Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset (with Luis Esparza)
World Hunger: Twelve Myths (Second Edition)


The basic issues:


MYTH 1: There Isn't Enough Food

MYTH 2: Nature's to Blame

MYTH 6: Justice vs. Production

MYTH 7: The Free Market Can End Hunger

MYTH 8: Free Trade Is the Answer

MYTH 3: Too Many Mouths to Feed

MYTH 4: We Can't Both Feed the Hungry and Protect Our Environment

MYTH 5: The Green Revolution Is the Answer

MYTH 10: More U.S. Aid Will Help the Hungry

MYTH 9: Too Hungry to Revolt

MYTH 11: We Benefit from their Hunger

MYTH 12: Food vs. Freedom

CONCLUSION: "Beyond the Myths of Hunger: What We Can Do"



Choose one of the following supposed "economic rights" for examination. Select on the basis of what issue you're interested in now, regardless of whether you actually believe it should be a right. It is perfectly fine to believe it isn't a right.

Divide into groups of three people (max), and designate a recorder and a speaker for the group.

Each student should take two minutes to share h/her thinking with the rest of the group. The rest of the group listens respectfully and without interruption.

Group reports: each speaker gives the major points raised by the group, both for and against having the right. Do not repeat points made by previous groups.

Emphasized in the West Emphasized in socialist countries
  • the right to petition
  • the right to worship as one chooses
  • the right to privacy
  • the right of assembly
  • the right of safety against unauthorized search and seizure
  • the right to equal representation
  • the right to vote
  • the right to medical care
  • the right to food, shelter, and clothing
  • the right to a job (meaningful, paid employment)
  • the right to education
  • the right to communication (e.g., free telephone service, free Internet access)
  • the right to transportation (e.g., free public transportation)

Running Notes for LCR text on World Hunger

Different social problems provide different entry points into social theory. For deSoto, the entry point was "illegality" — the existence of large numbers of Lima residents who were living and working outside the Peruvian legal regulations.  For LCRE, the entry point is hunger — the existence of large numbers of chronically hungry people.  Both works are concerned with finding the roots of these social ills; they seek to solve the social problems by transforming the debate.  In deSoto's case the transformation involves the linguistic change to "informality" and a turn to the free market.  In LCRE's case the transformation involves locating the problem of hunger in that of vulnerability and then locating the problem of vulnerability in the lack of democracy.  (They define "democracy" at four different levels.)   LCRE also tranform the debate by concentrating on chronic hunger, not just famine and starvation.  Finally, they transform the debate by looking at democracy as involving economic as well as political rights.

The LCRE critique of the market:

Contrast with DeSoto text:

There are generally two themes in debates about development: "equality" and "capacity". (Lucian Pye mentions them, for example, as two of the three aspects of the "development syndrome". Note that he finesses any tradeoffs between them by saying that development involves both.)

In their descriptions of the virtues of capitalism, both Adam Smith and DeSoto emphasize capacity. To them, "equality" means discriminatory, narrow regulation to benefit worse-off classes at the expense of the better-off classes through State power. They dismiss concerns about equality as leading to poverty for everybody (since efficiency isn't rewarded) and a general breakdown of law through the rise of informality. While regulation in the service of "equality" can make a few, organized, worse-off people get protected, it doesn't protect all worse-off people. Only the free market can make everyone better off.

On the other hand, many people are bothered by the inequalities produced by capitalism. Even if it produces greater aggregate wealth, capitalism has disadvantages.

This conflict between equality and capacity remains (in a watered-down form) in the conflict between Democrats and Republicans and in the divisions within each party. I will argue two things: (1) Democrats emphasize equality more than the Republicans, while Republicans emphasize capacity more; and (2) both parties are internally divided between people who understand the philosophical basis of their position and people who don't. Democrats: social transformation vs. protection of middle class, "social worker" interests. Republicans: free market vs. simple protection of the wealthy.

Basic questions in approaching the text:

1. Can we prevent hunger? Or is hunger inevitable? Arguments that it's inevitable:

So hunger is human-created/caused (whether just or not, desirable or not)


Basic orientation of the LCR text:

The United States' discourse distinguishes political citizenship & rights from economic citizenship & rights, favoring the former. (See above table.)

LCR advocate both political and economic rights / citizenship. They term this, "democracy".

