Slumdog Millionaire and Green Economics

Went to Weston super Mare last night and watched Slumdog Millionaire. With 9 other people in the whole cinema. Like a private viewing.

Best film I have ever seen in my life. Partly because I do not get out much, but up there with Dancing with Wolves. And my assessment is untouched by the Oscars hype.

A story of a slum child answering a set of questions based on his tragic experience of life. A unique fusion of social realism and escapist dreams. A critique of failed economics, police brutality, criminal brutality, and the lies and insincerity of the celebrity culture.

It has been criticized for the term “slumdog” (well, OK) and as “Poverty Porn”. “Porn”? Porn satisfies the desire of some people to see sexually exciting images. Who wants to see images of poverty? Rather, the establishment wants to have these images hidden from popular consciousness. India is a country where poverty, defecation and death are not hidden, but in yer face. “Wealth porn” is what is behind the culture of celebrity throughout the world, where people watch the antics of spiritually poor rich people, and lust after their life style. Slumdog is a negation of wealth porn. If that is poverty porn, then so be it, and so much the better for the film.

The real criticism of the film is the fact that the child actors are still living in the slums.
The director Danny Boyle has set up a trust fund, but it is structured in a way that does not fully benefit the actors and their families now. We should ask that a substantial slice of the film’s profits go to benefit not just the actors and their families, but also their whole community and street children everywhere. There is evidence that the film has increased donations to Railway Children, a charity that works with street children in Mumbai. You can donate on line. Think in terms of how much you paid to see the film.

Charity giving is good and necessary, but the real question is an economic and political one – how to prevent the universal buildup of slums and favellas around the great cities that are growing throughout the world.

Dom Helder Camara said “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist”.

I had better start by saying that I am a Green, not a Red, as one of the founders of Greenpeace mentioned during the course of a police beating, a comment that is supposed to have been one of the first uses of the word “green” to indicate the new ecological political ideology. But I digress.

What is the solution to the problem of the underclasses, of which the “slumdogs” are the most blatant example?

First, the existence of absolute poverty is an affront to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which begins with the words: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

For this reason all governments must work to eliminate this poverty and exclusion, as part of their Responsibility to Protect.

How? This is not my main field, but here are five suggestions off the top of my head.

First, by reducing the factors that drive people to the cities, of which the foremost is rural poverty. This should not be impossible. The food of the cities comes from farmers in the countryside, so they have a vital commodity to sell, but they are not getting a fair price for it. Part of that problem is the pressure from mega food corporations, who are buying up land for mono-culture food production. Corporation taxes and other restraints will be needed to offset this problem.

Second, the people actually in the slums need a productive economic role. They already have a horrible role: they pick over the rubbish dumps – a foul, health and dignity destroying job. Instead, they can be the recyclers, picking up streamed waste from the prosperous parts of town, sorting and selling it. I saw this happening in Sao Paolo, with scores of guys pulling trailers of sorted waste.

There is other good work for them to do – like laying drains and building composting toilets in their own neighbourhood.

And so on. There is no need for unemployment and poverty in a green economy.

Third, by giving everyone a Citizen’s Income. It sounds radical, to give every citizen a basic income, sufficient for necessities. The idea has been around for a long time, and is making slow progress. If a state can afford things like bonuses, bailouts and bombs, it can afford a basic income. Indeed, it has a duty to do so. The central objection to the CI is “It is a liggers charter” “You cannot give something for nothing”. (No? What about the bailouts then?). The effective way around this objection is to introduce it via a Green Wage Subsidy. Exactly what is needed in the present economic situation. (Pity that the Handbrake Tendency succeeded in blocking it in Green Party Conference last year).

Fourth, a Social Contract between Government and people: Government undertakes to provide food and basic necessities for every citizen, if the citizens undertake to limit their families to replacement value. This is probably going to provoke a storm of criticism, but it is based on a perfectly sound, self-evident truth: it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space. It is simple realism.

Fifth, we need to address the inherently divergent tendencies of free market fundamentalist capitalism, for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. We need a localised, mixed economy with a guided market.

Amazing what comes up when you see a good film, isn’t it. I should get out more often.

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