Wednesdays are market days in Diare, the village in which I’m staying. Merchants from around the region come to the community to set up shop on the market field. Clothing, food items, electronics, and various other kinds of wares are available for purchase. Last Wednesday, after browsing around the stalls and mats, not looking to buy anything in particular, I ended up leaving the market with a copy of the Indian film Sholay for 2 Cedi (about CAD$ 1.30).
Sholay, meaning “embers”, was made in 1975 and is one of my dad’s favourite films. It’s a sort-of cowboy western style movie, with a whole bunch of horse chases and shootouts.
When I got to the house I discovered that at least a couple of the young men in the household had already seen the film and were big fans. And lots of the children wanted to watch it. After Isha, the evening prayer, we all gathered in my room, surrounded my laptop and got down to it.
Jab tak hai jaan
Mein nachoon gi
(As long as I have life
I will dance)
Throughout the viewing, but especially around the time of the climax of the film – when Basanti, the heroine, dances while battling sunstroke to save Veeru, the hero, from being killed – some thoughts were kindling in my mind.
On my way back from the market earlier in the day I had encountered a boy, of maybe ten years age, who’s left foot was swollen. He was walking slowly and painfully, almost in tears. I tried to ask him what had happened, but he responded only by continuing to walk along and perhaps also shaking his head. I trotted alongside him for a short minute until we ran into an English-speaking acquaintance of mine. With the English-speaking man’s help I was able to communicate with the boy and his mother, who arrived to join the conversation shortly after the boy, man, and I began our congress.
I learned that the boy had injured his foot while jumping during a soccer game, perhaps more than one month ago. Local medicinal herbs were the only treatment he was getting.
There aren’t any health practitioners in the community who can address bone fractures, which is likely what the boy is suffering from. The closest place where adequate treatment could be obtained is Tamale, the regional capital. Even there, the treatment would be far from optimal, it would likely take an excessively long time to acquire and it would be costly.
At this time in the year farming families are nearing the end of the gains made from the last harvest. An injury or illness that isn’t life threatening has to be soldiered with little or no treatment. Though, perhaps such would be the case no matter the time of year, as gains from the harvest have to be stretched to last through the entire dry season.
… citizens were triumphantly informed that in Karachi, a city with only three bottled-milk outlets, the consumer could choose among Bubble Up, Canada Dry, Citra Cola, Coca-Cola, Double Cola, Kola Kola, Pepsi-Cola, Perri Cola, Fanta, Hoffman’s Mission, and 7UP.
– Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power
Proponents of economic liberalization evidence the availability of cheap consumer goods as a sure sign that their doctrine is a worthy one. However, although liberalization may make goods such as carbonated drinks and pirated Indian films* accessible even to the modestly waged, reforms such as reductions in trade tariffs – unless a new, more complicated, taxation system can be effectively implemented as a replacement – result in lower revenues for governments, which makes it harder for them to provide social services such as healthcare. As for the market providing such services, where the low purchasing power of the poor does not create enough “demand” the market fails to deliver – private healthcare providers find it more profitable to service the rich.
Ghana presents us with a case study of exactly these circumstances. Things are not working out so well.
* Interestingly enough, proponents of economic liberalization tend to become rabid protectionists when it comes to intellectual property rights, often even when people’s lives are directly at stake, as in the case of anti-retroviral medications. Free market doctrine is only trumpeted about when it can be used to help the rich become richer.