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A lecture at University of Texas, Austin by P. Sainath, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Journalism, the South Asia Institute, AID-Austin and the Society of Professional Journalists UT.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

So they set up a second commission. The N C Saxena, BPL expert group. I was one of the experts. And it was wonderful, it was scintillating. Some of the expert discussions we had were riveting. 17 guys in a room, in a government building, in an air conditioned room, 17 guys - I emphasize guys - there wasn't a single woman - had a heated debate for hours on whether women are poor.

[addressing someone in audience] Don't look so shocked, finally we decided that you were, because three of us held out boldly. Our argument - the three of us were arguing that in rural India, women headed households have to be automatically declared below poverty line. There is no need of a survey. All the evidence of the NSF and other studies show us that.

The secretary of one of the biggest departments of the Government in India attacked me saying that "Oh, then tomorrow I may also declare that my household is female headed." Actually, I think it would be a damn good idea if his household were female headed. His wife has certainly a lot more brain than he does.

19% of Indian rural households are female headed. That's the official census figure of the last census. However, in areas like Anantpur, Kalahandi, where migrations are large, the percentage of female headed households crosses 50%.

At least we were an improvement over the previous census. You know how they used to count whether women were poor or not? They had actually a sheet - a mark sheet. 1 Sari household. 1-2 saris. 2-3 saris. What happens if the household has six girls? They'd be wealthy.

I'm not saying that was the sole indicator, but it was certainly... we saw that sheet. I had never known of this until I was a member... anyway, unfortunately for the government of India, we decided that 50% of the population were below the poverty line, which infuriated them. It infuriated me also, because I agreed with the first report, therefore the biggest annexure in this report is my note of dissent.

Third commission, Dr. Suresh Tendulkar. Classic champion of neoliberalism and he gives a figure 14% higher than the Government of India. So this is what has happened in four years time on rural poverty. He is saying 42% for rural poverty.

For rural poverty, the Government of India says about 34. Government of India's overall percentage is 27. Tendulkar places it higher, and he places rural poverty at 42%.

So even their handpicked commissions are telling them that the situation has got much worse.

I will leave you with one thing. All of you.. all the Indians here know of Ajanta and Ellora Caves? Do you know how you go there? You go there via a town called Aurangabad.

Aurangabad is one of the poor part of Marathwada, which is one of the poorest regions of the state of Maharashtra.

The per capita income of this region is much lower than the state average, much lower than the National average. State average in this case is higher than the National average. But there is incredible money to be made.

What did we begin with? With Warren Buffett's buying opportunity. When there is that much misery, there is incredible amount of money to be made. A handful of businessmen are walking into the Guiness Book of records. Did you read about it?

In October 2010, the biggest sale made by Mercedez Benz on a single day, to a single group. A hundred and fifty Mercedez Benz were bought in a couple of hours by a group of businessmen in one of the poorer parts of the country.

You read about it, right?

Do you know who paid the money for it? What it wasn worth? SBI covered most of the loan. SBI is the biggest - in terms of branches, maybe - the biggest bank in the world. State Bank of India is a Nationalized, public sector bank and it gave them interest rate of 7%. Out of the 640 million rupees that the deal cost, it gave them 440 million rupees. Most of those guys are politically connected, they will never repay that loan... we know them personally. They will not repay the loan.

Now the rival town of Kolhapur in Western Maharashtra is planning to buy 150 BMWs. Why? Why should they be? They are making a lot of Germans very happpy.

Look at the fact, that the same bank, which gave a 7% interest loan on a Mercedes Benz charges 14% interest in the same branch of the bank, for a farmer buying a tractor.

And the cost of a tractor is much less. A hell of a lot less. It's about half a million rupees. About 6 hundred thousand rupees max for a good one. I mean that's what you'll get as a max as a loan anyway.

Look at this. 7% for Mercedes Benz, 14% for a tractor and if you're a poor woman, enjoying that wonderful myth and romance of micro finance, what is the interest rate you pay there? 36%

Thirty-six percent!

It is that SFGs and MFIs - Microfinance systems lend to them and the rates are typically between 24 to 36%. Very often there are concealed costs. The microfinance miracle was started by poor women two decades ago. It's now completely hijacked by the corporations. The same banks, bureaucracies and money lenders whom they sought to avoid. Citibank is a big force in microfinance. ICICI is a big force in microfinance. World Bank, Government of India, State Bank of India are a big force in microfinance. By the time the interest rate goes through major intermediaries and reaches that woman in the village, its 36%.

Andhra Pradesh has brought legislation to curb racketeering by... and many of the farm suicides in Andhra Pradesh in 2010 were linked to microfinance because their repossession methods are worthy of credit card sharks. This is the kind of level... this is the kind of situation that they are facing.

How has it come about? What can you do about it?

I believe in the last 20-25 years, the packages of economic policies have been entirely McDonalds packages. They taste the same everywhere. Whether in India or the United States.

Very briefly these processes.

  1. The withdrawal of the State from sectors that matter to poor people. The state hasn't faded away, it has become more interventionist than before, but it withdraws from sectors that matter to poor people.
  2. Imposition of user fees and charges on people who can't afford it.
  3. The privatization of just about everything. Including intellect and soul. You know twenty years ago, I used to be very curious about this term public intellectual. What's a public intellectual. Now I figured that I am, because the rest have gone private. So those of us who haven't been sold to a corporation, we are public intellectuals. It somehow gives us a certain noble transcendence. Doesn't help one bit though.
  4. and this is central to what has happened in the last 30 years - the untrammeled, unrestrained rise of corporate power. Whether it's water, whether it's food, whether it's banks, whether it's newspapers corporations run the world. They run governments. They run your life.

