|Administrative Division of Bangladesh. March 2011 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Satellite image of New Zealand in December 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
We live in a world in which more or less unimaginable things seem to be happening every day.
For example, the news that there are reported to be 1,000,000 people in Libya, waiting to make it into Europe, by whatever means they can. It is understandable that impoverished people should want to get into Europe to share in its wealth, but still is hard to imagine that so many people could have gathered with that objective, right now.
I remember writing in a little book I wrote in 1972, that the impoverished people of what was then called the Third World knew how we lived in what we then called the First World, and some day would come banging on our doors, demanding to have some of it for themselves. So the million of them gathered in Libya (if in fact they are there) may be incredible, but they are no longer really unimaginable.
For another example, the news that several thousand illegal refugees from Bangladesh have been returned to their home by Myanmar, where they ended up, is the visible end of something else that is unimaginable, and that is, the population pressure that has grown up in Bangladesh.
I have been viscerally aware of this since 1975 when, in the comparative ease of isolated New Zealand, with its 4,000,000 people, I attended a conference, and heard a man say that Bangladesh, then with 72 million people, would by the turn of the century have a population of 125,000,000. It sounded a pretty incredible figure, so I looked up the area of the country, and found it was almost the same size as the South Island of New Zealand, where I was born. Whoa there, 125 million? Further investigation convinced me that to accommodate that many people, my home island would need to have a million people in every village hamlet and town of 1000 or more. It seemed, and still seems to me inconceivable.
And my incredulity has simply been increased by what has happened since: by the year 2000 the population was already 130 million and today it has grown to 164 million. The country suffers from repeated, intensive floods, that wipe out the homes of hundreds of thousands of people at a stroke. Up to 45 per cent of the people a few years ago were living below the poverty line, which seems to have been established at equivalent to US$2 a day, 80 per cent live in rural areas, a high percentage of them mired in relentless poverty. Still apparently they are well on their way to meeting the UN Millennium aims of reducing the impoverished to 26 per cent, those below the poverty line having been reduced in recent years from more than 60 million, to a mere 40 million. Reports of repeated disasters in the slum-infested cities indicate that conditions of work for urban workers are sub-par. And, as far as one can tell all this can be put at the door of their high population increases, which are one of the results of the low social status of women in their society.
This is not designed to put down Bangladeshis, who are no doubt performing daily miracles as they struggle to overcome their horrendous basic conditions of life. Although these miracles have not been sufficient so far to prevent their escape, by legal or illegal means makes not much difference, to anywhere that might promise them a better chance in life.
While I am at it, another incredible thing is the advance of automation in the developed economies of the world --- that is to say, the rich ones, which benefit from high educational achievements for everyone, higher incomes, more hygienic conditions of life, and better opportunities for personal fulfilment. I watched a TV programme this morning about this automation --- it was on AlJazeera, the TV news network that seems to be most closely in touch with the world’s disadvantaged people, and whose reporter kept asking the masters of automation difficult, and sometimes embarrassing questions. The basic question is, if everything is to be done by machines, as is becoming more and more the prospect, will this not lead to a world in which not only will there be fewer jobs, but it will be almost impossible for the generality of human kind to find a job?
It was interesting to hear these “masters of the universe” --- to use a familiar term applied to ultra-scientists --- prevaricating as they were forced to grope for a convincing answer to this question. Many of them simply denied it, saying the lost jobs would be made up by the new jobs necessary to manufacture and run these machines. Not very convincing in terms of scale. Asked what could be done to deal with this problem, some of them were even forced to admit that the main hope might be for a guaranteed wage, payable to everybody --- heresy in the heartland of market capitalism, surely --- or that, to quote another, “some form of redistribution will probably be necessary.”
What? Redistribution? Is this guy joking? The capitalist masters of the globe expected to agree to redistribute their wealth to those left behind by the scientific revolution?
Not without a hell of a struggle…they talk of “labour deregulation”, by which I take it they mean more of the recent trend to get rid of unions, so that the workers are left defenceless before their masters.
First, look at how much of the recent accumulation in the world’s wealth has been snaffled by the richest one per cent. They love things the way they are!
Second, look what the bankers are demanding of the Greeks, half of whose young people are permanently unemployed: cuts in wages, increased taxes, savage reductions in welfare benefits, privatization of everything, and reductions in pensions to the very poorest.
Some kind of immense social battle seems to be just opening up as human beings try to find their ways through these challenges.