Democracy = accountability of decision-makers to those affected. This is true in both political and economic spheres, although (again) we usually think of the political sphere only. (Connect this to my "ways of relating" orientation, which points to both economic and political systems as ways people relate to each other.)

LCR point to the absence or loss of democracy at several levels:

Clear & creative thinking about these issues is obscured / inhibited by several myths.

These myths I divide into four groups:

1. Erroneous Diagnoses

2. The free market is a disease masquerading as a cure

3. Other blind alleys and issues

4. Possible solutions

In each chapter, ask yourself:

Having laid this groundwork, let's go through the myths.

MYTH 1: There isn't enough food

What is the myth?

Why is this a myth?

MYTH 2: Nature's to blame

What is the myth?

Why is this a myth?

MYTH 3: Too Many Mouths to Feed

Note their careful analysis. This (and the later analysis of environmental protection) is a politically sensitive area for them.

What's the myth? - two alternative (but not contradictory) theories [i.e., myths] about the relationship between population and hunger:

Myth #1: population density causes hunger [because there simply isn't enough land to grow enough food to feed all the people]

Why is this a myth?

Population density and hunger do not correlate. LCR cite several contradictions as evidence.

China vs. India [India has twice the cropland/capita that China does, but has much more starvation]

Taiwan & South Korea vs. Bangladesh [the latter has twice the farmland/capita, but more hunger]

Costa Rica vs. Honduras [Honduras has twice the cropland, and 2/3 the population density (114 vs. 162, according to the 1994 World Almanac), but much shorter life expectancy (66 vs. 77 years, according to ibid.]

Note, however, that these examples are not conclusive; an overall correlation is needed.

Myth #2:  We now get into the second theory [myth], that population growth causes hunger. This, plus the argument about hunger and environmental destruction, involve an analysis using the concept of a spurious correlation.

Definition: A spurious correlation is an apparent correlation between variables, a correlation taken to be evidence of a causal connection, when the true causal connection is from a third, "background" variable and each of the original two variables.

For example, "# of firefighters" --: + :-- "$ damage". (This is the apparent correlation.) This observation leads us to wonder if firefighters CAUSE damage. (In other words, the correlation is "taken to be evidence of a causal connection".) But when we control for size of fire, which causes each of the other two variables, the residual correlation vanishes or becomes negative.  So it's a spurious correlation.  Another example:  according to insurance statistics, red cars are more likely than average to have an accident.

Myth #2: population growth causes hunger. The [Malthusian] theory here is that the growing number of mouths to feed outstrips the productivity of the land.

Rapid population growth indeed correlates empirically with hunger, but rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger. Hunger and rapid population growth occur together because they have a common cause. (In other words, the association between rapid population growth and hunger is a spurious correlation.)

Question: So what is that cause?

Answer: lack of social equality: both hunger & rapid population growth result where societies deny security and opportunity to the majority of their citizens.

The connection between lack of social equality and hunger: the less equality there is, the more some segment of the population is put at risk.  (We discussed this before and will continue to — a variety of causal connections [e.g., naure].)

The connection between social inequality and population growth has two sources, corresponding to two levels of power - local / village and family:

LOCAL/VILLAGE: Poor people have to rely on their own families. Children can produce more than they eat while young; and they are the parents' only social security system. Since health care is scarce and in an unequal system is targeted at the wealthy and powerful, poor people fear (with good reason) the death of their children, so they have to have lots. For these reasons, in most rural societies the number of children is literally the power of your family / clan.

FAMILY The disproportionate powerlessness of women makes them unable to control their own reproduction. The number of children is a mark of the man's virility.

Question: (The Planned Parenthood approach to hunger:) What is the role of family planning in this? Does it work? Can it stop population growth? Why not concentrate on family planning aid, which can be rapidly effective, instead of on social programs (e.g., land redistribution), which are politically inflammatory and take a long time anyway?


Family planning programs don't make a great deal of difference.  They really only succeed when people see no need for having lots of children.

They take a long time anyway.

But basically, if population growth & hunger have the same cause, if population growth doesn't cause hunger, then whatever its other virtues, stopping population growth won't change hunger (like trying to cure pneumonia by stopping the cough).

Question: Is population an important concern, according to LCR?

Answer: Yes; they say unchecked population growth IS a crisis for our planet both because of problems for humanity and also because of general ecological problems. But although it might cause some hunger, it isn't the root or most powerful cause of hunger.