The subordinance of local governments and elected governments and elected representatives, by corporations, by corporate power and through bypassing ... the biggest ambition... you know for many years, I've been teaching at the IAS academy, the Lal Bahadur Shastri academy in Mussourie - where we train people for the Indian Administrative Serive. Last two years, somehow I haven't gone, because I've been too tied down, but I've been doing that since 95. You run there into probationers with all the idealism young people have. Some of them become excellent collectors, but ten years down the line, everyone has one ambition - how to get deputed to World Bank or to IMF. That is the ambition.

So you're having a complete subordining of the government processes. Incidentally the Prime Minister of India, the head of our Planning Commission, all are former World Bank, IMF Employees. Yes. Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia - all of them. They draw pensions from the world bank. Do you know that? Go and read their CVs.

Here's the good news for you. It's unraveling. It's unraveling and not just on the Arab Street. The 2008 - the meltdown in 2008 didn't begin in 2008, it did not end in January 2010. A hundred countries have had their meltdowns, but only when it hits the suits on Wall Street you call it a crisis.

When it hits the big boys, then it is a crisis. If it just wipes out thousands of and hundreds and thousands of farms... in Minnesota, Okhlahoma, and other mid-Western states of the United States. That's not a crisis. it's when it hurts the corporations that it becomes a crisis. The fact is it's unraveling, they don't know what to do about it. They have no clue. they seem to be in charge, they seem to be in command, military power is the answer of course to everything that they do, but they are just not in control anymore. It's not just the Arab street.

People are protesting, things are unraveling.

Two conditions are fulfilled. The ruled are no longer willing to be ruled in the old way. The rulers are not able to rule in the old way.

How we take it from there... I hope you and I will find a way of agreeing on what to do.

A lecture at University of Texas, Austin by P. Sainath, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Journalism, the South Asia Institute, AID-Austin and the Society of Professional Journalists UT.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

We are also buying land - vast tracts of land in Brazil, in Kenya and in Ethiopia. These are the three places. China has bought them in about 20 other countries. They are way ahead of us in that absolute race to the bottom.

It's very, very curious that India that we are going to buy farmland in Ethiopia to grow food in India considering - and this is part of the economics of our time - we shifted millions and millions of farmers in the last twenty years from the cultivation of food crop to the cultivation of cash crop.

Millions of subsistence level farmers, small farmers, medium farmers, guys with 5-9 acres, being shifted from growing food crop like paddy, like rice, like wheat to growing vanilla for you, because you are the vanilla nation. 70% of the world's consumption of vanilla is right here. 70% of the coffee India produces - the Robusta - you know there are two families of coffee - robusta and arabica. So we produce mostly robusta. 70% of our robusta is consumed in Europe. Not in India.

So the farmers are getting into very high risk zones because they don't have an internal market. They are being shifted to very high risk crops. If you move from producing paddy to producing vanilla as many people did in 2003, so I'm giving you the 2003 figure, your cost of cultivation goes up 16 times. The bank loans you pay go up accordingly and the banks will not give you that amount of loan, so you go to the moneylenders.

We shifted millions and what is the result of that? How many of you have looked at the Indian budget - the latest Indian budget online? Economics Survey online? I'll save you the time so that you don't have to dig through it. There's a table. Table 1.17 under the tables section, page A17 to 22.

What does it show you? It shows you that the average per capita availability of foodgrain 2005 to 2009 is less than it was from 1955 to 1959. 436 grams for the last five years, 444 grams in 1955 to 1959. That's about 3 million tons in real terms.

In 1991 we reached a peak of production when we had 510 grams per Indian. That's when we started what they call the reforms. From 510 grams we have come to 436 grams in 20 years. That means an average Indian family has access to about a hundred kilograms of grain less than they did ten years ago.

That's how serious the food crisis is. We are still encouraging crops for export in the name of an economics that says grow cash crops make hard currency dollars, and do better.

So that's what's happening.

By the way, the food and hunger issues have grown massively in a country called the United States. According to the USDA - that is the United States Department of Agriculture - it brings out a report on food security in the United States 2009. If you look at that report, it shows you some very spectacular things.

2009 marks the highest number of people ever in food and security in the United States since they started doing the surveys in 1995. It marks the highest. One of every seven American households had difficulty providing food to all their members in 2009 according to the US Department of Agriculture study. One third of these families had very low food security. What does that mean? It means, members in 6.2 million households had reduced food intake or had completely disrupted eating patterns due to lack of money to buy food.

Over 36% of all female headed households in the United States - that is, with children - female headed households with children - means more than one household in every three female headed households with children in the United States were declared food insecure by the USDA's report.

Black and Hispanic households were more than twice as likely to be food insecure than white non-Hispanic households.

5.6 million households - an increase of 18% over the previous year were going to soup kitchens. And it isn't just the United States. I came to the United States via Brussels.

What is Brussels? Heart of Europe. Heart of NATO. One of the most prosperous nations in Europe. Top 20 of the Human Development list. You know what the figures out there are? One in every three women enthrepreneurs in entire Belgium is below the poverty line of the European Union and below the poverty line of Belgium as well.

The Flanders daily had this splendid news item on this subject. Inequality has grown faster in the last fifteen years than at any time in the preceding fifty, anywhere in the world.

