, I’m not going to do it. And he came very close to death by taking that decision. And I think, you know, it had a very, very big impact on waking people, especially in the Western world, up to the reality of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. So, you know, the gamble paid off, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Say that last part.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: I said the gamble paid off. I feel like his gamble that he took—I mean, he risked his life—but in a sense, the gamble paid off, because the impact of what he did, you know, had repercussions throughout the world and woke a lot of people up to the situation of access to medicine in Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how the patents work.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: A patent is a government-granted monopoly or a grant of exclusivity which is given to companies, generally, or individuals, with the idea that by giving a period of the exclusivity, one would incentivize investment. So, what typically happens with pharmaceutical companies is they will purchase technology from others, whether it be universities or small biotech companies or other small innovative outfits, and they will then commercialize these products. And because they will have a monopoly for a period of time, usually a minimum of 20 years, they will be able to set the price at any level they wish. And we have the former vice president of Pfizer in our film, who says very openly the concept is to maximize revenue. It has nothing to do with the cost of research and development.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi, what needs to happen right now, in these last 30 seconds?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, what needs to happen is the realization that an inequitable, unethical situation exists with the related TRIPS Agreement, and that lives, millions of lives, are at stake unless this TRIPS Agreement and patents issue are addressed—not to hurt business, but to make sure that they do not hurt patients and result in a bloodbath, that we have seen in the case of HIV/AIDS.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi from Uganda and Dylan Mohan Gray, director of the new film that has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, Fire in the Blood.

I’m glad this movie has come out — it’s important, and it’s important that people are talking about this. My one reservation is that, when I watched this clip, it took some serious jaw-clenching not to scream out loud when the filmmakers brought William Jefferson Clinton, political philanthropist and ex-President of the United States, on screen to moralize and to lecture us about the HIV crisis in Africa. Of course the crisis is appalling, and the result of policies which are deeply immoral. But whose policies? Just who do they think negotiated and signed TRIPS? The AIDS crisis is a crime inflicted on Africa by governments, and at the head of the most powerful government inflicting it were President Clinton, his administration, and his successors. He and they have blood on their hands.

Patents kill people. They mean that the pharmaceutical cartel can call up the armed bully-boys of almost every government in the world in order to enforce artificially high prices for their top money-makers; and that means that State violence is being used to prevent affordable, life-saving drugs from reaching the desparate and the poor. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO — are slowly cutting back on traditional industrial protectionism while dramatically expanding the scale, scope, and deadly reach of intellectual protectionism.

To hell with that. Intellectual property is not about incentivizing or encouraging or opportunities. It’s about force: invading other people’s property to force them to render long-term rents to corporate monopolists, long after they have stopped putting any particular work into what they are claiming to be theirs. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer innovations based on the work that they control, unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. They have no right to do that, and they sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture, free knowledge and free technology. Patents kill and freedom saves people’s lives. This is as dead simple as it gets. To hell with state monopolies; to hell with state capitalism.

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