Famines Are Caused by Awful Governments -- So Stop Giving Those Awful Governments Money

By Hannan, Dan | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, March 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

Famines Are Caused by Awful Governments -- So Stop Giving Those Awful Governments Money


Hannan, Dan, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


"Famine in South Sudan." When I was growing up in the 1970s, it would have been an unremarkable headline. In those days, we were horribly habituated to images of African kids with matchstick legs and bloated bellies. Now, though, such headlines are startling, and for the best of reasons: Famines are slowly being eradicated.

According to the Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg, 1.7 million children died from malnutrition in the first decade of this century. A shocking number, to be sure; but it had fallen by 60 percent since the 1950s, despite the world population more than doubling in that time.

As usual, few saw the good news coming. "The battle to feed all humanity is over," wrote Paul Ehrlich in 1968. "Hundreds of millions are going to starve to death." In fact, when he wrote those words, hunger was already in retreat. New strains of cereals, resistant to parasites and capable of growing at broader latitudes, were transforming food production. Chemical fertilizers enabling vast gains in yield. No less important, countries which had pursued "food security" as a paramount policy goal began to open up their economies, buying at world prices and so, paradoxically, making their food supplies more secure.

When Ehrlich was writing, the United Nations classified 29 percent of the world population as undernourished - down from 50 percent immediately after the Second World War. Today, that proportion has fallen to 11 percent.

So what has gone wrong in South Sudan? The usual thing: misrule. Since the 1990s, if not before, there has been a superabundance of food in the world. But plenty is no guarantee against rapacious, brutal, corrupt regimes. Almost every recent outbreak of starvation has been caused by bad government or by war. The last 20 years have seen famines in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan -- all caused by conflicts. There may have been an even worse spasm of starvation in North Korea in the end of the 1990s (we can't be sure of anything in that secretive tyranny) caused, not by war, but by an insistence on economic self-reliance of the sort which, incredibly, some Western protectionists want to imitate.

South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan in 2011, has followed the post-independence script to the letter: corruption, autocracy, tribal violence, civil war. …

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