In the United States, 2009 brought the number of people below the poverty line to 43.6 million.

In this country, the crisis has about one in every four children is below the poverty line and 22% - over one in five of every American below the age of 18 is hungry is hungry or is at risk of being hungry.

You know, one of the most interesting examples of inequality cited about the US is if you compare it to say - Argentina - in the 1940s Argentina was one of the most unequal countries in the world. 1% of Argentina's population controlled 20% of incomes. Today, that's down to 15%, but United States 2007 - 1% of the population controlled 24% of the National Income. That is, the United States in 2007 is more unequal than Argentina in the mid-1940s.

Yet, in the same country, despite the crisis, despite your recession, would anyone like to give me a number on what the top ten hedge fund managers are earning per hour? [inaudible audience response] 900 thousand bucks.

And then come to the champion of grooming unequality on our continent - that's us. As I said, my favorite list is Forbes, right? It shows us that we have now 55 dollar billionaires. There are a few inconveniences in it in that we are ranked fourth. Above us, the usual irritating faces of China and Russia.

The Chinese I will dismiss briefly, because their average net worth of their billionaires is a piffling 2 billion dollars. Ours is four and a half. It used to be 6.5 until those twits on Wall Street blew it for everybody in 2008.

As for the Russians, there is our obvious moral superiority with the Russians, because the Russians after ten years send all their billionaires to prison. We send ours to Parliament. Where now we have about 11 of them.

That's a civilized democracy. We send them to Parliament.

The corporate giveaway in the current Indian budget is 18-19 billion dollars in direct income tax and if you add other corporate concessions under excise and customs, it crosses over a hundred billion US dollars. According to UNDP, that's the amount you require every year to solve all the basic problems of the human race.

But the same Indian budget cuts 4,500 million rupees from food security. Last year the same amount, nearly 10,000 million rupees had disappeared in 24 months from food subsidies in a country which has the largest number of hungry people in the world.

Now lastly, and I'm going to close on this note, what did it do? These policies - I said food crisis and farm crisis. I brought you to the farmland. All over the world, the policies of giant corporations getting massive subsidies. In the United States 7 in every 10 dollars going in farm subsidies goes to Fortune 500 companies.

There are very few farmers in the United States. The family farms left in the United States are less than 700,000 that's a 2006 figure and they were going bankrupt at the rate of one sixty a week according to the associated press.

By the way, it means, that you have three times the number of people in prisons than you do in farms. Count it. Fedral, state, penitentiaries and parole. If you include the parole. The people in the criminal justice system, under restraint are three times the number of people you have on the farms of this country.

In India, the gigantic subsidies of the United States and EU have destroyed millions of farmers in Western Africa in the cotton producing countries because all these people had been shifted, remember? To cash crop. In India and elsewhere.

So this system of economics, the system of subsidies, basically, the system of running the world by corporations has really caused damage. In India, from the last 15 years, from 1995 have seen the death by suicide of over 200,000 farmers. If you include two years of 95-96 it comes to nearly a quarter of a million.

And suppose we divide these figures into two halves, in the second half, the number of deaths is much, much higher. Very much higher. It means, its getting worse, not getting better.

A quarter of a million human beings, is the largest recorded wave of suicides in human history. That may have been bigger, but they are not recorded. These are recorded by the government of India. They have huge exclusions of large numbers of people and they still come up to 2,16,500 people if we take the period from '97 to 2009.

All these data are avaliable to you online, they are the data of what is called the National Crime Records Bureau.

The Crime Records Bureau keeps data on suicides. In India, suicide is a crime. If you commit it, we'll teach you never to do it again. And if we take the 95-96 figures, which are incomplete, because many states did not report, and if we take 2010 an average figure, way below the average of the last six years, then you cross a quarter of a million.

That's how the figures work. It means, that in the last six years, the rate of suicide is one farmer taking his or her live every 30-31 minutes. That's the scale of human distress. That's the scale of...

Oh ya, but it creates unique buying opportunities. You can buy farmland in India now. Unfortunately our legislation does not allow corporations to hold vast tracts of agricultural land, but don't worry, that will change. They are lobbying for it.

Now the same country that has 55 dollar billionaires - that's Forbes - let's take the Government of India's report. We don't want to always be with Forbes. The Government of India's constituted three committees between 2007 and 2010. For my.. since I was a member of one of those committees.

The first committee was National Committee for enterprises in the UnOrganized sector. First page of the report. The report is online. You can reach it in moments. It's called NCEUS Report on livelihoods and poverty headed by... now you might ask, why should a government have several reports and committees on the same subject.

On farm suicides, there are 13 commissions of inquiry in the state of Maharashtra alone. Indian governments have a very specific way of functioning on enquiry commissions. They will set up multiple enquiry commissions until one of them gives the government the report it wants to hear.

So the first committee they set up under the very safe tutelage of Prof. Arjun Sengupta, veteran of the World Bank, IMF, Planning Commission. With those sort of credentials they thought he would say all was wonderful, India is shining. Arjun Sengupta ended up putting on the first page of his report "836 million Indians live on less than 50 cents a day." 20 rupees or less.

Incidentally if you live on less than 20 rupees in India, you don't qualify as poor. To qualify as poor, you have to live on less than 11 rupees a day, because that's the poverty line in India. So 836 million people, less than 20 rupees a day. So they were disgusted with this report, which also said 88% of all tribals, 88% of all dalits, and 85% of all Muslims fall into this category of ultra poor.

