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By J.S. Larochelle, 2003


In his book Unequal Freedoms: The Global Market as an Ethical System, John McMurtry bluntly states: "Deprive a child of all clean water or protein, and the child will invariably suffer rapid degeneration of life-powers. Deprive a person of habitation in most climates, and that person will soon experience a very reduced range of thought, feeling, and movement and, perhaps, in a number of hours, death from exposure."

A typical 'press release' about the fresh water crisis states: "there is already a massive water problem in the world...polluted water affects the health of over one billion people worldwide; water-borne diseases... kill an estimated three million people every year."


Even as millions of people die from poverty-related causes, others have become millionaires and even multi-billionaires, as such, many people continue to argue that we have made 'progress.'

We are told that slavery is illegal now and that women can have paid jobs. Above all else, we are told that more jobs will solve our social problems. But we must ask why the world's economy isn't producing a sufficient quantity of the material things and services that all people need to be healthy and to not live in poverty?

Surely, if average people had power, they would demand to build enough houses and grow enough food for all. One aspect of wage slavery is having no control over what work we do on the job. Another is not being paid enough money as a wage slave to meet our basic health needs.

But many politicians and social leaders act as if economics were somehow ethically 'neutral' and that it makes no difference what the world's businesses produce as long as the business owners and investors make sufficient profits. They also seem to not care that many people's wages are far too low to maintain adequate heath.


In a chapter titled The Economics of Life and Death, McMurtry writes: "Today in the market doctrine all that exists is conceived of as a servant of corporations competing against one another in the global market place to maximize capital returns. Life has become the instrument of capital expansion, rather than investors' capital being a means to enable human life. The world of values has been turned upside down."

Average people would value their good health and life above all else and would act to preserve their health. But to do this they 'must' use a necessary portion of their time and the world's material and energy resources to ensure that they have nutritious food, housing and other life-sustaining things.

However, business people are compelled by market forces to fire as many workers as possible and to replace them with more productive machines to generate higher profits. And 'gains' in 'productivity' in the last centuries are due to fast, hard-working machines spewing out vast quantities of soda pop, beer, candy and cigarettes.

Meanwhile, the World-Watch Institute states: "For the first time in human history, the number of overweight people rivals the number of underweight people... While the world's underfed population has declined slightly since 1980 to 1.1 billion, the number of overweight people has surged to 1.1 billion."

Ill health is created by over-consumption, which in turn creates jobs in the growing health care industry; however, many jobs are now dependent on the continuation of the ill health caused by over-consumption.


No one needs to consume junk food to be healthy or to have a good life, and yet, the market system is producing staggering quantities of it. John McMurtry writes: "We might wonder why market theory and practice, with their highly developed lexicon of concepts and principles, have no idea of the meaning of need. The burning issue of what people need, as distinguished from their "effective demand" is never raised in market analysis."

No one lives in poverty due to a shortage of soda pop and yet in the last century vast amounts of time, energy and material resources have been requisitioned by the business sector to produce and sell more of it. However, we could obviously use these same 'soda pop' resources to build homes, community gardens and provide water, sanitation and health care.


Free-market businesspeople and their political, media and academia allies point out that their economic freedom permits them to do as they please. But 'freedom' does not explain why business people choose to make and aggressively market, advertise and sell products that cause ill health.

Business people are continuing to make and sell junk food because they have no choice under the market system. John McMurtry uses the term "the freedom of no alternative" to describe how the market's media wing presents the so-called hard economic facts.

He states: " the daily barrage of media we come across few-if any-voices that doubt the truth or goodness of free trade or the global economy... We are unlikely to come across any elected mainstream political party that challenges the necessity of ever more economic restructuring, worker shedding, and painful cuts to public health programs, universal education, and social security"


In the foreword to Richard Douthwaite's book The Growth Illusion, David Korten writes: "Seduced by the dangerous illusion that our technologies place us beyond the constraints of life's natural limits, and forgetful that we have created economic institutions for which the creation of livelihoods is incidental to the making of money for those who already have far more than they need. The result is an economic system that is mindlessly converting life into money in an act of collective insanity."

Douthwaite himself writes: "Companies and entrepreneurs make decisions on whether or not to invest according to the likely profitability of their projects to them. For over two hundred people have had no responsibility to consider how their ventures would affect anyone or anything else."

"only that work will be called productive that really produces, maintains and enhances life..."

- Mies &


Maria Mies is an author who has written about the imperative to rethink our economics and our job system to create health-giving subsistence for all. In The Subsistence Perspective co-authored with Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, they state: "only that work will be called productive that really produces, maintains and enhances life..."

Only the rich benefit from the present system of destructive jobs that produce junk food and other health-destroying products. John Ruskin, the nineteenth-century writer, used the term "illth" to describe the fact that the economy produces "bad" products as well as good.

We have created a market-driven economic system in which millions of people's jobs now depend on "illth" industries that are producing widespread ill health even while millions of others live and die in poverty.

The only solution that the world's leaders have to end poverty is for more people to get jobs and be more productive. But what exactly can these world leaders mean by more productivity? Are they telling us that we should all be trying to get people to eat more junk food, drink more alcohol and smoke more cigarettes?

Given this situation, many people have concluded that our current social and political leaders are so completely hampered by their own financial self-interests that they have no will to solve the world's poverty problems.

This means that average people will have to take direct action to insure that we have access to the resources we need to feed and shelter ourselves. This also means that we must withdraw our support for the current job system and stop going to work at destructive jobs. And instead of destructive work, we can work to grow and build things for their health value and for permanence -not merely for their cold, hard 'cash' value.


Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1767.
Douthwaite, Richard, The Growth Illusion: How Economic Growth has Enriched the Few, Impoverished the Many, and Endangered the Planet, 1992, 1999.
C. L'Hirondelle, Housework under Capitalism, 2000.
Samuel Johnson Taxation No Tyranny.
Mies, Maria and Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika, The Subsistence Perspective : Beyond the Globalised Economy, 1999.
Ward Churchill, Struggle for the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide, and Expropriation in Contemporary North America, 1992
John McMurtry, Unequal Freedoms: The Global Market as an Ethical System, 1999.
"fresh water problem"
Gary Gardner and Brian Halweil: Underfed and Overfed: The Global Epidemic of Malnutrition, 2000.


by J.S. Larochelle - Originally published in the End Poverty Primer January 2003