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Why USAID should quit India and look after America

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The 'Feeding America' county-level food insecurity map. the social situation confronting the great mass of the population, young and old, is characterised by economic insecurity, depressed wages and unprecedented levels of debt.

The ‘Feeding America’ county-level food insecurity map. the social situation confronting the great mass of the population, young and old, is characterised by economic insecurity, depressed wages and unprecedented levels of debt.

There is no practical, moral, democratic and defensible reason any longer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue to have anything to do in India (or anywhere else) relating to food or hunger or poverty.

This is because the growth of food insecurity in the USA has paralleled the rise in the numbers of those who are poor, by any measure whether in terms of income, lack of access to a balanced diet, lack of access to essential social sector services. According to studies that have been released from late 2013 onwards, the number of households in the USA that live on less than US$2 per day more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, from 636,000 to 1.46 million. Moreover, there are now nearly 3 million children who live in households that earn less than $2 per day.

It is absurd and deeply cynical for the government of Barack Obama, the White House, the US State Department, and a host of top-ranking thinktanks to continue to claim that Indo-American ties require USAID and USDA to continue propagating agricultural models and advocating technology-centric solutions in India to solve our problems of poverty and hunger. India must halt all activity with these two agencies and advise them bluntly to turn inwards – for by their own charters that is where they are needed.

The latest evidence comes from Feeding America, which is the national network of food banks in the USA. It has just released its annual report on local food insecurity which shows that one in six Americans – including one in five children – did not have enough to eat at some point in 2012. The report found that there are dozens of counties where more than a third of children do not get enough to eat. The incidence of hunger has grown dramatically. The percentage of households that are “food insecure” rose from 11.1% in 2007 to 16% in 2012.

According to separate data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), food insecurity is more widespread in the USA than in any other major developed country, with the rate of food insecurity in the US nearly twice that of the European Union average, which is by itself worrying for what purport to be the so-called ‘advanced’ economies (whereas India is ’emerging’).

US_hunger_detail_20140421That we have a situation wherein USAID and USDA (“from the American people”, is the sanctimonious tagline attached to USAID interference, when the American people do not know what injustice is being done to other people in their name, and when they are being robbed of food so that American foreign policy goals are fulfilled) continue to set aid agendas in South Asia while a fifth of American children are hungry is an international social disaster fostered by the current economic system and its political defenders.

In the USA both Democratic and Republican administrations (there is no real difference) have become adept at starving anti-poverty programmes, but have taken that expertise to new levels under Obama. The US Congress and the White House have overseen two successive food stamp cuts in just six months: first in November 2013, when benefits were slashed US$36 per month for a family of four, and again in January 2014, when benefits were cut by an average of US$90 per month for nearly a million households.

Even when the US Census had signalled the new levels of impoverishment reached by the average household, some US$4.1 billion was cut from the food stamps, or SNAP, programme citing “waste, fraud and abuse”. It is significant to note here that exactly the same kind of language has been used in India to call for the curtailing and eventual dismantling of our Public Distribution System (PDS). In cutting about US$90 a month in benefits for 500,000 households – more than a week’s worth of assistance for a typical American family in need – they now encroached on the US$1.50 per person per meal equation (around Rs 90, which may buy two meagre vegetarian thalis in an Indian city).

The government of the USA has done this at a time when, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it spent in 2013 US$640 billion which amounted to 36% of the entire world’s total military expenditure. Still unsatisfied by such heinous perversion, the American White House and Congress discontinued unemployment benefits for some three million people (and their two million dependent children), but continued to stall the prosecution of the financial criminals responsible for the 2008 crash.

The concentration of wealth at one social pole is coupled with disastrous social conditions at the other. A generation of young people in the USA has been thrust into poverty and joblessness – almost 16% of young people aged 25 to 34 have incomes below the national poverty line. In comparison, 10% of people in the same age group were in poverty in 2000. The median income of young households is $8,000 less than it was in 2000, in real terms.

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Official, how the rise of the 1% deepened social inequality in the USA

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The report, ‘Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007’, by the Congressional Budget Office (October 2011) on income inequality underscores the total disengagement between the Obama administration and the entire political system on the one hand and the interests and desires of the vast majority of Americans on the other. In the USA, the political and media establishment is presently occupying itself instead with a debate over how much further taxes for the corporations and the rich should be cut and how much more deeply social programs for workers and poor people should be slashed.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report stated: “To assess trends in the distribution of household income, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) examined the span from 1979 to 2007 because those endpoints allow comparisons between periods of similar overall economic activity (they were both years before recessions). The growth in average income for different groups over the 1979–2007 period reflects a comparison of average income for those groups at different points in time; it does not reflect the experience of particular households. Individual households may have moved up or down the income scale if their income rose or fell more than the average for their initial group. Thus, the population with income in the lowest 20 percent in 2007 was not necessarily the same as the population in that category in 1979.”

The massive growth of social inequality over the past three decades has been the result of an unrelenting ruling class offensive against the working class. That assault has been carried out under Democratic as well as Republican administrations.

The CBO report stated: “Real (inflation-adjusted) mean household income, measured after government transfers and federal taxes, grew by 62 percent between 1979 and 2007. Over the same period, real median after-tax household income (half of all households have income below the median, and half have income above it) grew by 35 percent. Because the mean (or average) can be heavily influenced by very high or very low incomes, the large gap between mean and median income growth signals a pattern of growth that was heavily weighted toward households with income well above the median.”

The offensive against American labour and the working class was launched in earnest during the Ronald Reagan presidency, as early as 1981. That was the signal for more than a decade of wage-cutting, strike-breaking, union-busting and labor frame-ups, made possible by the complicity of the trade union bureaucracy. It deliberately isolated and betrayed scores of bitter struggles in order to break the militant resistance of the working class.

The CBO report stated: “The distribution of after-tax income (including government transfer payments) became substantially more unequal from 1979 to 2007 as a result of a rapid rise in income for the highest-income households, sluggish income growth for the middle 60 percent of the population, and an even smaller increase in after-tax income for the 20 percent of the population with the lowest income.”

The spread of social misery in the midst of soaring corporate profits and CEO pay is starkly shown in the growth of poverty in US suburbs. The New York Times recently reported that the ranks of the poor living in the suburbs of US cities rose by more than half between 2000 and 2010. Two thirds of these new suburban poor dropped below the official poverty line between 2007 and 2010. The Times article, reporting analyses of US Census data by the Brookings Institution, said the increase in poverty in the suburbs was 53 percent, compared with 26 percent in the cities.

In fact, average real after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007. Average real after-tax income for that group has been quite volatile: It spiked in 1986 and fell in 1987, reflecting an acceleration of capital gains realizations into 1986 in anticipation of the scheduled increase in tax rates the following year.

Income growth for the top 1 percent of the population rebounded in 1988 but fell again with the onset of the 1990–1991 recession. By 1994, after-tax household income was 50 percent higher than it had been in 1979. Income growth surged in 1995, averaging more than 11 percent per year through 2000. After falling sharply in 2001 because of the recession and stock market drop, average real after-tax income for the top 1 percent of the population rose by more than 85 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Written by makanaka

December 15, 2011 at 22:31