“Food aid policies are in desperate need of reform,” reads the subtitle to Harvard student Thomas Hwang’s recent article in The Harvard Crimson. Hwang makes the argument that the current system of food aid is actually detrimental to the poverty-stricken nations it aims to help, particularly because it helps brutal regimes to stay in power:
[F]ood aid is politically corrosive, perpetuating undemocratic regimes, incentivizing corruption, and institutionalizing inefficiency. The brouhaha over aid to Zimbabwe and North Korea, after all, was predicated on preventing the dictatorial Mugabe and Kim regimes from using food as political currency for supporters.
However, after finding faults with the system of foreign food aid, Hwang advocates a different form of foreign aid: “export[ing] the best practices in farming and technologies for improving crop yields.” But this solution fails to capture the essence of the problem of foreign aid as such.
The moral premise implicit in the idea of foreign aid is altruism. Applied to a global scale, it is the idea that prosperous nations ought to sacrifice their wealth and poor nations should receive it. But time and again, we have seen that this policy fails to promote the welfare of either party. Whether it’s food to the starving third world, infrastructure to nations that can’t maintain it, or human lives for nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, American sacrifice will never make producers out of nations incapable of producing.
To feed the starving nations of the world we will have to “export” something far more fundamental than “farming practices and technologies.” How were crushing poverty and starvation all but eradicated in the West? The answer lies in the political-economic system of capitalism. Andrew Bernstein discusses how capitalism was able, in less than a century, to eliminate famine and widespread disease in Europe, and how it can do the same for the developing world today:
In parts of France, in the middle of the 17th century, only 58 percent reached their 15th birthday, and life expectancy was 20. In Ireland, life expectancy in 1800 was a mere 19 years. In early 18th century London, more than 74 percent of the children died before reaching age five.
Then a dramatic change occurred throughout Europe. The population of England doubled between 1750 and 1820, with childhood mortality dropping to 31.8 percent by 1830. Something happened that enabled people to stay alive.
What did that early period lack that the later period had? Capitalism. What does Africa lack that the West has? Capitalism. It is capitalism that enabled the West to rise to great prosperity. The lack of capitalism is responsible for Africa’s crushing poverty.
What is capitalism? It is an economic system in which all property is privately owned, a system without government regulation and government handouts. It is a free economy, a system in which individuals are free to produce, to trade, and to make–and keep–a profit.
Capitalism is what liberated the human mind to create the technologies that turned food production into something taken for granted in the West. Capitalism not only has the potential to feed the impoverished nations of the world, but it will enable them to become producers, rather than beggars, on a global scale. Instead of depending on the West for aid, third world countries need to discover that capitalism is the only system which can lift them out of poverty.