Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thanksgiving and World Hunger

It is Thanksgiving time. Colleges all over the US have Hunger Day festivities designed to acquaint them with the facts of World Hunger. At best they might also learn that 14.5 million households in the US suffer from hunger. There are close to 16 million children in those underfed households.
But in these Hunger Day events no questions are raised about the causes of all this poverty. We are certainly rich enough that no one need go hungry.
Nevertheless poverty is rampant, at home as well and abroad. In my last blog I pointed out that domestic poverty is due to the failure of our brand of free market capitalism to create enough jobs and to create jobs that pay enough to allow people to have sufficient food.
Economists are fully aware that the free market system is imperfect. Markets provide all those commodities that some enterprise can make a profit producing. But some of our major needs are not met by for-profit enterprises: most of our schools are not for profit. The record of for-profit education is inglorious. While many health care providers—insurance companies, physicians, drug companies, and medical appliances companies make plenty of money, they cannot produce health care that the majority of Americans can afford. People have to go without health care or receive government subsidies. For-profit health care is not a success because it is not accessible for most of Americans.
Police and fire protection are not for profit, neither are bridges and roads. Parks, museums and symphony orchestras are non-profit. Building public monuments, Boy and Girl Scouts, Youth sports, the Ymca's and Ywca's are not profit making undertakings. Large parts of our lives are not serviced by the market.
We have known this for a long time. Corporate leaders and the “experts” in their pay are the only folks who deny this. But their opinion reflects self-interest, not facts. There is absolutely no evidence for their claim that the free market solves all economic problems.
But now we are discovering another market failure of our capitalist system: it does not provide enough jobs, let along enough jobs that pay enough for people not to go hungry.
These failures of the market account for poverty at home. Widespread hunger abroad is due to hypocritical and unscrupulous interference with attempts of other countries to feed their hungry populations.
Countries such as India and South Africa have food security programs that buy the farmers' crops at “administered prices” above market value, to stabilize prices and pay struggling farmers a living wage. Crops purchased by the government feed the poor.
The United States and other developed nations want to place harsh restrictions on these subsidies and on efforts to reduce the hunger of the poor. They decry it as restraint on the free operation of the market. Developed countries produce agricultural products more cheaply than small farmers in the underdeveloped world. They can undersell local farmers, put them out of business and add to the poverty in places such as India or South Africa. The developed countries try to prevent poverty reduction in the under-developed world because it hinders their unfettered pursuit of profits for themselves. Mass starvation is of no interest to them as long as they can make more money. In their pursuit of profit, first world agricultural producers are completely unscrupulous.
But their attempts to limit anti-hunger efforts in poor countries is also utterly hypocritical because the US and other developed countries also support agricultural prices through subsidies to farmers. At home they are willing to compromise their enthusiasm for the free market, at least when it benefits large agricultural corporations, but when it comes to saving the poor from hunger abroad, free markets come first.
Millions of people go hungry and die young because capitalist markets fail us in important respects. Pretending to be devoted to free markets and free trade when all they are looking to is their private profit, capitalists make their economic system even more destructive.
When they come around to tell you about the blessings of the free market, run the other way.