Question: Isn't the basic problem cultural?

Answer: Yes; for the above reasons, more children means greater importance in traditional society.

MYTH 7: The Free Market Can End Hunger

MYTH 8: Free Trade Is the Answer

What is the justification of capitalism / free market? Not because it reshuffles wealth among people, because each winner would seem to have a corresponding loser. Not because it lets people compete, because while winners like competition, losers do not. Not because it stabilizes society; capitalism contemplates and welcomes the constant uprooting of society: where you work and life; the technologies that are competitive (and thus whether you are obsolete); etc.

No, two advantages are involved. Advantage 1: competition produces more - often much more - total wealth. The market system is good at producing things. Advantage 2: it increases liberty.

Some people refuse to critique capitalism, arguing that it is simply the way we live, reflecting the way human beings are, inherently. This position is not tenable because (basically) it confuses the normative with the empirical.

LCR Myth 7: The market system will solve hunger through the production of enormous wealth.

LCR say this is a myth, because the market causes hunger. The three basic elements of their critique:

Note that Myth 8 is Myth 7, writ internationally.

This is where we get into LCR's concerns about capitalism. (Be prepared: This lecture involves a lot of economic theory.)

Question: What is the myth? -- how, supposedly, will the free market be able to end hunger?

Answer: the problem is held to be that government interference with the normal, "efficient" production of the market* reduces the supply of food and inhibits growth of the food supply, so people go hungry. This is Adam Smith's and Hernando DeSoto's argument; maximum wealth is produced by a free market; the "trickle-down" theory.

[* In the technical economic sense, a completely free market is "efficient", but this means only that consumption matches production (supply equals demand) and that no trade would better both parties ("Pareto-optimality"). However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the society hosting the market produces as much as possible, since a monopoly is efficient without being very productive. Nor, more importantly, does it mean the society is just. Look at Rawls's trade-off curve between the amount the have-nots have (vertical axis) and the amount the haves have (horizontal axis). Explain the tradeoff: why the curve goes up, then down.]

Question: In what two major ways does the market cause hunger? According to LCR, the following:

#1: The market is said to respond to consumer preferences, but this obscures that it responds to money, not needs or preferences. Instead of one person, one vote, the market runs on the basis of one dollar, one vote. In a system with highly unequal wealth, market power is also highly unequal. Even in the United States, hunger coexists with an active market, and the market system does nothing to correct that, sees no problem in it at all. There's no economic incentive to feed the hungry instead of developing and selling any number of ridiculous, wasteful things. Following is a list of items I and previous classes have come up with; please let me know of other examples that ought to be here:

#2: Inequalities caused by commodification.

Question: LCR make a big deal about land & food being commodities. (a.) Why is this at all noteworthy? -- aren't all things commodities?

Answer: [Note that what follows is the "law-creating" perspective, the same as DeSoto takes.] (1) Society chooses what it allows to be bought and sold. [CLASS QUESTION: What's a "commodity"? What don't we allow to be bought and sold?] We don't approve of it when people buy & sell votes, or a consecrated wafer, or sex, or babies, or organs, or our liberty. Human genes (at least for now). Burial sites? Money can't buy love. A friendship can't be bought or sold, and we would look strangely at someone who tried to do so. Land can't be divided, though it can be sold. Eskimos don't sell their fish hooks. So society has a choice about what is treated as a commodity and what is not.(7) And I pass on without comment this item from the Harper's Index: "Ratio of the amount J. P. Morgan paid a man to fight in his place in the Civil War to what he spent on cigars in 1863: 1:1" (Harper's Magazine 299[1791, August 1999], p.13).

Thought question: What in our society has passed from not being a commodity to being one? List as many as you can.(8)

(b) So when making that choice, we have to ask about the social consequences. What are the social consequences of having food a commodity? Answer: Greater total food, on the one hand, set against more starvation, on the other.

Note the concept of "commodification", exemplified by the following quotation:

"Helmut Maucher, president of the international food giant Nestle, prevailed against a large and formidable field of contenders, quite possibly to his embarrassment. Last year, Maucher referred to individuals either unable or unwilling to work as Wohlstandsmüll, 'prosperity's waste product.' That expression stood out among 1,272 candidates for recognition as 1997's most dehumanizing or crassly euphemistic addition to the German language and won the Unwort ('non-word') of the year title."