So they set up a second commission. The N C Saxena, BPL expert group. I was one of the experts. And it was wonderful, it was scintillating. Some of the expert discussions we had were riveting. 17...

[contd in Part 5]

A lecture at University of Texas, Austin by P. Sainath, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Journalism, the South Asia Institute, AID-Austin and the Society of Professional Journalists UT.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

In 1999, Egypt came under the structural reforms regime of the World Bank and IMF, but for some reason, they didn't push it. Maybe because the ministers of that time were a little smarter.

2004 - Mubarak sacks most of his cabinet, brings in guys, trained - where else? - land of the free, home of the brave. Brings them in, and they ruthlessly implement the economic reforms and you've got chaos. You've got 80% of those below 30-35 unemployed.

Ya, so democracy is a very important issue. Unlike in say, India, they did not have the option of voting out governments. Please know this, just so that you understand this, how important the food issue is. Election after election in India, many elections in India, I can't even count for you how many, the price of bread has been the price of power.

In 2009 elections, all those governments that provided cheaper rice to their public won those elections. Whether the BJP in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, BJD in Orissa under Navin Patnaik, the DMK in Tamil Nadu... it made a huge difference, because the public were reeling under food prices.

Understand how important. In Egypt or Yemen, the public did not have the option of using the electoral route of protest.

So yes, the democracy thing was an important driver, but incredibly important was the food issue.

Here we are.

Let's take each one of these countries. So I've given you the Egyptian stats. In the 6 years between 2004 and 2010 the rate of accumulation and concentration of wealth in Egypt is even higher than in between 1999 and 2004. Inequality is a theme. Deepening inequality is a huge driver.

And we come to the United States. Egypt IS the world's biggest importer of wheat. Take Yemen.

According to the World Food Programme... Yeme is by the way one of the very poor countries of the world. 15.7% of Yemen's population lives on less than a dollar a day. 43% live on less than 2 dollars a day. And in three months this year, in three months of 2011 , 6% of Yemen's population went below the poverty line, driven by food prices and drought.

Are we beginning to get the idea that food matters? 6% of Yemen's entire population in the first three months of this year. January, February, March. That's the estimate of the World Food Programme, which has declared that they are broke, because the budget that they had made for Yemen was destroyed by the price rise.

They had a very large budget for Yemen and now estimate they are 28 million dollars short. Those 28 million dollars measure for you the rise in food prices. So they're saying, we are going to have to drop from our list more than 300 thousand hungry people if we are to continue in the same budget.

Let's get to Syria. You know, Assad. President Assad, drew a quick lesson from what was happening in Egypt, drew a quick lesson from what was happening in Tunisia and immediately declared that he would bring down the prices of the staples. But you know what, it didn't work. The crowds are getting bigger.

But it is interesting to me that he recognized it, as always too late. Mubarak also. Too late.

In Yemen, it did not start with Twitter or Facebook, it started in the south with a bunch of students bringing out a public declaration against high food prices. School students. High school students. They took out a protest against... and they were astonished by the number of people who joined them.

When they went out to... because their meals in the canteen, everything was cut by these extremely high prices. That's so much for Yemen.

Take You know, in Syria, immediately after the crisis started, Syria lowered taxes on olive oil by 53% , on taxes on sugar by 25%, lowered taxes across the board on foodstuffs, but the price increase is so high, that it's not having that much of an impact. In fact, the announcement that they would do it, led to rapid hoarding and speculation of food grain, and that has also bitten into the crisis very severely.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that in the year 2008 64 million people went below the poverty line, driven by food prices. The FAO has a food insecurity atlas that you can look at. 2008 was 64 million people. When they bring out their 2011 issue, you will find that it was exceeded in 2010 because much much greater stress on pricess came up in 2010.

Here's an interesting thing. As always, after the horse has bolted the stable the IMF comes out with the study saying that there is a serious link between food prices and political unrest. Gee! We needed to know that. And only the IMF could tell us. They did a study between 1970 and 2007 which said that a 10% increase.... I haven't quite understood ... very written in the jargon of the economists. But what it basically says is that it adds a factor of 0.5 in a given year, in the next year of raising the prices in political unrest. In terms of the average political unrest, that is an increase of 100% - that's basically what they're trying to say is what I understand.

Often, this seems to unfold against not just food price increase, but double digit inflation overall. In India, food price inflation has been ranging between 13 and 18 percent for the last year, year and a half. And overall inflation has been close to double digit, but it's up and down, within a band of 2%.

Now let's take a look at my favorite magazine and website - Forbes.

Was all this an issue of demand and supply? Was all this chaos over riots and food was it entirely an issue of demand and supply? Yes, those were factors. The collapse of the Russian harvest, the drought in Australia had an impact, but nothing like the impact that speculation on commodities is having on world food prices.

Do you remember in 2008 the price of petrol went from 40 dollars a barrel to 170 dollars a barrel and then came down to 120? production didn't change so fast, did it? Food prices if you remember shot up in 2008 and toward the end of 2008 fell dramatically.

Why does that happen?

It's called futures trading. It's called speculation in food grain. The difference about speculating in food grain and.... see now some of the wealthiest investors... I've got to read you a quote from Wall Street Journal on this. What are they...? They are not even acquiring a physical commodity. They are not acquiring so many tons of rice. They are just betting on the price of rice.

They are just betting and they have a very simple bet. Food price goes ... up.

So its driving the prices of food way beyond what the public of many, many nations can afford. That's what's happening. Okay?

