Untied States

The End of Poverty?

A Movie Review By Bonnie Weinstein

The End of Poverty?

Written and Directed By Philippe Diaz; Produced By Beth Portello; Narrated by Martin Sheen.

A Cinema Libre Studio Production.

I urge you to see this movie and bring friends. Even though it claims not to be pro-socialist, The End of Poverty? is a real condemnation of capitalism. The film exposes that through theft, oppression, war, pillaging, assassination, and massive “privatization” of natural resources—including air and water in the countries in the southern hemisphere that goes back to 1492—Western capitalist countries have profited at the expense of the people in those regions. Philippe Diaz, writer and director of the film blames this on individual materialism rather than the compelling need to increase the rate of profit at any cost that is endemic to the economic system of capitalism itself.

Diaz’s faulty conclusion is that individuals must begin “de-growth,” i.e., all of us in the wealthiest northern hemisphere must make a personal commitment to drastically scale back on our consumption in order to share the wealth with the rest of the world—the overwhelming majority of whom live in poverty. The problem with this “solution” is that it ignores the fact that even if individuals did change their excessive materialistic ways, there is no mechanism built into capitalism that would allow the equal sharing of that saved wealth with the rest of impoverished humanity. On the contrary, capitalism is a system that protects the rights of a very small number of individuals (less than one percent) to accumulate huge sums of personal wealth in spite of the massive poverty in the world today.

In fact, in addition to the continued plunder of world’s resources, which are increasingly more difficult and more expensive to procure, Western capitalism is steadily increasing its rate of profits by extracting it from the pockets of working people in the northern hemisphere.

For all working people, materialism and the accumulation of huge sums of personal wealth is not a matter of choice. The current economic crisis requires more concessions from the Western hemisphere’s relatively wealthy working class because the rest of the world’s working class has already been impoverished.

The film helps to illustrate this by contrasting the incredible depths of poverty endured by the peoples of the Southern hemisphere as a result of the selling off of water rights, land—even air rights, and, most importantly, labor rights—forcing masses of starving workers, peasants and farmers, to become at worst, pests to be exterminated and, at best, slave labor or prostitutes at the hands of the U.S. dominated corporate world. What this film, The End of Poverty? shows, is shades of things to come for the West’s more affluent workers.

The film welcomes us into the homes of people with no access to water or even sanitation. We hear their descriptions of their lives. We see their starving children rummaging the dumps for a drop of something to drink from the bottom of an old bottle. There are no interviews with UN leaders or other so-called “world advocates” for the poor. Instead the documentary takes us to the Congo, to Brazil to the most poverty-stricken places in the world—and into the lives of the people themselves. How they scavenge the dumps on the outskirts of big cities or try to harvest the crops that have been polluted by the industrial waste from the theft of natural resources by private Western capital. These are the voices we hear in this film. 

These scenes of poverty contrasted to the raw humanity of the impoverished themselves—which makes up the majority of the film—is punctuated with interviews with historians and scholars. They have documented many instances of the theft of land and resources by Western corporations over the centuries, but mostly describe current examples.

There are interviews with John Perkins, author of the book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, who gives testimony from his own personal experience as to how the land-grab deals were made by corporate “economic hit-men” (such as himself.) He confesses how “hit men” like himself would spare no measures to attain the goals of the corporations they represented—including recommending assassination and war when necessary to accomplish the corporate plunder and rape of the land and resources—with no regard to the humanity they destroy in the wake.

Western capitalism has no choice but to turn on its own labor force—to use them up and spit them out when they are done. As the film aptly points out, it has already ravaged and impoverished the entire southern hemisphere. There’s hardly anything else to steal there. 

But capitalism can’t control capitalism any more than the banks and corporate CEOs can control their own overtly greedy behavior. Because the capitalist profit motive has a logic of its own and will stop at nothing to increase private profits for their owners. Capitalism is the economic mechanism for the private accumulation of capital into fewer and fewer hands. Working people have the right to share equally and equitably in the wealth and resources of the world, but this cannot happen under capitalism. Workers will have to take these rights into their own hands.