Appendix 34 - How the Other Half Lives

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

"You and I have no right to a thing that we really have until the millions are clothed and fed better." - Gandhi

Eight hundred million people live in "absolute poverty." Robert McNamara, President of the World Bank, defines the term as, "a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency." He cites absolute poverty as "probably the principal cause of human misery today."[386]

Krishnamurti: "Go to India, they have the same problems as here, suffering, loneliness, death, anxiety, sorrow.... Do you actually realize it as you realize it when a pin is thrust into your thigh or arm, the actual pain of it?"

Hardinian Taboo

In the British Medical Journal, commentators argue that one of our biggest problems is our unwillingness to confront the crisis of overpopulation: "A Martian might ask," they write, "'Why is that, when your population is increasing at 10,000 people an hour - and is set to double - you do so little about it, especially when it contributes so largely to your poverty, your hunger, your street children, and your slaughter?'"

The U.S. State department has, we believe, been orchestrating the global population debate to the point that it has corrupted critical aspects of academic demography, to the greatest possible disadvantage of trapped populations, presumably lest its own consumption of resources be criticized.

"Lady Martian":

It seems to me that you humans have a choice. Either you can lift the Hardinian taboo [refusal to consider or discuss population control] and face up to the heated argument that will certainly follow as you adapt to one child families and changed Northern lifestyles - or you can continue to close your eyes to reality, hold the Hardinian taboo tightly in place, and allow a continent (Africa), and more, to continue its drift into starvation and slaughter, while a minority of you enjoy unbelievable luxury. Inequity is now such that 500 of you now own as much wealth as half of humanity. Are you going to make this choice or aren't you?[387]

The Rich Would have to Eat Money, but Luckily the Poor Provide Food - Russian Proverb

The richest fifth of the world's people consumes 86% of all goods and services while the poorest fifth consumes just 1.3%. The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. According to the United Nations Development Program, the assets of the world's 358 billionaires were greater than the combined incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's people - about 3 billion human beings, almost half of humanity.

According to the New York Times:

Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics - $2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.

Europeans spend $11 billion a year on ice cream - $2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide clean water and safe sewers for the world's population.

It is estimated that the additional cost of achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education for all, basic healthcare for all, reproductive health for all women, adequate food for all, and clean water and safe sewers for all is roughly $40 billion a year - or less than 4% of the combined wealth of the 225 richest people in the world.[388]

Or as John Robbins adds, "less than we spend on beer every year."[389]

Robert McNamara: "[Even] the average citizen of a developed country enjoys wealth beyond the wildest dreams of the one billion people in countries with per capita incomes under $200...."[390] "People in our world," Felix Rohatyn wrote, "are swimming in money but in order to get [the] rich to give a lousy thousand dollars to the poor who are drowning in front of their eyes you have to... give them party favors."

Que hististeis cuando los pobres sufrian? (What did you do when the poor suffered?) - Otto Rene Castillo*

* Otto Rene Castillo was a Guatemalan poet "brutally tortured for an extended period, and then burned alive [by US-backed forces]."[391] From an article in the Lancet, "The use of such legally based categories as 'torture' and 'summary execution' do not express the horror of the Guatemalan experience. How can one classify a public ceremony, perpetuated by the [U.S.-backed] army, in which all local citizens were forced to take turns striking a victim's head with a stick until he died?"[392]

Noam Chomsky in an interview said, "Wealth and power tend to accrue to those who are ruthless, cunning, avaricious, self-seeking, lacking in sympathy and compassion, subservient to authority and willing to abandon principle for material gain, and so on." Benjamin Disraeli: "As a general rule, nobody has money who ought to have it."

"Doctors, like bankers and corporate managers, possess economic advantages and customary life-styles that they do not willingly sacrifice on behalf of the masses of people trapped in an existence of poverty." So wrote Waitzkin and Modell, describing the medical profession's reaction to the U.S.-backed military coup that turned Chile from a constitutional democracy to brutal totalitarianism.[393]

In Chile, physicians identified and denounced colleagues whom they considered politically unacceptable. They prepared lists throughout the country and may have resulted in the death of some 15 fellow doctors.[394] The Chilean medical profession, threatened by a, "redistribution of power and inconvenienced by economic instability, helped lay the groundwork for military dictatorship."[395] Quoting from an article in the Lancet, "That doctors took part in the systematic, virtually medicalized torture that occurred in Chilean secret detention centres is well known."[396]


[386] Singer, P. Practical Ethics Cambridge University Press, 1979:158.

[387] British Medical Journal 315(1997):1440.

[388] New York Times 27 September 1998.

[389] Robbins, J. Reclaiming Our Health Tiburon, CA: HJ Kramer, 1996:317.

[390] Singer, P. Practical Ethics Cambridge University Press, 1979:161.

[391] Forche, C. Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness NY: WW Norton, 1993.

[392] Summerfield, D. "If Children's Lives are Precious, Which Children?" The Lancet.

[393] Wiatzkin, H and H Modell. New England Journal of Medicine 291(1974):171-177.

[394] Jonsen, AR, A Paredes and L Sagan. New England Journal of Medicine 291(1974):471-472.

[395] Wiatzkin, H and H Modell. New England Journal of Medicine 291(1974):171-177.

[396] Welsh, J. "Truth and Reconciliation." The Lancet 352(1998):1852-1853.

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