So it's really going dramatically up, and Fortune advises its investors ... it says "this is a bet worth dipping into." It's going up.

So I... today I looked at Fortune's list of fastest growing industries of 2009. What was number 1? Food Production. Fastest growing in revenues, food production. Number 2 is Energy, number 3 is petroleum refining, but Number 1 is food production.

In the top 20 there are two other food related... food processing is number 15, and another food related item is in the top 20, but food production is the number 1 in revenues, and in terms of growth of profit, the fourth most profitable industry in the world.

According to Fortune 500, whom I trust implicitly, because they tell me correctly how many billionaires we have each year.

And it's very... Fortune's 2009 results are very important. In a way they tell us what happened and what follows in 2010. When we look at those numbers today, we get a much better understanding of the food crisis.

Here are some of the biggest beneficiaries of that boom. Number 1 company in the world. Profiting from the largest expansion. Number 1 industry in the world and the fourth highest profit making industry in the world is Archer Daniels Midland - ADM.

If you look at it in terms of percentage change in profits, the food industry 2008-09 48% increase 42.8% increase. The next highest is some 14% behind and that is energy.

Here is how Archer Daniels Midland - an American company did. I'm quoting from Wall Street Journal "It not only reported record third quarter profits and windfall as all other food companies including Monsanto did, in the seeds sector, but Archer Daniel's profits included a seven-fold increase - a net increase in its unit that stores transports and trades in grain. Not produces grain.

The highest profits were in the units in those companies storing grain. You can the enhance speculation. You're not producing one morsel of grain. You are trading in it, you are hoarding in it, you're speculating in it, you're storing it and that unit has the highest profits of the fastest growing industry in the world.

Tells you how important food is.

Welcome to the ultimate profit zone. I'm surprised Warren hasn't found it yet or maybe he has investments we don't know about. It's called food and water. You know, if the world has to do without petroleum, it will. Humanity lived without it for millenia, but you can't live without food and water.

The countries that control food grain in the next twenty years will run the world.

The countries that control food grain or the food grain trade, they have the world by its belly. It's literally having the world by its belly. Now if that was Archer Daniel's profits, you know, I won't go into the whole list. the profits became so much, that the United States Senate set up a commission.... what was it called... the commodity futures trading commission. It held a session in Washington with Congressmen participating, I think, because of the kind of damage it was doing.

Today, the point of it is that hedge funds and index funds control between an estimated 50-60 percent of wheat traded on the world's largest commodity markets. So hedge funds and index funds are driving food prices. In India, the volume of futures trade - it's not possible to calculate how many percent it has increased in 18 to 24 months. The percentage and level it has increased in a very, very brief time.

So that's what's happening.

By the way the food production industry increase - I said 42.8% - I'm wrong, it is 48.8%.

Now the fast growing investment is coming. It is moving to another area. Farmland. How many of the Indians sitting in this - or the people of Indian origin sitting in this audience are aware that India is buying vast tracts of farmland in Kenya and Ethiopia. Are you aware of this? [inaudible audience response] Two people. Not bad. That's about the National average.

We're locked in a race with China and we're damned irritated because they've bought more land than us. And what are we buying this land for? To grow food in India. Having destroyed India's food production capabilities over 20 years of neo-liberal economics.

And we're buying... we're going to be buying hundreds and thousands of acres - we've invested 4.3 billion dollars in Ethiopia as a country. We're going to be buying tens of thousands of farmland in Ethiopia - for God's sake, don't you think they have enough problems without us landing up there?

[contd in Part 4]

A lecture at University of Texas, Austin by P. Sainath, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Journalism, the South Asia Institute, AID-Austin and the Society of Professional Journalists UT.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

(includes some of the end of part 1 for continuity)

It never looked back. That was the breach point. The Composite Share Index of the Colombo Stock Exchange - the CSE - reached within 16 points of the highest - which was the year of its founding. Indonesia - the worst affected nation - quarter of a million people dead, the Stock Exchange is rocked by the earthquake and Tsunami but you know as the neo-liberal economists say: The building rocked, but the fundamentals were sound.

So the Stock exchange reached its great... every day it broke the earlier records for a week. Thailand and Malasia couldn't do that, because they had already reached their historic highs at that point, but they reached the highest within those five years when they had come to a top.

You know something guys, about unique buying opportunities, let me tell you, let me present to you a non-financial way of looking at this if you will. Here's something about unique buying opportunities: When there is incredible misery in the countryside, when hundreds and thousands of people go into bondage because of debt and many of them of course, take their lives in indebtedness, do you realize there is a unique buying opportunity for money lenders in the countryside to buy more young girls and cheaper for the flesh trade and trafficking that goes on in the world. It's a unique buying opportunity.

Try looking at it in terms of food in the same way. As the distress in the countryside has gone up, human trafficking has gone up all around the world. As the distress... I can see with my... you know...

In my own job, I'm a rural reporter. I spend between 270 and 300 days a year in India's villages. My home is in Mumbai, which is also home to one of the largest red light districts in the world. In the red light district called Kamatipura, you can see where the children have come from. The girls are really children. They are 12-13 years old. They have come because some granddad or father had gone into debt some years ago, and they are there.

The more the distress, the greater the drivers, pushing them from Kalahandi, from Telangana, from Rayalaseema, from Vidarbha... into the sex trade. Why don't you look at that as a unique buying opportunity? If you can look at the unique buying opportunity created by radioactive fallout in Fukushima as something nice, try... for me, morally, it's in the same club. It's not very different. Just look at the morality of this economics - that is the dominant economics of our time.

