Rising Prices—The Human Cost
By Awake! correspondent in Spain
“We have stopped eating tomatoes altogether because they are so expensive. And as for fruit, I can’t remember the last time I bought some,” sighed a housewife in India.
“We cannot buy shoes or clothes,” laments a Mexican textile worker, trying to support a family of five. “Four years ago, we had less money, but everything was cheaper. Now money is no good for anything.” In his country the buying power of the peso fell 35.4 percent between 1982 and 1986.
Muhammed el-Ghani is a night watchman in Cairo, Egypt, where prices of some necessities doubled in just one 12-month period. “We live from day to day,” he explains, “and there are days when we can’t afford to eat.”
In Brazil a hapless railway-accident victim had to wait 20 years before his compensation claim was decided by the courts. He was finally awarded a monthly compensation equivalent to half the national minimum wage at the time of the accident. Because of inflation, however, this sum probably did not even cover the bus fare when he went to collect it.
Bala from Nigeria, already the father of three, passed out when he heard the news that his wife had just given birth to triplets. Despite his holding down two jobs, the family income was hardly adequate for basic needs, and food prices have continued to rise. He knows that it will be impossible to provide even the basic necessities for his children. He was ready to hand over the babies for adoption.
The details may differ, but the story is the same worldwide. The cost of living is rising relentlessly. For many, bread and milk have become a luxury, and three meals a day a rarity. A report from Nigeria states: “Bread, the hitherto staple food of most Nigerians, is being consumed only by the affluent. Rice is eaten only on festive occasions.”
Some alleviate the problem by working longer hours, but others find work difficult or even impossible to obtain. They are forced to devote each day to the unending and often fruitless task of searching for food. For them, it is not merely a question of coping with the cost of living but, rather, a matter of struggling to meet the cost of survival.
The villain in most cases is inflation, or rising prices. Wages may also go up, but they rarely keep pace with the rise in prices. Particularly hard hit are those on fixed incomes, such as the pensioners or the unemployed. In many of the less developed countries of the world, there has been a marked drop in the standard of living in recent years. On a worldwide scale it can truly be said that although the rich may be getting richer, the poor are definitely getting poorer. Is that the situation in your country?
Unrest Caused by Economic Hardship
Not surprisingly, many raise their voices in protest. For instance, impoverished teachers from the provinces of Chiapas and Oaxaca set up tents in the main square of Mexico City in hopes that their vigil would bring economic justice. “The people are being exploited,” one of them asserts. In other countries riots have broken out when prices have risen sharply.
Crime, described by some as a silent but dangerous revolution of the poor against the rich, is also mushrooming. A police seminar attributed the international wave of delinquency to the desperate economic plight of so many citizens. Economic frustrations sometimes take an ugly turn. In 1987 in two Indian villages over 50 upper-caste people were murdered by hundreds of starving peasants who felt they were being exploited by feudal higher-caste landowners.
Who Is to Blame?
In the 20th century, more wealth has been created than ever before. But paradoxically, as this century draws to a close, increasing millions are bogged down in perpetual poverty. Promises of a better tomorrow, an upturn in the economy, a decent wage for all, are all too often political pipe dreams.
Who or what is to blame? Many blame their governments. The governments for their part may blame the economic policies of other countries. The world economic order has also been strongly criticized. Evidently, the problems are complex and the solutions elusive. In the following article, we will consider just some of the fundamental causes of the cost-of-living crisis and why they are so difficult to remedy.