- The Week in Germany, Jan 23, 1998, p.6. The awards are given by the Society for the German Language.

#2: How else does the market cause hunger: By ignoring externalities(9) such as ecological costs and social disruption arising from market fluctuations. [We discuss this in Myths #6 and #10.] This is a variant of #1: hunger is not reflected in prices.

The ecological effects are to damage everyone's ability to grow food. Market decisions cause social disruption (which society then has to clean up or bear), which causes people to lose the social supports that fed them in other times.(10) And this just pertains to hunger itself; there are the broader considerations of whether we want to choose a society having such ecological damage and social disruption.

Notice that externalities are not an inherent part of free market theory, but it is of the way it works in practice: actual inequalities of power result in the powerful off-loading their costs onto the powerless.


Question: What is comparative advantage theory? [ASK: How many have encountered "comparative advantage theory" in international political economy or a similar course in the Economics Department?] Answer: The theory that production is maximized when every society concentrates on producing the commodity/ies for which it has an advantage over all other societies by virtue of its unique combination of natural resources. For example, we could produce sisal for rope, but sisal doesn't grow well here, and in any case we have better things to do. I could manufacture the paper on which to print my articles, but I make better use of my time thinking them up.

Question: What is the myth in Chapter 8? Answer: Disruption of the international economy is held to cause inefficiencies, which cause less sales for poor countries, which causes them to be unable to buy food, so their people go hungry. This doctrine is enshrined in international political economy as the theory of "comparative advantage".

Question: What are the problems of this theory? Answer: The following are the basic lines of critique:

#1: [The basic argument against capitalism:] When applied to the issue of hunger and not total wealth, our perspective reveals that the extra foreign exchange supposedly arising from this free trade will not necessarily go to the hungry but rather to owners of the cash-producing wealth: men; rich landowners; the national elite; MNCs. The market is driven by wants backed up by money, not by need.

#2: Comparative advantage really arises not primarily from geographical resource factors but rather from low wages enforced by oppressive elites (Comprodore) and their enforcers. Thus most people eat less well.

#3: [Externalities:] The theory contemplates people producing cash crops and importing foodstuffs. The problem is, food imports undercut the coherence & roots & support systems of a society, so that the weakest go to the wall during the period of transition (and in the long run). For example, in the film, "Man-Made Famine", converting the land to sugar cane disrupted social protections, e.g. when men move to the cities, so that the women left behind go hungry

However, one can mix food & cash crops to ecological/agricultural advantage. This disruption may be transitory, but "in the long run, we are all dead."

#4: Two "terms of trade" arguments:

Profits from commodities are taken mostly by processors and manufacturers in Western countries (and by the "Comprodore" [DEFINE], their middle-men in the Third World countries), not by primary producers. Most value of bread, for example, lies in the packaging, advertising, distribution, etc., not in the wheat. Most value of rope lies in the manufacturing, not the sisal fiber. Again, additional production doesn't mean wealth for all.

Prices of commodities are falling relative to those of imported goods: manufacturing is becoming relatively more efficient than agriculture, though both are improving. (Recall film interview to this effect with the President of Tanzania.)

#5: The theory assumes a level international playing field, but the bargaining power of the third world countries is weak relative to others.

* First, there is some monopsony [DEFINE] in the international market for raw materials: consumer interests (multinational corporate purchasers of the products) are more concentrated than producers. (Contrast OPEC, of course.) And of course there is intentional disruption of Third World elites' ability to cooperate.

* Second, the commodities purchased are often luxuries in the consuming countries rather than necessities, so they have no threat to withhold. England abandoned coffee for tea. [Oil is an exception, obviously.]

* Third, there is some level of oligopoly [DEFINE] in the international market for manufactured materials.

* I have to say, overall, that Western countries are simply better able to cooperate -- to recognize and adhere to their collective interest -- than underdeveloped countries.

#7: The comparative advantage theory may be correct in its assertion that greater wealth is produced over the long run, but in the short run - which is when people can starve to death - the international market produces wide fluctuations. While food crops are subject to varying yields, prices for raw materials fluctuate even more widely. This has two effects:

* First, fluctuations disrupt local economies (and thus cause hunger).

