John Walkenbach, of the excellent one-man Boing Boing-esque J-Walk blog, has a thought experiment.
If the U.S. spent $180 billion on world hunger rather than Iraq, 27 million starvation deaths would have been prevented and 300,000 innocent Iraqi citizens would be dead. And there would be $20 billion left over for something else.
It appears that it all boils down to a matter of priorities. Which lives are more important? 300,000 Iraqis, or 27 million people spread across the globe?
The first flaw is fatal and identified by the first commenter:
The flaw in your assumption is that starvation is a money problem. Money is NOT the problem – corrupt goverments/citizenry are the problem.
We can (and often do) get food to the countries where starvation is a problem, but unless there’s an moral infrastructure setup (one not contingent on bribery, extortion, graft, greed and any other vice of your choice) that can willingly deliver the food for humanitarian reasons, you’re simply funding major, minor and mini dictators.
In a perfect world, your suggestion would work. But not everyone wants to live in a perfect world.
The issue isn’t population control, either. People seem to forget that the guys in countries were starving because they were forced away from their home. Remember Sam Kinison’s comedy routine about moving to where the food is? It was funny until I figured out that the starving people had been moved AWAY from where the food was by guys with guns who wanted them dead.
P.J. O’Rourke once showed where we would have been more efficient just giving people money above the poverty level then we would have putting people in the projects with welfare. Just giving people food doesn’t fix the core reason someone’s hungry–especially if you send over surplus American wheat, for instance, which feeds some people but then puts the local farmers out of business–and now you’ve got more starving people.
But the deeper problem I have with the proposition (besides irritation at Iraq being the example used) is similar to this old rant, also inspired by a lefty desire to move money from one thing to another thing. It’s a false dilemma to assume that we have to give up X to get Y; there are lots of X’s out there, and some of them are pretty creative ones. I see this pop up in lots of places–”the inaugural money should be spent on (what the complainer wanted)”, “just take money from the Navy and buy Coast Guard stuff”, etc.
There are interesting resources if you really want to work on making fewer people starve to death, if you’re so inclined. (I’m trying to figure out where I can personally fit in this, by the way.)
–Oxfam America’s former leader’s now teaching at Fletcher; he’s got some great ideas about “sustainable aid” that could use being implemented.
–Barnett’s idea about “SysAdmin Force” is kinda shallow but it’s near an idea that’s got legs. The Americans have a shop in DoState called S/CRS working on figuring out how to do that work; the Canadians and the EU are also trying to get their brains around how to set it up. The core idea involves how to ensure a security space around aid and protect and grow fragile states so aid isn’t needed.
–Some of this is also working in NGOs and IAs–they’re realizing that the old way of doing things can be improved.
–My monthly plug for Hernando de Soto’s book The Mystery Of Capital. It’s germane here, too.
–The DoD effort in Africa over the last few months is doing some of that support work.
So. It’s a rant but at least I got around the 1000 character limit at the other guy’s blog…
Update: As I was writing this LGF pointed to this Yahoo article:
Economist Blames Aid for Africa Famine. Note that this is the same economist I mentioned earlier who was interviewed in Der Spiegel.
This is more complex than our sympathy sometimes lets us see immediately, and the solutions may be counterintuitive.