Shuck and Jive

Monday, July 21, 2008

Presby Peace Conference, Part 2

Three keynote speakers addressed the Presbyterian Peace Conference this past week.

Anuhurata Mittal of
The Oakland Institute spoke Wednesday morning about the food crisis in the world.

Seventy-seven percent of the people in India live on less than 50 cents per day. Like many countries around the world, India faces an increasing disparity between the wealthy and the poor.

"What is the cause?" she asked us.

She told us that the cause of the world food crisis is not by accident or is it because we lack the technological capacity to secure food.

There are structural causes that have been in place for decades.
Consider: India grows flowers for export to the United States. Flowers--not food for its own people. Why? Who benefits? Why is Coca Cola producing soft drinks in India?

The real cause is injustice. This includes the lack of living wage jobs and transnational corporations that have taken over the food system.

In a conversation she held the next day, I asked her what is the most important thing I can take back to my congregation. She said that we need to open our eyes to the true causes of hunger.

Ms. Mittal said that nations need food sovereignty and that there will be no peace when there is hunger. The true causes of hunger are human-made decisions that can be changed.

She was one of three speakers to recommend the same book:

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein.

I purchased the book at the campus bookstore and have finished about a third of it. It is an eye-opener. Check out an interview with Klein on Democracy Now!

Here is a summary:

In THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, Naomi Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world-- through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.

Mittal also recommended Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Families and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis. I haven't checked that book out yet, but I will. Here is a summary:

Late Victorian Holocausts focuses on three zones of drought and subsequent famine: India, Northern China; and Northeastern Brazil. All were affected by the same global climatic factors that caused massive crop failures, and all experienced brutal famines that decimated local populations. But the effects of drought were magnified in each case because of singularly destructive policies promulgated by different ruling elites.

Davis argues that the seeds of underdevelopment in what later became known as the Third World were sown in this era of High Imperialism, as the price for capitalist modernization was paid in the currency of millions of peasants' lives.

I heard themes like this again and again from the speakers and from those who brought back stories from our partner churches in South America, Asia, and Africa. But not only there, also in America. We are giving our sovereignty away to corporations and to those who benefit by them. People are suffering for it.

But another theme of this conference was that this can change. Around the world people are opening their eyes and are resisting. I heard those kinds of stories as well, including people in India who shut down a Coca-Cola plant that had been using so much drinking water that there was little left for the people. The people stood up, organized, and made a difference. Check Sarah's blog for the story.

More to come.

Presbyterian Peace Conference, Part 1


  1. Thanks John for sharing your experiences and what you learned. I am glad that you point out that the international food crisis is caused by the
    "transnational corporations that have taken over the food system." and that .."nations need food sovereignty and that there will be no peace when there is hunger.The true causes of hunger are human-made decisions that can be changed."

    I agree with all your statements, but I want to know what must be done to stop all the injustice. I don't think that change will come until something major happens--like we are seeing now--the dollar bottoming out, declining economy, more wars, energy crisis, etc. My question is how bad will things in America have to get to wake people up to the truth about how our two party system in the U.S. is, in reality, two sides to the same coin and that change is not going to come unless we change the whole money/economic system. Who is ready for that kind of change?

  2. If you want to read a copy of The Shock Doctrine tell Sand I said to give you my copy that she's borrowed but not read yet. I recommend the book as well.

  3. Oh John... this is really important stuff.

    That's all I can say right now.

  4. I don't know if I believe that "the true causes of hunger are human-made decisions that can be changed."

    My experience with family members with self-destructive tendencies is that they do not make the decisions they should even though they would be better off. I even can apply this to myself.

    One example that hit me was the video: The Plight of the Chesapeake Bay Watermen which showed how "Susan Drake Emmerich encouraged this island community to open their own Bibles to see that some of their attitudes and practices were threatening their jobs and jeopardizing the valuable resource they wanted to preserve for future generations." One of the comments made by another conservationist on the video was that he had been working with them for years and she was able, through a faith based approach, to start to make an impact.

    A breif history: the people on the island were making bad decisions with overharvesting and polluting. Their harvests had dwindled to 1%. The non-faith based approach did not change their decisions. If this is the case, which I believe it is, then the human-made decisions follow faith decisions.

    In His Love,
    Paul Schmidt
    Johnson City, TN

  5. Rachel--thanks. You could be right, and probably are regarding something major. I ultimately hold out hope for creativity and justice.

    Doc M.--I have that book. Better get Snad to reading. As if she has a job or something.

    Fran--Glad you are here!

    Paul--That's it! The problem with 77% of India's population is that they haven't read their Bibles.

