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How Orwell Used Wartime Rationing to Argue for Global Justice


How Orwell Used Wartime Rationing to Argue for Global Justice

Bruce Robbins

Orwell’s response to inequality between nations could be more instructive than ever


I am looking forward to “Churchill and Orwell”, by Ricks (on hold from my local library).

The author, Ricks, a war correspondent himself, realized that both Churchill and Orwell had served in that capacity themselves.

Both thought individuals important, and individual freedom a world calling.

The inequality spoken of in this article by Bruce Robbins is certainly real and true, and the necessary implication, that the poorest here are in fact rich by world standards, is worth study.

The measure of inequality is universally money, and I am unconvinced this is a worthy or accurate measure.

None other than Marlon Brando, in his autobiography, stated that in his opinion the citizens of the United States were amongst the unhappiest on Earth.

Obviously this requires qualification, but there is a lot to this view, and from an artist who had seen it all.

Define inequality before we get too carried away.

In lifting the poor out of poverty, are we not visiting our own troubles on them?

The population explosion is not an indigenous event - it is entirely due to our first world interventions.


It appears that Orwell’s experiences delineated in this article lead him to conclude that “in an era of deceit, telling the truth becomes a radical act”.


Orwell was a great thinker and writer. His ideas are more relevant than ever!


Good article. In reading Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century one can learn that our model intra-national inequality is mirrored when one considers that among nations, or international inequality. To spread the wealth from the rich nations to the poor will require sacrifice. The rich of this nation are a perfect example of how wealth hoarding (think the current tax scam game) brings out the worst in them. Maybe when they are finally on the business ends of the pitchforks, perhaps they and their wealth should first be tossed to the poorest of nations.


Interesting. I had never thought of this before, but to ‘ration’ has the same root as ‘rational’. So does that mean it is most rational to ration? The libertarians would go ballistic if we went to rationing, and yet, they are the ones who like to associate themselves with the word ‘reason’ (see reason.com for example), which is a word I find in my dictionary under ‘rational’: having reason or understanding.


If solidarity isn’t shoreless

It is ultimately soulless


Since we seem to be in a permanent state of war(s), I say let’s bring back rationing. It wouldn’t hurt the working poor very much, as they already are used to de facto rationing. As for the upper 15-20 %, perhaps it would help them think about the suffering that our policies create and/or exacerbate if they experience some inconveniences.


They would “buy” their way around rationing, just like they did during WWII.


And just like they buy their way out of jail, military service, jury duty and anything else they don’t want. The moneyed classes buy their way into things they desire, as well, such as top-level schools, regardless of merit or ability. We’re just a great big “banana republic” in many ways.


And yet several economists have remarked that the past few decades have seen many poor nations rise (and a few go strongly the other direction). The nations that have risen and become less impoverished have all embraced capitalism, free markets and globalization to some degree. Thirty years ago South Korea and Taiwan were developing nations. Now they are more often counted among the developed nations. India of 50 years ago was ruled by the Congress Party, and its lawmakers swore an oath to socialism. Now not so much. There is still poverty in India, but there is also much more prosperity than there used to be.

As for the few other cases… Rhodesia was once Africa’s breadbasket. Under a ‘socialist’ dictatorship, Zimbabwe has become a famine zone. (I will generously suppose that it is a dictatorship that proclaims socialism, rather than actually practices it…). And Venezuela used to be one of the richest countries in South America. It too has become a famine zone under Chavismo Bolivarian socialism.

Economics is all about choices and trade-offs. Call it rationing if you wish. There are several possible ways to ration scarce goods. Libertarians and Austrian economics will say that a price system, currency and free markets produces the most happiness, most efficiency and most production, compared to other systems.


Both words are of the same root as “ratio”, meaning " of or pertaining to proportions. It the case of “ration” - it refers to a proportioning in the allotting of goods and necessities, in the cases of “rational thinking” it refers to the proportioning of thoughts and ideas, as opposed to letting ideas accelerate into hyperbole.

But yes, the so-called “Reason” of the Ayn-Randite “libertarians” of the US, is of course not rational at all, but based on hyperbole and what that UN Rapporteur on US poverty called “caricatured reality.”


