How Poverty was Created

Posted: April 4, 2015 in Debt, Geo Politics, Poverty
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Continuing my exploration of the origins of poverty and its changing form throughout Man’s history, a friend once asked me, “Were the Aborigonies of Australia considered poor before their colonisation?” The same question can be asked of many people across the third world at a point in time. It raises the issue of what we consider to be poverty today, and how this is relative to the general social conditions in place now and in the past .

Is the lack food, clothing, and shelter the only basic determinants of poverty, can we look at certain tribal or native peoples who choose a way of life and class them as impoverished due to their relative material-less lives?

That aside, when we consider the desperate state of some populations which can genuinely be classed as needy, we must also think about how their current condition of existence came about. In a number of cases, these were unjustly inflicted upon them. Identifying these such cases will assist us to appreciate their predicament and understand the nature of the process which dealt them this hand. By understanding this, we can also raise the case, quite rightly for repatriations, a concept that European civilisation knows all too well for it has become their modus operandi.

Let us first concentrate on the region now classified as Bangladesh. Dr Nazeer Ahmed states;

The province had a population of 25 million; about four times the population of England at that time. The Ganges delta provided abundant rice, fish and jute. The province was bustling with manufacturing activity. The fine muslin cloth of Murshidabad was sought after the world over. Bengal also produced the finest steel, using iron ores imported from Tanzania in Africa.

Within a span of ten years after its capture by the British, Bengal, once the richest province in Asia, became destitute. To understand how it happened, one must examine the broader political developments in South Asia in the early part of the 18th century.

Ahmed goes on to explain the following contributing factors which destroyed the prosperity this wealthy land possesd;

What Robert Clive started, his successor, Warren Hastings completed. With the instincts of a cold, ruthless extortionist, Hastings used every administrative trick in his bag to extract the last ounce of gold from Hindus and Muslims alike. He imposed hefty taxes on Indian manufactures while flooding the Indian market with cheap cotton goods manufactured in Lancashire. He waged war on the Afghans of Rohilkhand, pillaging the northern territories as he went. He starved the Begums (princesses) of Oudh and tortured their servants using another traitor Asif ud Dawlah as his tool, until the Begums surrendered more than a million pounds in state jewels. Within a span of ten years, Bengal was on its knees. What was once the richest province of Asia was now broke. Famine set in in1765 and the streets of Calcutta were littered with corpses.

…The transfer of this immense treasure from Bengal made possible the Industrial Revolution in Europe

The Indian sub-continent was always known as the jewel in Britain’s crown. It should be a point to research what some observers thought of the condition of this land before the onset of imperialism, however using just Ahmed’s findings for this piece, we can note how rich the booty was from the conquest of this region, giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘jewel in the crown’. A case in point was the treatment of Tippu Sultans possessions after his defeat, which demonstrates one of the numerous examples of how European conquering armies took looting to an entirely new level;

 Throughout the night of May 5th, they indulged in an orgy of slaughter, looting and fire, which continued well into the following day. Every single house in the island city was plundered. Turbans, daggers, jewellery, furniture, anything of value-and sometimes of no value-was taken. The Sultan’s palace was ransacked, and everything in it was looted, down to the linen on Tippu’s bed. The throne of Mysore was broken up and melted down for its gold. The famous huma bird, studded with diamonds and rubies that had adorned the throne was claimed by one of the colonels. The total amount of loot that day exceeded 2 million English pounds, which was more than twice what was extracted by the British from the Begums of Oudh in 1764. This amount would be equal to 2 billion US dollars at today’s market prices. Untold amounts of jewels were stolen. The booty was divided up among the troops, with the British officers often shamelessly disagreeing among themselves about their portion of the loot. As time went on, the remnants of the Sultan’s treasures were dispersed. There is hardly an old army barrack in the British Isles today that does not boast a piece of booty from Tippu’s capital.

You may even find some of these treasures in a UK museum.  My thoughts also fill with accounts of the mass transport of Latin American gold and silver to the home of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, ultimately ruining the economy due to its abundance and its wastage.

Once more India is at the forefront of global economic growth, however it has had to make up for lost time, during which Europe and later the USA, were able to kick start their engines of growth to dominate the world.

And what of this potential wealth of a resource rich region such as Africa, raped for centuries by Europeans?

It follows that in this post-colonial global system, poverty has not been a natural occurrence. Wealth was taken from millions by a number of means outlined above, masses were kept dependant so they could be controlled and prevented from competing with foreign powers that sought total dominance. This suppression continues today, consider this method referring back to the implementation of global credit and how the bankers have ended up being the invading armies of the modern era. This is an example from the 19th century and the gradual break up of the Ottoman Empire;

Economic penetration was the means for British entry into Egypt, as it was for the French occupation of Tunisia. The Khedives of Egypt, Sait and Ismail, had contracted huge loans at enormous discounts, first to build the Suez Canal, then to support their own lavish life styles. By 1875, the debt had increased to 100 million British pounds and it required more than two thirds of all Egyptian revenues to keep the debts serviced. The financial condition of Egypt was thus a mirror image of that of the Ottoman Empire. When the Egyptians defaulted in their debt payments, the European powers formed the Egyptian Debt Commission with the authority to confiscate specific revenues. To ensure compliance, the powers imposed an Armenian nationalist as the prime minister of Egypt, while an Englishman became the finance minister and a Frenchmen, the minister of public works. The stipulations of the Egyptian Debt Commission meant the effective surrender of Egyptian sovereignty to the Europeans, which caused a public uproar…..

Add to this the predicament of Third World Debt, or even first world debt; un-payable amounts which can never be repaid yet these monthly payments are still demanded and continue to double and multiply, more being spent on debt servicing than the service of people.

Poverty serves a purpose. The abject suffering of too much of humanity has been enforced and is being maintained. The argument that capitalism is the best solution for it, disregards the truth that free markets and liberalism are merely tools of tyranny which are not available for all to explore in the first place, moreover, as the history documented in this piece shows, blood was split first by the very powers which we now see as embodying capitalism; it was never meant to be a solution, it was always a members only benefit with rules leading to a form of oppression not freedom.

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