* Second, fluctuations benefit the largest interests - in this case, multinational corporations, which have the resources to buy up land & facilities during times of depressed prices. This exacerbates the problem of powerlessness, the root of hunger.

MYTH 4: Food vs. Our Environment

What is the myth?

Why is this a myth?

Before we say anything else, LCR acknowledge that there is indeed environmental damage. Since this damage destroys the very resources we depend on for growing our food, the authors are concerned about it. Their argument will be, therefore, not that the premise is wrong (i.e., the premise that there is environmental damage) but rather than the causal connection is wrong (i.e., that environmental damage does not come from population pressure but rather from power inequalities).

Answer #1: As before: Even if it were true that environmental protection meant less food, there is no necessary connection between more food and less hunger. As long as there are people who don't have the power to command food (money to buy it; their own land to grow it), there will be hunger.

Answer #2: The environmental damage does not come from the necessity of growing more food but rather from environmentally unsound agricultural & other practices, practices that arise from power inequalities. Here is a list of the types of damage, with each type followed by an explanation of its connection to power inequalities:

MYTH 6: Justice vs. Production

What is the myth?

Why is this a myth?

Answer #1: Big growers aren't efficient, since big owners don't use the land, agribusinesses abuse it, and tenant farmers don't care. However, ownership can be made artificially to look efficient

Answer #2: Even if big growers were efficient, in a system with political and economic inequalities, the food still will not go to the hungry. Why is it that more food won't mean less hunger?

MYTH 5: The Green Revolution Is The Answer

Question: To understand this myth, we have to first understand the term, Green Revolution. What is the "Green Revolution"? Answer: New methods of farming that include the use of many or all of the following:

Question: What is the myth? [ASK THE STUDENTS] Answer: "More food, regardless of how it is produced, means less hunger."

Question: Why is this a myth? Hasn't the Green Revolution increased crop yields and reduced hunger? Answer: Greater production, yes; more food for the hungry, no. Without even saying anything further, you should not that in the the absence of economic rights and with land & food being commodities, unequal distribution of power means an unequal ability of people to buy or grow food. And there are several further considerations:

I. The Green Revolution is addictive, especially when the elite controls the direction and use of technology.

economies of scale only
displacement of peasants
profits go to banks & input-producers outside the country

Being addictive is a problem because of loss of power by the weak. There is a further problem as well, namely, that . . .

II. The Green Revolution is destructive, so it means environmental degradation through various externalities:

III. Big farms (and advanced growing methods) are said to be more "efficient".

"Efficiency" depends on what measures you use. Note the different measures used to assess efficiency in industrial vs. traditional agriculture:

 And, lest we forget, this "efficiency" doesn't include the many externalities, including government subsidies that smallholders can't take advantage of. Note that here the cost is paid by the taxpayers.

LCR suggest agroecology as a solution:

They also (elsewhere) note the success / efficiency of smallholders (as opposed to tenant farmers); owning the land gives people a stake in using it well, and it also gives them greater power (and thus increases democracy).


To recapitulate:

Hunger isn't hopeless / inevitable. (Myths 1-6)

Hunger exists because it has a human source: Inequality (= vulnerability) at many levels:

Poor (and thus vulnerable) countries in the world

Poor (and thus vulnerable) social classes within nations

Poor (and thus vulnerable) people within communities

Vulnerable women and children within families

This is created, at root, by letting food (or money, or the means of production of food, e.g., land and/or jobs) be a commodity (within a market system, perforce). If it's a commodity, then inequality increases over time. (Myth 7 & 8)

Naive (I will not bring up immoral) response: So what? It's a dog-eat-dog world, and better them than us. And even if it isn't inevitable, it's to our advantage.

Response: In Myth 11 [q.v.], LCR say, "Not true!"

O.k. -- we're convinced that hunger is a real problem, for moral and/or instrumental reasons. What are we to do?

Food vs. Freedom. [Myth 12]: LCR reject any concentration of power, whether it be lodged with the wealthy or with the State. (Distinguish "communism" from the U.S.S.R.'s "state socialism".)

Several responses:

 Communism (or rather, state socialism)? No, LCR say in Myth 11. LCR have to make a critical argument here. This is the core of their objection to capitalism. It isn't (primarily) that capitalism produces externalities, particularly those that damage the environment, although in the long run this will hurt us all. ("We are all downstream.") Rather, their primary objection to capitalism is that it increases the concentration of wealth and power and in the long run sacrifices everyone, even those who, like U.S. workers in the short run, seem to profit from the system.

