Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The child-killing game. posted by Richard SeymourOne of Jeffrey Reiman's criticisms of the criminal justice system is that it doesn't punish behaviours that, on the standards it applies to other behaviours, should be punished. Specifically, those with harmful results that, while not part of a specific goal, are nevertheless entirely predictable, thus bringing the behaviour within the realm of intent. The decision by states to undertake policies that are sure to result in higher infant mortality, which rate reflects the "social, economic and environmental conditions" that the children are reared in, ought to be punishable. There is also the question of basic fairness: since everyone has the same right to life, it is an outrageous social crime when policy choices knowingly expose specific groups - black people, working class people - to an increased rate of death in the earliest years of life simply by virtue of their position. Obviously, this is as true internationally as it is domestically: if policies undertaken by powerful states, either through direct military force or through differently coercive institutions such as the IMF, result in needless, widepsread starvation, that stands as an indictment of the agents involved, and it makes their behaviour criminal.
Ernie Halfdram recently drew attention to some statistics on starvation and infant mortality. The rate of infant mortality was predictably arranged along the axes of oppression and exploitation (class, race, gender), while starvation was concentrated in such places as neoliberal India. Most alarming was the severe increase in infant mortality in the south-east of the United States, which has reached 17 per thousand live births among black people, a figure comparable to Vietnam and Albania (both now neoliberal states). No mere fluke, said the experts, this disturbing trend reflect cuts in welfare support and medicaid, and the consequent poor health and nutrition.
Now you can add the latest global figures published by Save the Children, which look at child mortality (deaths in the first five years of life). The most significant increase in child mortality is from 50 per thousand live births in 1990 to 125 per thousand live births in 2005 - in Iraq. The highest rates are concentrated in ten countries where the vast bulk of child mortality takes place each year. Sierra Leone: 282 (per 1,000 live births), Afghanistan: 257, Niger: 256, Liberia: 235, Somalia: 225, Mali: 218, Chad: 208, Democratic Republic of Congo: 205, Equatorial Guinea: 205, Rwanda: 203. The common factors here are unmissable: almost all have been put through an intensive period of destabilisation and calamity by wealthy nation-states competing over influence and resources; in nearly all cases, either these policies resulted in the collapse of the state (as in Iraq), or they took advantage of it (as in the DRC), or both (as in Somalia). Globally, so Gideon Polya avers, child mortality between 1950 and 2000 totalled 0.9 billion. The areas in which it was most concentrated are unsurprisingly in those areas that have suffered from both colonisation and postcolonial domination by states whose wealth has been accrued to a large extent simply by squeezing the subordinated societies dry. Its occurrence in the advanced capitalist societies would, axiomatically, have been concentrated among the working class, and particularly among migrant or minority communities.
These are the entirely predictable and knowing effects not only of specific policies, but also the largely unacknowledged holocaust of actually existing capitalism. All of the invading and welfare-cutting and unemployment and destabilisation has been the direct result of capital accumulation. According to the Black Book of Communism, states describing themselves as governed by marxist doctrine killed 100 million people in the 20th Century. Supposing (for some weird reason) that the figures are entirely correct, they include not only the repressive policies, but mostly the deaths resulting from famines in Russia and China. That is, mass deaths resulting from policies and social structures whose effects were predictable. Even if you accept that those societies represented some form of postcapitalist state, it is simply and uncontroverisally the case that on the same terms and the same logic, capitalism has killed many many more.