  6. You have got to be joking. You actually believe that the cause of human hunger and suffering in India is due to American/Western forms of Capitalism?
    You don't think that the caste system of Hinduism has anything to do with this? There are 250,000,000 people who are considered complete outcasts. The Dalits (the untouchables) are considered to be lower than the lowest caste and the fact that they are starving holds no meaning within the Hindu caste system (Hinduism's systemic evil), which has existed for over 3,000 years. But now you seemingly have the problem pegged. It is the evil empire known as America and it's subversive capitalistic economic system.

    You might want to check out the film by Dr. Joseph D'souza titled "India's Hidden Slavery".

    You can also get more information at .

  7. Wow. Here come the neocons.

    "You have got to be joking. You actually believe that the cause of human hunger and suffering in India is due to American/Western forms of Capitalism?"

    I am not joking.

  8. Ahhh! Excellent response. Begin with an insult (or at least I think that is what you thought of as an insult), followed by...hmmm...nothing. What is your response to the systemic evil of Hinduism's caste system? You really don't believe that valuing a quarter of a billion people as much less than human and systemic slavery (which is at the heart of hinduism) is at the very least a major contributing factor?

  9. You may know more about Hinduism and the caste system than I. What I took away from this conference and the speakers and the books I am reading (ie. Naomi Klein) is that the multi-national corporations and so-called free trade is at the root of much of the suffering around the world including India. That becomes an issue for me to investigate.

  10. At the simplest level, there are two economic systems: a voluntary exchange system, and an involuntary exchange system. An ideal voluntary exchange system is one where people voluntarily exchange goods with no coercion, fraud, or force involved. Involuntary exchange systems involve some sort of force, or threats of force, to exchange goods.

    When someone says they are a capitalist or for the free market, they are most likely referring to the first definition -- a voluntary exchange system. Involuntary exchange systems range from a mixture of state and business to socialism, fascism, and communism. (The U.S. is a mixed economy, where some sectors have more government involvement, and others have less.)

    Now, just the absence of force, fraud, and coercion will not solve all problems. And that is where Christians and charitable organizations step in to help. And again, instead of using force, they use peaceful methods, such as persuasion, donations, and volunteering time.

    As Christians, let's choose the voluntary exchange system, mixed with caring and compassion for others.

  11. John thanks for the links to the articles. I really liked the second one by Mittal.

    Alot of articles want to blame the free-markets. I believe they are mistaken when they point the finger at free enterprise. If we truly had free markets today, then we wouldn't need organizations such as the IMF, World Trade Organization, etc., and we wouldn't have treaties such as NAFTA. These organizations and agreements make the appearance of free trade, when in practice they are not free trade. The "free-trade" that we have today is regulated, managed trade for the benefit of special interests.

    NAFTA-style trade agreements are a little bit of free trade for select special interests (i.e. agriculture exporting companies, etc.), and a little bit of protectionism for select special interests (i.e. Big Pharma and financial service industries, etc.), used as the delivery mechanism to lock in a sweeping corporate rights agenda. They could have done it with candy, but instead they chose "trade," which is why groups all across the country with a variety of views on the desirability of "free trade" realize that NAFTA-style trade agreements are not about that, and indeed about much more.

  12. This is a serious post: children are starving. There are two maps on the Internet, that, when you look at them, need serious consideration.

    To someone that does not have enough food to live on, labels and names of economic systems do not matter!

    The two maps, when viewed together, look very similar, but measure very different things. The first is the World Hunger Map. It shows which countries have the biggest problems with hunger. The second map is the Economic Freedom Map. This map shows where there is the most economic freedom in the world.

    This is serious and people are really dying of hunger.

    When looking at the two maps, notice the correlation. They are not exact, but it is easy to pick out countries that have high hunger problems and see if they also have little economic freedom.

    If you look at these maps and see a correlation, you must make a decision about how economic freedom helps feed the hungry. It may take more research. It may mean finding other data to compare. But it is important because people are starving.

  13. Paul, I'm not real sure the point you are trying to make. True the free market has made many people and nations wealthy, but that did not give them right to take advantage of this wealth and intervene in the economies of the world. The true cause of the food crisis is not free markets. The true cause is trade policies and Structural Adjustment Programs forced upon them by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank . This 'unholy trinity', as these partner institutions are often described, has brought our current food crisis upon us through their neoliberal 'free' trade agenda, tailoring markets in developing countries to suit Northern corporations. Here is a must read article to understanding the root causes of the food crisis.
    The Austrian School teaches us that State intervention in markets leads to often unforeseen and disastrous consequences. The global food crisis is a result of State intervention in the most vital of markets, the grain market. We may well be headed for an unprecedented global catastrophe.

  14. Well, I'm certainly confused. One group of people feel that all the evils of the world can be traced to capitalism. Another thinks that free markets will be our salvation economically, and unjust trade policies are to blame for world hunger.

    Still others point to problematic religious practices.