 More U.S. aid? Well, maybe, but only in the right form, they say in Myth 10.

 Be guided by the people themselves.

They aren't too beaten down. (Myth 9a)

They aren't ignorant of what they need. (Myth 9b)

Question: We're now at the last section of the text, looking directly at what to do. So if state power isn't the answer, and the free market isn't either, what is to be done?

Answer: Any or all of the following:

#1: Use the market, but disperse purchasing power! The market works fine in some ways. It does provide an automatic adjustment mechanism. It is conducive to innovation and efficiency. The problem arises from inequality, not the market per se. (This is also John Rawls's solution, I believe.)

#2: Stop debating how much government should be involved in the market (since every society has large government involvement) and start looking at the nature of government involvement (elite maintenance vs. wide distribution of benefits).(11)

#3: Make food a right, e.g., as is done in Kerala, India, where the ration shops provide free basics: rice, wheat, sugar, oil, kerosene. Like Cuba, Kerala is poor, but has high literacy, life expectancy, infant survival rates, etc.

#4: Where land is the basis of production, remove land from the commodity market. (I'm not sure how this would work in practice, however. Any ideas?)

Myth 10. Should we give more aid? LCR have three responses.

We shouldn't give aid as presently constituted, which is "aid against change".

We should guarantee food & basic necessities, as in Kerala. Providing toothbrushes cures more people than providing dentists for the rich. Remember that we do have a rationing system, except that our lines are invisible: people who can't afford to go to the dentist. I can't afford to see an eye doctor yearly.

Any aid is suspect when we allow elites to define needs:

recall how social workers didn't see any need for "micro-enterprise financing" in Duluth

The liberation theology movement tries to identify needs from the bottom up, not the top down.

Identifying needs from the bottom up is the most promising direction. BUT this leads to two further objections, both parts of Myth 9:

Myth 9a. Peasants are too beaten down, too dominated, to provide the raw power necessary to dislodge the elites. LCR argue that on the contrary they will fight hard over issues that concern them: access to land; prices; and access to credit. Peasant revolts occur all over the world; one going on now in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, and spreading.

Myth 9b. Peasants don't understand their needs; they require outside, expert assistance to understand what's going on. LCR argue basically that peasants may not understand immediately, but they do see what their needs are, and starting with their needs will let them create answers.

MYTH 9a: Too Hungry to Revolt

Question: What is the myth?

Answer: The situation is hopeless: peasants are too beaten down to revolt.

Question: What is the reality?

Answer: peasants aren't passive but will fight hard & be ingenious. [Here is a good place to ask the students, "How would you go about organizing a peasant village? What are the crucial issues?"] The crucial issues to peasants are: access to land, esp. ownership of it; prices for their crops; and access to credit.

A corollary of Myth 9 is that outside agitators are responsible for the peasants' fighting. What is the reality?

MYTH 9b: Too Hungry to Revolt

What is the myth?

MYTH 11: We Benefit From Their Hunger

What is the myth?

What is the problem with this? There are several problems, all of them basically to the effect that having people hungry abroad (or at home, for that matter) is not in our interest:

1. This myth addresses only the issue of consumption, not of production. We benefit from cheap products only if we have money to pay for them. But most of us are producers (workers), not just consumers. Only the owning class has money without the necessity of working for it.

We may believe that we can take advantage of them via better terms of trade. (We've got them on the ropes; why worry about some theoretical problems?) But if foreign workers are cheap, then corporations take their jobs overseas, using nationalism to force one group of workers to compete against another, to the benefit of neither. The only beneficiaries are the owners, who make an increased profit. So low wages abroad may be to our advantage in the short run, but in the long run they are to the overall advantage only of the owning class. We're cutting our own throats. It is for this reason that our foreign policy, dominated by owning class interests, is not really targeted at the hungry.

2. Looking at this argument from the other direction, members of the Third World countries are not just producers of cheap products: they are also potentially consumers of U.S. manufactures. Keeping them poor means they are unable to buy what we produce, further reducing U.S. jobs.