Back to the media.

You know the most expensive branch of the media... I've been a journalist for Last September I completed 30 years as a professional journalist. I've always noticed - in the last 15 years particularly, that the branch of the media - whether in television or in print, on which we spend the maximum money are the financial journalists.

My contemporary in Times of India, all he does is cover... you know there's a guy... in several papers ... He covers futures. That's all he does. Must be a wretched, miserable life, but he earns eight times of what I do, so I guess he's ok.

Now here is the most pampered, most highly paid branch of journalism. Did any of them give you an inkling of what was to happen in 2008. We have scrutinized the banks. We have scrutinized the insurance companies. We have scrutinized the government. We have scrutinized Congress. Have you scrutinized the financial media and how they helped you put your money down the tube. Telling you that things were never so good. Go back to 2008 before the meltdown. Three to four months before the meltdown, and read how well the world economy was doing.

No critical analysis. No introspection. After the meltdown, the same clowns are trotted out onto your television screens to tell you exactly what went wrong. After your money is down the tube. I think that programme has a nice name. Mad Money. It is completely insane. The star anchor of it and the conclusions. These were the guys telling you that the economy was doing better than it ever did!

Remember. Did the great world of financial journalism ever tell you that ENRON was as big a crock of shit as you could imagine in your worst nightmare? Did they? No, because Wall Street Journal and other columnists were writing speeches for Kinley at 25k a shot.


Financial journalists were writing speeches for ENRON executives. You can read the Columbia journalism review on that, on how many of these guys were making money writing for... there's too much cosiness between financial media and the corporate world.

Come to India for a moment. It is now perfectly normal in financial journalism that a guy who is an assistant editor in the Economic times, for instance, okay? He joins Burrows and Welcome as a Public Relations officer. A year later he comes back as the associate editor of the newspaper. Two years later he goes as senior PRO of Glaxosmithklyne. Then he is back as senior associate editor. Then he is chief PRO of Dabhol, which is ENRON and one day he is the resident editor of the newspaper.

This is seen as perfectly normal - the seamless transition between journalism and the corporate world, because journalism is ... because the media, not journalism, is... The media are not anymore pro-corporate or pro-business. The are corporations, they are big businesses. They are worth billions and billions of dollars and if you want, we can get into the numbers regarding India. What kind of investments the country has seen in the media in the last three to four years in a little while from now.

Now, if you look at the links between the media and giant corporations, the organic structural links. You know about twenty years ago, we used to talk about media monopolies. And there were monopolies in the media. That isn't the case anymore. There may be monopolies in the media, but they are small parts of much larger conglomerates. Much larger conglomerates, and they are perhaps the ideological arm.

It's one reason my dears, that NBC cannot play up the story that General Electric paid ZERO dollars in tax last year. How many of you knew that? Did you know it from NBC? NBC can't say it, because NBC ... Firstly, the original parent company of NBC is RCA - Radio Corporation of America. Seventh biggest contractor, super parent of that granddaddy of that is General Electric - one of the biggest military manufacturers on the planet... now NBC can't go around telling you "Hey, my parent company didn't pay any tax dollars last year!"

Zero tax dollars by one of the largest corporations in the world. Here's the point, guys. The point is: The media have a structural compulsion to lie on these critical issues. They are too heavily invested in the market to ever tell you the truth about it. I keep telling my whizkid friends in Mumbai, because many of my friends are also corporate... heavily into the corporate world. I said whatever you do, don't invest your life savings on the basis of what the bloody newspapers tell you. You'll be dead. Quite a few of them were, in 2008, but anyway...

They have been given a second life since then. Again with public money.

Now look at the media narrative of the large, large political process of your time. How did we begin this talk? We began this talk with me asking you if you were aware that Egypt was the largest wheat importer in the world, the food prices in Egypt had gone up way beyond the budget of ordinary people in a nation which has one of the highest expenditures of food per capita in terms of your monthly income. 40% in Egypt as against say 17% in Brazil.

But you told me that this was not reflected in your media. Let me tell you what was reflected in your media. Twitter made a revolution, right? And Facebook mopped it up. Right? Helped by a few brave bloggers. People make revolutions, not technologies.

When I hear this kind of nonsense ... you know? These are tools. They help you. Of course they help you. When I hear a piece telling me the Maldavian Twitter revolution and understand that Maldavia has something like 70 twitter accounts. You know? I don't know how many it has, but it has almost nothing.

When I hear that people are coming onto the streets of Tehran, because of messages on Twitter and Facebook, all of which are in English, and how many of those people in the streets of Tehran are English speakers or visit English websites? Talk sense. Just talk sense.

Uprisings and agitations and revolutions are made by people.

The second thing they didn't tell you was that Egypt for twelve days was in what was virtually a general strike. After thirty years of suppression, the trade unions were out on the street in very, very significant numbers. Workers were on those streets. Nor did they tell you that more than 30% of these countries of the unemployed ... more than 80% of the unemployed in Egypt were people below the age of 30.

Don't you think these were things that your media needed to tell you? Don't you think it would have given you something more of a perspective if you knew these facts? How come you don't know. It's a Twitter revolution.