    I'm not sure what to believe.

    But, to coin a phrase from the X-files, the truth must be out there.

  15. Great comment, Grace! That's just what I was thinking...and I'm looking forward to the new movie, X-Files: I want to Believe. I like the catchy title.

    The scary thing is that I would say the majority of Americans (and possibly the world) think that we live in a free-democratic society. That is what they have been telling us as far back as I can remember. I mean that is what we are taught in school, mainstream media, etc.

    So what is your take? Are we a free-democratic Nation?

  16. Rachel,

    I agree with what you are saying -- that the term 'free market' can be misused and include systems that require state intervention.

    It is also interesting that the Economic Freedom Map is based off an index that ranks India at 115 out of 150 in economic freedom -- not very good! Using India, though, to prove that capitalism doesn't work, is like using the USSR to prove democracy doesn't work.

    Another person wrote on one discussion forum that Nicaragua was proof that capitalism didn't work. At the time, their Economic Freedom index was much worse than India's. The example they gave was when the army came in and stopped competition from a co-op. This is called fascism, not free-market capitalism.

  17. One group of people feel that all the evils of the world can be traced to capitalism.

    Like, apparently, God.

  18. Paul, I'm still laughing at your map of "Economic Freedom" supplied by The Heritage Foundation. For one thing, it's woefully inaccurate, except as a map of countries with right-leaning governments. Saudi Arabia and Oman are shown as being just as "free" as France, South Korea and Norway. Tell that to the women in Riyadh who cannot earn or save or invest money.

    My day job involves cartography, so no, the two maps do NOT look similar. Chile is depicted as "Mostly Free" and Argentina as "Mostly Unfree" by Heritage, yet the World Food Programme map shows the level of hunger in both countries as "very low". Armenia and Iceland are both depicted as "Mostly Free" by Heritage, but the WFP says that Armenia's hunger is "moderately high" while Iceland's is "extremely low". Likewise, South Africa and Madagascar score the same on "freedom", but the hunger scores are at the polar extremes.

    It's a great way to mislead with a map. Because Subsaharan Africa is centered on a Greenwich-based map, it is the most prominent to the eye. The maps are noticeably different if you just compare Latin America, Eurasia, and the Middle East.

    This isn't to diminish the grinding poverty affecting Africa. But it's safe to say that every conceivable form of economy has been tried in Africa, from colonial exploitation (that still leaves a huge mark on the continent), to laissez-faire capitalism, to Communism, to kleptocracy, to socialism, and to pure anarchy. Mere charity from high-minded Christians in Europe and North America has failed. Much of Africa has descended into a vicious circle where hunger leads to economic stagnation and political repression, which leads to hunger, and on and on.

    As we celebrate 75 years of the New Deal, it's worth remembering that the laissez-faire capitalism of the free market in the 1920s almost destroyed the United States. In 1933, people were actively advocating both fascism and communism in the US. FDR helped get through such "coercive" programs as the FDIC, the SEC, Social Security (an insurance program to guarantee that no more elderly people would have to starve after their nest eggs crashed with the market), etc. etc. etc. The Glass-Steagall Act (the removal of which we are now suffering the consequences of) and other legislation that required corporations to behave in a responsible manner is key to how corporate capitalism works (which, let's be honest, is what "the free market" means in today's world--Adam Smith was horrified at the idea of corporations).

    A corporation is a person at law that is legally obligated to maximize the return on investment of its stockholders. Should a corporation engage in activity that goes contrary to that principle, it can be sued by its stockholders. Corporations have to shield what little benevolence they engage in behind the fig leaf of "goodwill" (and the putative extra revenue it generates), and they tread a fine line in that regard.

    That having been said, it must do so within the law of the place where it is doing business. Even if it harms the bottom line of the company to clean up its toxic waste, the board of directors cannot be held accountable for it, because they have to do it to comply with the law. Many companies welcome environmental regulation, because it gives them an opportunity to clean up their act, but not to be put at a cost disadvantage to their apathetic competitors.

    Basically, in a small-d, small-r democratic republic, government is US. Government's obligation is not to stockholders, but to voters.

  19. flycandler,

    I am surprised you did not see a correlation between the two maps. I don't know what you consider a correlation. If the maps were exact, I would suspect they would be deceptive, so differences are expected. Also, note, that how the maps are made could make a difference, also. Just changing some of the ranges could make them correlate more or less.

    Another choice is to find other maps and compare them. The Human Suffering Index might be one and there are other hunger maps that look different than this one (I noticed difference in Argentina and Chile.)

    Your point about economic freedom in certain countries can be obtained from Heritage, who makes all the criteria available that comprises the whole index. Your observations about the objective criteria they used on the contries sound valid and would make interesting research. Let me know if you look into it and what you find.