3. Violence continually breaks out against the system of exploitation that produces hunger, and we have to pay for the repression necessary to keep people working for low wages. Our military is extremely expensive and also inefficient at producing jobs. And to repeat what was said above, such repression is really to the long-term interest only of the owning class.

4. We also become perceived as the enemy, driving people into the Soviet bloc. I note the example of both Cuba and Nicaragua.(12)

[5. These arguments apply at home as well as abroad.]

MYTH 12: Food Vs. Freedom

What is the myth?

What is the reality?

MYTH 10: More U.S. Aid Will Help the Hungry PLUS Beyond the Myths of Hunger: What We Can Do

What is the myth?

Myth 10 (which follows from Myth 9, that peasants are too poor & passive to do things themselves): Poor peasants need to be "saved" by U.S. intervention. Our responsibility is to fight for more U.S. aid.

What is the reality?

As presently constituted, our aid programs are "aid against change", so we need to alter the nature of the debate and the form of aid.

The authors say, "Our responsibility isn't lessened but is instead redirected". From what, to what?

"To what?" isn't answered until the last chapter, although there are some hints in their discussion of "From what?". We might usefully have a discussion about the question, "What does our current U.S. foreign aid debate look like?"

From debates over the proper level of aid ["stinginess"(14) vs. "wastefulness"] to debates over the proper form of aid. (Note that they make a very similar argument re. the role of the market, where they try to change the debates from the amount of government intervention to its direction.)

From "aid against change". This is their phrase for the use of aid as a tool to prop up third world undemocratic elites and to preserve the status quo. Here are seven aspects, but note that aid has one goal -- to advance U.S. interests -- but many different specific purposes and mechanisms (emergency food aid; food or other aid on credit; military aid; development aid; direct loans).

1. Aid is targeted/concentrated on a few governments, most relatively high-income (Egypt; Israel).

2. Aid mostly doesn't give food to the hungry. Aid is only 1/7 food aid. Of this food aid, only a tenth (thus 1/70 overall) is emergency food aid going directly to starving people, while over half (1/14) is sold on credit to countries to resell to their own people. (In other words, it's a way for the regimes to make money, but the food still may not get to the poor. See also point 3 below.) Only 1/6 of all bilateral aid is even called development assistance.

3. Food aid can be a disincentive to production (undercuts prices received by local producers) or to reforms, and shifts tastes away from indigenous products.

4 & 5. Economic aid is given to right-wing governments (e.g., Guatemala & El Salvador), who support the very processes of the free market that result in hunger in the first place. Conversely, the United States cuts off aid to regimes which support increased democratization (e.g., Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe).

6. Military aid goes to support internal repression (e.g., of rebellion by the hungry and disempowered), not defense against external aggression. Thus inequalities of power - the source of hunger - is perpetuated.

7. Development aid doesn't reach the poorest. Early aid concentrated on large-scale, showy projects. Later aid has been targeted at smaller-scale producers, but it still fails to reach the poorest.

8. Aid benefits U.S. corporations, since purchases have to be made from them.

Basically, our government's definition of the national interest always seems to put us on the opposite side of the hungry.

What sort of aid do we need? What should the United States do?

Most important, stop supporting "aid against change". If it works, we have starving, oppressed people (even the elite are allies) like in Guatemala. If it doesn't work, we have starving, oppressed people (and an elite that are our enemies) like in Cuba.

Challenge economic dogma, both

- the unfettered market (capitalist path)

- state planning (statist path)

because both involve concentration of power.

Distinguish control over property for consumption (food, houses, cars) from control over property for production/profit (factories, businesses). This implies "ownership with responsibility". "Ownership with responsibility" means recognizing that property rights are given by society to serve a general end, which may or may not be the production of maximum wealth to be shared by few (capitalist solution).

Guarantee the necessities: basic food, basic shelter, basic health care, through Kerala's solution of "ration shops."

The mechanisms of producing hunger are manifold, but they all reduce to powerlessness. Nor is hunger the only issue; the same powerlessness means no access to shelter, or medical care, or education, etc. So the general solution is to work against concentration of power. (Example of funding small development banks, as in Bangladesh.)

What should we do personally?

Get alternative sources of information (including going to the Third World)

Educate others (at the risk of embarrassment).

Choose a career path relevant to hunger.

Further notes on myth 10.

Should we give more aid? LCR have three responses.

We shouldn't give aid as presently constituted, which is "aid against change".

