The article about hunger’s killing 18,000 children every day is now reverberating through the left-wing blogosphere. One of the persistent problems with hunger is that it’s not an especially spectactular mode of death. Most people who die of hunger die of malnutrition rather than outright starvation. People tend to only start caring when it coexists with a different problem, such as war or disaster:
The response to these disasters and conflicts such as in Sudan’s Darfur region and Lebanon has meant that most development aid has been used to save lives not to help communities prevent disasters and promote development through agricultural programs, education for children and water conservation, Morris said.
The agency’s biggest operation today is in Darfur, where violence and security are major problems and 2.5 million people have fled their homes and now live in camps.
There aren’t that many posts around about hunger politics, which is regrettable. This is primarily an economic and political issue rather than a scientific one. Globally there are food surpluses; thanks to Norman Borlaug, famines are largely restricted to areas where food distribution is in shambles. Still, since the number of malnourished people in the world is about 850 million higher than it should be, here is a good program for reducing hunger:
1. Abolish first-world farm aid. It undercuts farmers in the third world; although they don’t affect subsistence farmers, they throw everyone else into poverty. NAFTA increased poverty in Mexico not because it’s free trade – free trade agreements everywhere else in the world raise standards of living in the poorer partner countries – but because unlike those other agreements, it let the rich partner dump government-subsidized corn in the poor one.
2. Divert development aid from economic to political development. Poor countries are usually able to grow on their own given a government that’s interested in development. Every democratic one is by design; most authoritarian ones aren’t. As Amartya Sen has noted, no independent democracy with a free press has ever had a famine. India’s last one was just before it achieved independence (though it would’ve had a few but for the Green Revolution).
3. Support greater access to genetically modified crops. This largely involves either buying unlimited use licenses from Monsanto in exchange for strands whose seeds can be replanted, or cutting off the research funds of every corporation that asserts a right to trademark DNA and establishing university labs aimed at producing useful GMOs instead. Right now, low-income farmers often find themselves straining to pay for the extra seeds each year. In addition, corporate control is one of the reasons for suspicion of GMOs, which reduces its use below what is scientifically sensible.
4. Unilaterally open first-world markets to third-world goods. As Krugman has shown in his research of international trade, free trade doesn’t always provide comparative advantage to the poorer trading partner. Indeed, with the exception of the city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore, every newcomer to the first-world club developed by replacing imports, rather than by inviting foreign corporations to set up shop. However, first-world tariffs on third-world goods negatively impact third-world economies, making it sensible to cut them without expecting reciprocal reductions in trade barriers.
5. Invest economic aid in infrastructure rather than capital or relief. Charity aid doesn’t do anything to help depressed regions; the Tennessee Valley Authority was good for temporarily providing jobs but never promoted any long-term development. Better uses for the money include road networks that make it easier to provide local relief and startup capital for economically productive regions (i.e. cities).
6. Debt relief. Need I say more? The US can afford to pay down its debt – it just chooses not to. Countries with a GDP per capita of 800 can’t. Note to creditors: you’re not going to see that money ever again anyway; deal with it.