    (Also, it is fair to point out that the hunger index should lag the economic freedom index. Economic freedom may take awhile to reduce the poverty, just as a loss of freedom may take awhile to create poverty. A fairer comparison would be and economic freedom map from several years ago.)

    Now a comment on corporations. This also may be of interest to some other references on this post about multinational corporations.

    Corporations and governments are both similar and different. They also can be good and beneficial to society, or bad and detrimental. (This oversimplifies as they are probably both shades of gray.)

    If both corporations and governments are "good" we have no worries.

    If corporations are "bad" and government is "good", then the the government will properly use threats and force against unjust practices of the corporations.

    If corporations are "good" and government is "bad", then the corporation will be hurt because it will refuse to bribe the government officials or take part in the corruption giving themselves a competitive disadvantage.

    If both are "bad", then we are in real trouble. The corporations in collusion with the government will serve their own selfish interests first.

    From these four cases, I think a "bad" government can cause problems no matter what, while a "bad" corporation can be limited by a "good" government.

    It takes two to tango. To put the blame on multinational corporations alone, is to let "bad" governmental policies get by, but more scrutiny should be put on government.

    The reason is that corporations are different than government. corporations can use persuasion and money to get what they want, governments use threats and force. When you tie the two together (fascism and levels of mixed economies) you are in trouble if either one is corrupt.

  20. “As we celebrate 75 years of the New Deal, it's worth remembering that the laissez-faire capitalism of the free market in the 1920s almost destroyed the United States.”

    flycandler, I know that is what they taught us in grade school, but there is a lot of evidence that points to the contrary. It is a myth that laissez faire capitalism caused the Great Depression and that government intervention in the economy ended it. The fact is, however, that the Federal Reserve was founded in 1913, a full 16 years before the fateful stock market crash of 1929. The Fed presided over an expansion of the credit market, which produced the roaring 20’s, the largest economic bubble in history before its collapse.

    More recently, we have seen the dot com bubble and now the real estate mortgage bubble. Both of these bubbles are created by government intervention in the credit market through the Federal Reserve central bank.
    Google: Federal Reserve and Great Depression
    Read: The Creature from Jekyll island

  21. Paul,

    You wrote in an earlier comment:

    "At the simplest level, there are two economic systems: a voluntary exchange system, and an involuntary exchange system. An ideal voluntary exchange system is one where people voluntarily exchange goods with no coercion, fraud, or force involved. Involuntary exchange systems involve some sort of force, or threats of force, to exchange goods."

    This is actually the point of what I heard at the Peacemaking Conference.

    For me, what I heard, is not that capitalism is evil and socialism is not.

    What I heard is that the move since the 70s has forced people to trade on the global scale against their wishes.

    This Free Trade has been accompanied by force. That is the point that Naomi Klein details in her book.

    From what I heard at this conference the free trade has not been voluntary trade but involuntary trade and U.S. citizens including me, need to understand how we are complicit in this.

  22. ..." U.S. citizens including me, need to understand how we are complicit in this."

    Ever since I was a small child (about eight or so), I remember always feeling bad about the poor people in third world countries, and thinking to myself that it is not fair how they live. I remember having feelings of not liking America because it had so much and these people had so little. As a girl, I always wanted to visit a third-world country as opposed to Paris or Italy like my other girlfriends...

    I wonder how many Americans will remain complicit once they hear the truth like you?

    In your opinion, what can I do to not remain complicit? Should I not visit the grocery store, buy oil, etc. I have to live and feed my family. The only thing I feel that I can do is fight to change the system.

    If all this talk is making you feel gloomy, here is a HAPPY-WORLD-dancing video. Be sure to watch it in high quality.

  23. Thanks Rachel,

    I think you answered for me. Keep up the fight and remember to take time to dance. : )

  24. Rachel and John,

    Thanks for your notes. I think it is important to attack these problems from both the system level and the personal.

    As a pesonal solution, I am urging the company where I work to look at Business as Ministry (BAM). This involves helping poor people in formerly communist countries start their own legitimate businesses.

  25. Thanks, Paul. Along those lines our congregation is considering oikocredit

  26. John,

    Oikocredit sounds very exciting. Our office is next to a company that does research on companies for Social Responsible Investing (SRI) and I asked the boss about Oikocredit. He liked it. He said if he had a large amount of money to invest to help others, he would use microfinancing since it would help a group of people, not just one.

    He said there were alot of positive things about Oikocredit after a quick search on the Internet. He didn't see any problem with smaller investments ($10,000) but he would want yearly financials to research Oikocredit for bigger investments ($100,000+). If you get that for your church, he would also be interested in seeing that.

    My best to you and your congregation on this innovative endeavor!

  27. Thanks, Paul. Peace to you, my friend.