We should guarantee food & basic necessities, as in Kerala. Providing toothbrushes cures more people than providing dentists for the rich. Remember that we do have a rationing system, except that our lines are invisible: people who can't afford to go to the dentist.

Any aid is suspect when we allow elites to define needs:

recall how social workers didn't see any need for micro-enterprise financing in Duluth

7. See Robert Kuttner Everything for Sale (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), which is located in the UMD library under HC106.82 .K87 1997. See also the interview with Kuttner in the February 1997 issue of The Atlantic Monthly (URL:

8. Here are some suggestions:

9. Define this important concept: Externalities are costs (or, occasionally, benefits) of production which are not borne (or received) by the producer. They are situations in which the "signal system" of the market is flawed, since prices don't reflect what the real consequences are. Example: copper refining in Juarez strips the paint off El Paso cars; asbestos dumped in Lake Superior by Reserve Mining poisons people; my ordering text exam copies; my ordering textbooks without regard for prices. [ASK STUDENTS FOR OTHER EXAMPLES.] The following table shows some good examples:
Hog farmers Hogs; pork Bad smell Neighbors
  • Lower quality of life
  • Lowered property values
  • Use special chemicals that reduce the smell
  • Hog farms made to go somewhere more remote and thus less convenient
  • Pay nearby residents
  • Diaper the pigs
Automobile driving One's life tasks
  • Air pollution
  • Greenhouse gases
  • All air-breathers
  • People living near the oceans
  • Car owners paying gas tax
  • Highway construction industries (a benefit, not a cost)
  • Disease; shortened life span
  • Cost of medical care
  • Loss of property washed away
  • Catalytic converters
  • Share cost of respiratory illnesses
  • Pay for share of properties lost to flooding
Airlines Transportation service Airplane noise taking off and landing People living near the airport, particularly on the approach and takeoff paths
  • Lower quality of life
  • Lower property values
  • Install quieter engines
  • Compensate residents for loss of property value

Here is a thought question. It can be posed for each of the externalities above, but I will phrase it in terms of the first one: the plight of the hog farmer. Suppose the farmer came to you and said something like this: "I'm sorry about the smell. I know it's bad. But I can't afford the chemicals necessary to eliminate it, and I can't afford to pay all my neighbors, and I can't afford to diaper the pigs, etc. Our farm is on the margin right now; if I had to pay for these other measures too, I'd go bankrupt." What would you reply?

Here's what I'd reply: "Tough. As the situation stands, we bear costs that you create. We're involuntarily subsidizing you. It's as if you went around to your neighbors each year and robbed them of (say) $500 in order to keep going. Don't dump your costs off on us. If carrying your own load means that you go broke, then your enterprise isn't financially sound and should go broke."

Here are some bad definitions of externality. "Externality is ...

Notice that externalities are not an inherent part of the theoretical market system, since it is always theoretically possible for the government to impose corrective or compensatory payments, taxes, and penalties. However, in the real world, such payments are dependent on the political strength of the people paying the external costs, so externalities created by the powerful and borne by the weaker will not be corrected.

Matt Nelson reminds me that the philosophical theory of political economy includes the so-called "Calder/Hicks criterion", a utilitarian-type criterion that says that externalities are justified as long as the resulting decrease in production costs (i.e., the resulting increase in profits) is large enough to fully compensate those bearing the cost of those externalities, regardless of whether such payments actually occur. Such a criterion will certainly prohibit a lot of pollution, where the harm is extensive and the cost to the producer of pollution control would be comparatively minor, but it is an open invitation to many other abuses by the powerful.

10. See "Man-Made Famine" video (VC0972).

11. "Corporate welfare" - "wealthfare", as Senator Wellstone called it. Tax breaks. Cost-plus defense contracts. "Too big to fail", e.g., the Chrysler bail-out.

12. This is obviously an outdated example. But the principle is still the same. We are now competitors on a different playing field; there are other blocs - now trading blocs instead of military blocs - that they can turn to.

13. As opposed to the Jeffersonian freedom rooted in the economic security of the independent yeoman farmer.

14. The 21 rich countries of the OECD gave a record low share of their national income in OVERSEAS AID in 1997. Only four countries met the UN target of 0.7% of their GDP. From The Economist Politics This Week February 6th - February 12th 1999

Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2005-11-19
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