Slums in Capitalist Utopia

One out of every two Mumbaikars is a slum dweller, according to the latest report of a research carried out jointly by the Brihanmumbai (Greater Mumbai) Municipal Corporation and the UNO.  Mumbai (Bombay) is the financial capital of India.  50 percent of the population in the financial capital of a flourishing economy live in slums.  Worse, the slums occupy only 5 percent of the total area of Mumbai. 

One of the worst pitfalls of the present capitalism-driven globalisation is the rapidly widening gap between the haves and have-nots.  Globalisation promised more wealth for more people leading eventually to the wellbeing of the whole mankind.  What has happened, however, is more (and more) wealth for a few people and greater misery for the rest.

Most of the countries that capitulated to globalisation ended up with debilitating economic disparities.  Poland, for example, embraced globalisation in the early 1990s.  The country’s economy was liberalised and privatisation gained full momentum.  As a result unemployment skyrocketed.  Even now Poland has the highest rate of unemployment in the European Union.  40 percent of young workers were unemployed in 2006 (after a decade-and-a-half’s economic reform), twice the EU average.  If 15 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line before globalisation, the figure rose steeply to 60 percent after globalisation. 

Deng Xiaoping imported the corporate economy into China ten years before Poland was forced to do so.  When Poland was beginning to learn the lessons in corporate economy from Jeffrey Sachs, China was pumping bullets into the hearts of young student-protestors in Tiananmen Square.  Five days after the bloodiest massacre in modern China’s history Deng dismissed the protestors as “the dregs of society” and declared that he was protecting not Communism but capitalism.  Capitalism received a red carpet welcome to China, the carpet reddened with the blood of Chinese youth.  A decade-and-a-half later 90 percent of China’s billionaires are the children of the Communist Party officials who became the country’s corporate honchos.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese workers today work in sweatshops or similar conditions.  Despite the 9 percent annual economic growth, more and more Chinese are rendered incapable of having the basic services like primary healthcare and education.  With low taxes and tariffs, corruptible officials and abundant low-wage working population, China today is the sweatshop of the world, thanks to globalisation.

Globalisation was foisted upon South Africa’s gullible ANC and consequentially on the black South Africans as the price they had to pay for liberating themselves from apartheid.  Ten years after its globalising enterprises what has South Africa achieved?  The number of people living on less than one dollar per day doubled from 2 million to 4 million.  The unemployment rate for black South Africans more than doubled from 23 percent to 48 percent.  Of South Africa’s 35 million black citizens, only 5000 earn more than $60,000 a year.  The number of whites in that income bracket is 20 times higher.  2 million people lost their homes in the decade-long period of globalisation.  About 1 million people were evicted from their farms in that period raising the number of shack dwellers by 50 percent. 

In 1989, before Russia rolled out its red carpet to the market economy, 2 million people in the Russian Federation lived in poverty, on less than $4 a day.  In 1996, 25 percent of Russians – about 37 million people – lived in poverty described as “desperate.”  In 2006 the Russian government admitted that there were 715,000 homeless kids in the country, while UNICEF put the number at 3.5 million.  Many Russians committed suicide unable to carry the burden put on them by the liberal economy of their country.  “The years of criminal capitalism have killed off 10 percent of our population,” lamented Vladimir Gusev, a Moscow academic at a 2006 demonstration.  Russia is losing about 700,000 people a year due to poverty and poverty-related reasons such as crimes. 

There are more examples from other countries.  But let me conclude.

I have taken most of the material for this article from Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine.  Let me conclude this with a quote from the book.

The movement that Milton Friedman launched in the 1950s is best understood as an attempt by multinational capital to recapture the highly profitable, lawless frontier that Adam Smith, the intellectual forefather of today’s neoliberals, so admired…

Where Smith saw fertile green fields turned into profitable farmlands on the pampas and the prairies, Wall Street saw “green field opportunities” in Chile’s phone system, Argentina’s airline, Russia’s oil fields, Bolivia’s water system, the United States’ public airwaves, Poland’s factories – all built with the public wealth, then sold for a trifle.

The wealth that belongs to the whole country is being given very generously to a few individuals who have the financial capacity to bribe the political leaders and pay the prices quoted by them.  Look at some of the land deals for various industrial enterprises and SEZs in India, for example.  Public wealth has slowly been handed over to a few individuals in the form of shares in the stock market.  As a result more and more people will move out of the purview of the government.  Less and less people will come to inherit the earth.  More and more people will move into slums….


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4 Responses to Slums in Capitalist Utopia

  1. jaijui says:

    dear matheikal,
    mumbai is my city that i dearly love ..and it saddens me to see the reality that u write about ..slum dwellers etc ..what is the solution i wonder ..the minute one removes the slums .ten of them make their homes there ..kind of impossible situation

    • matheikal says:

      It’s not an impossible situation, Jaijui. It has only been made impossible by the vendors of neoliberalism. The solution lies in taking away the power from the traders and giving it to the people, the people in reality.
      What the “vendors” are doing now is to create a new caste system. In place of the old one where the Brahmin ruled now the trader rules. Let the people rule. Let humanity rule.

  2. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    Matheikal, Russia’s problem with embracing corporate capitalism had one positive fall out – Jeffrey Sachs stopped giving the kind of advice he gave to Equador or Clombia (I do not remember which), the neo-liberal concentrate. He is now, quite palpably, sitting on the other side of the fence.

    So, you see, neo-liberalism is not all that bad!

    Raghuram Ekambaram

  3. Pingback: India’s War on Maoists « Matheikal's Blog

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