It was vastly entertaining for me to read in the newspapers, all the big corporate media reproducing Hillary's call to Egypt to reform. Do you know why it was entertaining? Because 6 months ago, the United States had praised Egypt for being one of the most serious countries about reforms and economic reforms, and the World Bank in its report of 2010 - they bring out a report called "Doing Business 2008" "Doing business 2001" Its report, "Doing Business 2010" says Egypt and Columbia were among the best and topmost reformers in economies in four of the last seven years. And those were the four years that led to your collapse.

It says - I'm quoting: "Top global reformers in four of the past seven years."

The World Bank has a knack for these famous last words.

There's another from India which I like even more - on "Water Privatization". This report is published 2 years and it says water privatization can be a very popular thing. As Mr. Chandrababu naidu has shown, the report is published - eight months later he suffers the biggest electoral defeat in the history of Andhra Pradesh. And the next two editions of the report still contain that paragraph despite my having had fun at their expense on the Edit Page.

They still continued to repeat it. And the other person whose electoral popularity was boosted by.. Chandrababu Naidu was one, and the other was Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh, after whom the Congress has never been able to come back in Madhya Pradesh. Nor has the TDP been able to come back in Andhra Pradesh and it's very likely, those of you who are Telugu.. that the TDP will be third in teh next Andhra election. Third. If they're lucky. They'll be competing with the Congress for third place.

Now let's shift. This whole business of valorizing, lionizing those who undertake pro-corporate reforms and destroy the lives of ordinary people, how have you been reading what have you been reading, for instance about the European Union and the collapse there. These idiots in Spain and Greece, right? Lazy guys. They have these four hour siestas, they don't work.

Have you noticed how silent the ideologues are on the collapse of Ireland? Ireland was the star pupil of the neoliberal economic philosophy. The star pupil. Today, Ireland is down the tube. Very sad. that's a country I absolutely loved and have connections with. In 2007, when I was there, I was really frightened by the great joy and zest with which the Irish were celebrating their boom.

Now having seen 16 years of that in India, and having a good sense of what was to follow, I did try in the different talks I had in the universities to pour some cold water on that. In fact, their newspapers had the headlines - coming to age of the Celtic tiger. So in fact my talk at the Galloway university had been titled Asian tiger, Celtic kitten and... it didn't go down well. I wonder why.

[contd in part 3]


P. Sainath on Mass Media v. Mass Reality: From Farm and Field to Wall Street Deals

A lecture at University of Texas, Austin by P. Sainath, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Journalism, the South Asia Institute, AID-Austin and the Society of Professional Journalists UT.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

Seeing so many students in the audience always provokes the teacher gene. So I'm going to begin with a question.

Who do you think is the world's biggest importer of wheat?

I'm not doing it as a test for you, it is a measure of your media. One of the most important processes is unfolding in Africa. How much of the discussion have you seen around the African uprisings that tells you that one of the big drivers of those uprisings is food prices.

The biggest importer of wheat in the world is Egypt. 20 million tons in the last twenty months 2 years. 20 million tons. So, when food prices soar, people pay an incredible price.

In Egypt, the average Egyptian citizen spends far more as a share of his or her income on food than people in comparable countries. For instance, in Brazil. If you were in Brazil, you would spend 17% of your income on an average - national average - on purchasing food. If you live in Egypt, you will spend much more than twice that. 40% of your income goes on food.

How important do you think has been the emphasis of the media on food prices as a major problem in these countries. Did you get that impression from your media? You can't. I don't blame you. But it is... don't you think it adds some perspective to what's going on? To know that that country is the biggest importer of wheat? That food prices have gone up 30.. 40.. 50% over a couple of years?

Also one of the last things Mubarak did in desperation, six weeks before he was ejected, was to reintroduce price controls, which he had removed under the orders of the structural adjustment programme put on him by the World Bank and the IMF with renewed vigor in 2004.

So there you are. Food prices were and are a major...

Have we forgotten already that in 2008... because I think the meltdown wiped out everybody's memories... 2008 was the year of food riots across the world. Remember? They were the highest.. First time you saw the Western middle classes worrying about the food prices in April to June 2008. Or have we forgotten that?

There were food riots in Kenya. There were food riots in Somalia. I think at least some of you might remember the food riots in Haiti.

2008 the food and agriculture organization of the United Nations tells us was the record highest price rise on the FAO food price index. But you know something? It got obliterated. In 2010, it was even higher. Midway through 2010, the food price index registered a 32% increase in a matter of months. And that was much higher.

2008 produced food riots. 2010 produced regime change.

It's not that these were the only factors. Not at all. There were many political factors, compelling internal factors, but they need a spark. They needed something.

Don't write off what food prices and the role of food is, and I'll explain why.


Incidentally another country... How many of you can name the African country that was completely self-sufficient in cereals in the 1970s and becomes one of the most major importers of food in the world?


1970s - completely self-sufficient in cereals. 2010 - one of the world's biggest importers of food.

I could name 20 countries like this and you'd see half of them in that situation you are seeing now in Africa. So it is not that... yes, democracy is very important, the politics of it is very important, but there was a major driver called hunger. Food prices.

If you look at the Arab streets, you will see people out on the streets who never ever stepped out in demonstrations and protests. Very conservative sections who never participated in protests and demos. They were there on the street. They still are on the street. Because the problem is not solved.

Ok, we'll come back to the food issue, because what's my.. this is titled as... Wages of inequality, food crisis, farm crisis and the media. We are already into two of those.

The media told you nothing about this... from what you are telling me. You did not glean from the media coverage that food prices were a major factor in what's going on.