Have you ever lived in Venezuela? I worked there in the 1980s - the poverty and squalor - in the countryside and in the shantytowns around the cities was awful. And the infrastructure was awful. It was never rich aside from a handful of wealthy in the east side of Caracas. The untenable inequality exploded in the Caracazos of 1989 with thousands gunned down by the corrupt neoliberal Perez government.

The Bolivarian/PSUV government greatly improved living conditions, for the great majority of Venezuelans and rebuilt the infrastructure. The current troubles and decline in living standards (but still far better than the 1980s) are due to over-dependence on oil exports for which the price collapsed, the very poor monetary policy (the two-tired exchange rate) but in particularly, the sabotage of the economy by wealthy business interests because they weren’t getting their way.

Of course the corporate US media peddles a false narrative regarding conditions in Venezuela - exaggerating the shortages, and turning the violent right-wing street thug rioters into heroes, and the police trying to restore order, using extreme restraint compared to what Perez did (which the media naturally ignored), into villains.

And while I don’t wish to defend the recently deposed Mugabe, I suspect that the conditions in Zimbabwe are equally distorted by the media. Her is another view regarding Zimbabwe:


Which brings up the question… if the measures you call “socialism” are so bad, why isn’t western Europe, particularly Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan all “famine zones”?


I know someone who lived in Grenada in the early 1970s, and he considered Venezuela a success country. So I ask back at you: How did Venezuela in the 1980s compare with the other nations in South America? How does Venezuela now compare with Venezuela of the 1970s? As for infrastructure, there used to be a 4 lane highway between Caracas and its port La Guaira. I read years ago that for lack of maintenance several viaducts failed, and now traffic has to use the old road. Several other instances of infrastructure in Venezuela have also failed in recent years. They used to have several tropical diseases under control. Now they don’t.

Since 1945 (interrupted by military dictatorship 1948-1958) Venezuela has wanted to use its oil wealth to become a prosperous nation on the model of social democracies of Western Europe. ‘Wanting’ and succeeding are not the same thing, and they have had corruption. How it compares with Greece, for example, I don’t know. Carlos Andres Perez belonged to the Accion Democratica (AD) party, center to center-left. Carlos Andres Perez was Vice-President of Socialist International, 1976-1992. He would certainly object to you calling him a neoliberal.

You have to be pretty bold to claim that conditions now are “far better” than in the 1980s. Have you heard of the Maduro diet? Here is one article of many https://www.caritas.org/2017/05/children-face-hunger-crisis-in-venezuela-as-malnutrition-soars/

As for over-dependence on oil exports, their government made it so. How come other OPEC members, or Mexico, aren’t in the mess that Venezuela is in? Most any other rational government promotes other segments of the economy. Even Colombia’s FARC promotes coca production, not oil.

As for “sabotage of the economy by wealthy business interests”, hmm? Please list some. The most obvious ‘sabotage’ is that PSUV antagonism and oppression has caused many smart people to leave Venezuela. The brain drain will hurt Venezuela for more than a generation.

Then there is The Atlantic, a reliable left wing magazine, which published

Excerpt “Chavez, for example, became president in 1998 by running as an anti-establishment figure who would revive a moribund economy (he had recently been imprisoned for staging a failed military coup). And over the next 14 years, as he continued to cast himself as an outsider despite leading the government, he funneled Venezuela’s flourishing oil revenues into popular social programs …”
– Noting that his Socialism was celebrated before the failures of his socialism became evident.

You Yunzer have worked in Venezuela, and like the place. It is time for you to go back and contribute to making socialism there a success.

I wrote of countries that went strongly socialist. The PM of Denmark in mid-2016 spoke back against Sen. Sanders, saying that Denmark is not that kind of socialist. And in some measures of economic freedom Denmark is free-er than the USA is. The usual socialist result is stagnation, which is a problem in France, Italy, Greece, Japan and many other socialist minded nations. Which can lead to decline, as it did for Britain between 1945 and Margaret Thatcher in 1978.