"Food First" Puts Ideology First

One of my daily reads is BBSpot, because its proprietor has a "Daily Links" feature that often points to the offbeat and interesting. The other day, though, it linked to a page titled "12 Myths About Hunger" from an organization called "Food First." Which, in turn, irritated me enough to generate this blog entry.

A number of the FF "myths" are OK, some even good. But there's a huge festering sore down at Myth 7:

Myth 7:

The Free Market Can End Hunger

Reality: Unfortunately, such a "market-is-good, government-is-bad" formula can never help address the causes of hunger. Such a dogmatic stance misleads us that a society can opt for one or the other, when in fact every economy on earth combines the market and government in allocating resources and distributing goods.

In just a couple sentences, FF demonstrates its own dogmatism, an unwillingness to even consider the merits of the "myth" it's pretending to discuss.

Let's grant FF's blindingly obvious insight that there are no pure examples of either a 100%-market or 100%-statist economy. So? We can't compare the track records of relatively free-market countries versus unfree countries?

Answer: sure we can. And the results are pretty obvious and unambiguous. We'll look at them below, but let's continue with Food First, first:

The market's marvelous efficiencies can only work to eliminate hunger, however, when purchasing power is widely dispersed.

So all those who believe in the usefulness of the market and the necessity of ending hunger must concentrate on promoting not the market, but the consumers!

In all of the myth-analysis, this is only one of two exclamations; FF must find this to be an especially powerful point. And, in the trivial sense that it's better for consumers to have money than to not have money, it's correct. But it turns out that FF only sees one way this can happen, through the visible fist of a Robin-Hood state:
In this task, government has a vital role to play in countering the tendency toward economic concentration, through genuine tax, credit, and land reforms to disperse buying power toward the poor. Recent trends toward privatization and de-regulation are most definitely not the answer.
In short, FF puts its blind faith in government to somehow determine the "right" amount of expropriation (which they euphemize as "land reform" and efforts to "disperse buying power".) Needless to say, they are silent on any example of this actually working anywhere.

A good antidote to FF's socialist hand-waving is found in the report Economic Freedom of the World report from the Fraser Institute. They crunch an impressive amount of actual data, and their conclusions are convincing. Here's an incomplete list:

  • Countries with more economic freedom have substantially higher per-capita incomes.

  • Countries with more economic freedom have higher growth rates.

  • Countries with more economic freedom have higher levels of investment per capita.

  • Countries with more economic freedom have lower levels of unemployment.

  • Life expectancy is over 25 years longer in countries with the most economic freedom than it is in those with the least.

  • The amount, as opposed to the share, of income going to the poorest 10% of the population is much greater in nations with the most economic freedom than it is in those with the least.

  • Infant mortality is much lower in countries with high levels of economic freedom.

  • Adult mortality is much lower in countries with high levels of economic freedom.

  • The incidence of child labor declines as economic freedom increases.

  • Access to improved water increases with economic freedom..

  • More economic freedom is related to greater "human development" as measured by the United Nations.

  • More economic freedom is related to less "human poverty" as measured by the United Nations.

  • With fewer regulations, taxes, and tariffs, economic freedom reduces the opportunities for corruption on the part of public officials.

Bottom line: if you really care about getting large masses of people out of poverty and misery, history demonstrates the single most effective tool is a healthy dose of economic liberty.

It is hard to believe that groups like FF are totally unaware of that. So why are thy so down on the free market? I think a clue is in their mission statement:

The purpose of the Institute for Food and Development Policy - Food First - is to eliminate the injustices that cause hunger.
Ah. FF's true battle is against (ideologically-defined) "injustice". Poverty and misery—not so much.

Last Modified 2008-09-12 6:07 AM EDT