You know, every year, the United Nations Development Programme ... and in fact, the UN has been doing this even before the UNDP became active... it's been for 30 years, the United Nations has been presenting us every year with a menu - a bill of fare. We don't see it as a consolidated menu, but we do see it in little bits and blobs.

Don't we... haven't you read somewhere, you vaguely remember... "The Secretary General of the United Nations said that if we spend 15 billion dollars a year additionally, additional expenditure on hunger, we could eliminate hunger. Have you read those sort of little items all over the newspapers? Ya... this you have.

Now what I do is, these different little items that appear, I add them up as a menu, and try figuring out what they come to.

  • Hunger - 15 billion dollars a year the Secretary General tells us will eliminate the extremes of hunger.
  • 10 billion dollars additional expenditure a year, and ever person on the planet has got sanitation.
  • 15 billion dollars a year and every child... additional expenditure. We're talking about additional expenditure, ok? 15 billion dollars additional expenditure a year, and every child on the planet will be in school.
  • 12 billion dollars additional expenditure a year, or something like that, and everyone's got access to basics like water.

You put these together and you get something like between 60 billion and 80 billion dollars. Right? So what is the UN telling you? It is telling you that 60 to 80 billion dollars additional expenditure you can solve the most pressing problems of the human race.

Its never happened in all those 30 years. Why?

What did the government say? No money. There's no money, we can't solve this problem. Where's the money? You put up the money. But we can't do it. You know? Let charitable foundations and the UN and philanthropic... let Gates and Buffett do it and all that stuff. But we can't do it, because we don't have any money.

So for 30 years, this amount of 60 to 80 billion dollars the governments could not find.

Then, 2008 September, Wall Street hits the fan. And the guys and the governments who couldn't find 60 to 80 billion dollars for 30 years find a trillion dollars inside of a week. Along with their friends in Europe, they find 3 trillion dollars in the next three or four months and God knows how much more since then, and what do they find it for? They find it to give it to the very guys who tanked the world economy.

Who wrote your bailout plan? Goldman Sachs.

You collect trillions of dollars, public dollars to give it to the very guys who tanked the world economy, and you have the money!

All these years you didn't have 60... you didn't have 8% of that money, to solve the basic problems of the human race, but you have twelve times that money to hand over to the banks and the trusts and the corporations that completely destroyed the global economy.

Incidentally, a little piece of statistical trivia, if you will: In 2008 - the year they blew the global economy, American CEOs took home 18 billion dollars in bonuses - for that fiscal. For the fiscal in which they blew the global economy.

Well, I suppose it was very modest, because the previous year, it was 34 billion, but they still took home 18 billion dollars in reward. And remember where those dollars came from. It came from a public dollar bailout. It came from public tax dollars which bailed them out.

Giant corporations, having brought the world economy to its knees, in a drama scripted for the last two or three decades by neo-liberal economists and corporations have benefited massively from the ruins and the wreckage. As I said, you destroy the world economy, you take home 18 billion dollars in bonuses. But remember this, in the world we live in, and the economics we follow, and the moral philosophy of that economics, every misery is an opportunity. I assert. Every misery is an opportunity.

Let me quote for you, the sage of Omaha - Warren Buffett. Whose reaction to the Tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan is that it provides a unique buying opportunity of Japanese stocks. This is Reuters quoting Warren Buffett. Here he is "Immediately after the nightmare... after Japan's tragedy, he said, if I owned Japanese stocks, I would certainly not be selling them. frequently something out of the blue like this an extraordinary event creates a buying opportunity." And he advised his friends to invest, because the Japanese companies are on their knees, the stock prices are down, this is the time to buy!

Actually, he's right. I don't know... I think six years ago, Bob, when I spoke here, soon after the Tsunami, I pointed out... I don't know if any of you were here. You look too young to have been around then... Ever since the Tsunami - struck me then, and ever since then, in every natural calamity, I - a non-financial journalist - follow the stock markets when something terrible happens, because they start doing very well after a week.

Buffett was right. One week after the Tsunami, as the damage was really unfolding. We knew for instance, that Indonesia had lost nearly a quarter of a million people... you know 11 countries were devastated by the tsunami - eleven. Out of those 11 countries, 5 have significant stock exchanges - India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia.

Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia.

Now what happens? One week, everything is devastated and at a standstill. Then these very stock exchanges register the highest gains of stock exchanges anywhere. Why?

The smell of reconstruction dollars. The smell of the money that comes out of the misery. When Warren Buffett says invest in Japanese stocks, he knows what he is talking about. He's talking about that pace of rapid reconstruction that's going to take place. Millions and billions of dollars in contracts.

So if you are smart, you're going to put money where the Japanese stocks are, because the reconstruction will be beginning and we all know that the Japanese are very good at it, they are very efficient people. When the reconstruction starts, it will be massive. So he says, buy those shares now.

In 2004 December 26th, the Tsunami hit those 11 countries. Those 5 countries were devastated. And you know what happened after the devastation? From the first week after the devastation, the sensex, which had never broken out of the 4 thousand bracket - the Sensitive Index of the Bombay Stock Exchange, which had never broken out of the four thousand bracket crossed six thousand and never looked back. Today scaling around twenty thousand.

It never looked back. That was the breach point. The Composite Share Index of the Colombo Stock Exchange - the CSE - reached within 16 points of the highest - which was the year of its founding. Indonesia - the worst affected nation - quarter of a million people dead, the Stock Exchange is rocked by the earthquake and Tsunami.... [contd in part 2]