AIT Newsletter reports about famine.
(emphasis mine) [my comment]
Nobody Need Starve
How do famines relate to food supply? Some see the connection as almost definitional: famine is, in this view, synonymous with a country being short of food. When Mr Malone, the rich Irish-American in Shaw's Man and Superman, refers to the Irish famine of the 1840s, he refuses to describe it as one. He explains that 'when a country is full o food and exporting it, there can be no famine.' There is some distinctive use of language here. Malone mentions that his father 'died of starvation in the black 47'. Since more than a million other Irishmen did the same in the 1840s, it is hard not to see a 'famine' there, as the term is understood.
Malone's definitional point about famines really raises a different and extremely important causal question: why did the Irish starve, given the fact that Ireland had food enough to export some to England? That question remains tragically relevant. No recorded famine has killed a higher proportion of the population than the Irish famine. This applies to the much publicized recent famines in Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, and even to the terrible starvation in China during 1958-61, where the absolute number killed was much larger (perhaps between twenty-three and thirty million), but where the fatality as a proportion of the total population was still smaller than in the privation that overwhelmed Ireland 150 years ago.
Recent empirical work has demolished the view that famines and starvation can occur only when food supply declines. Indeed, in different countries in the world, many large famines have taken place despite moderate-to-good food availability, and without any appreciable decline in food output or supply. And some-like the Bangladesh famine of 1974-have actually occurred in years of peak food availability. A famine develops when a sizeable number of people - who often belong to a particular occupation group - lose the economic means of acquiring food. This can result from unemployment, or from a sharp drop in earnings compared with food prices [ie: hyperinflation], even when there is no fall in food output or supply. And conversely, there have also been many cases of severe decline in food production and availability which have not resulted in a famine. Food can be purchased from abroad if the economic means exist, and also the available food supply, even when short, can be so distributed as to avoid extreme destitution. Giving a destitute person an income, perhaps through employment in a temporary public project, is a quick way of giving potential famine victims the ability to compete with others in buying food.
So there is no fixed relation between food and famine. Famines can occur with or without substantial declines in food output. To recognize this does not require us to deny that some famines have happened along with-and to some extent been caused by - a sharp decline in food supply in a particular region. Indeed, the Irish famine, or 'the starvation' (as Mr Malone preferred to describe it to Violet, his English daughter-in-law), was actually accompanied by a large fall in Irish food production, related to a series of potato blights. Since the economies of Ireland and Britain were integrated, we could still say that there was no great decline in food production for the economy as a whole; the Irish, if they had the economic means, could buy food from England. They did not buy it - because they did not have the means.
The question that arises is this: why was Ireland, with so little food, exporting food to England, which had so much? The answer lies in the way the market worked. Market-based movements of food are related to demand and purchasing power, and the English could offer higher prices than the economically devastated Irish consumer could manage [Once China breaks the dollar peg, Chinese will be able to afford much higher prices than the US consumer]. It was not surprising that ship after ship sailed down the Shannon bound for England laden with wheat, oats, cattle, pigs, eggs and butter. Such 'countermovements' of food out of famine-stricken areas have been observed in modern famines as well: for example, in the Ethiopian famine of 1973, food was moved out of the famine-affected province of Wollo to the more prosperous purchasers in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. Those who starve because they cannot afford to buy food have no means of keeping within their borders the food that is there.
Were the English rulers responsible for the famine? Was Malone right to think 'My father was starved dead'? The British government did not set out deliberately to starve the Irish. Britain did not blockade Ireland, or foment the potato blights, or undertake public policies aimed at weakening the Irish economy... [It simply let the free market starve hundreds of thousands]
It is not surprising that in the gruesome history of famines there is hardly any case in which a famine has occurred in a country that is independent and democratic, regardless of whether it is rich or poor [There are dozens of examples of democracies experiencing famine: Weimar Republic, Argentina during the 1980s and 90s, Zimbabwe, etc... In all these cases, famines coincided with hyperinflation.]. In India, famines continued to occur right up to independence: the last British Indian famine, the Bengal famine of 1943 in which between two and three million people died, happened only four years before the British withdrew. And then, with independence, famines abruptly stopped. With a democratic political system in a self-governed territory, a relatively free news media and active opposition parties that are eager to jump on the government for its failure to prevent starvation, the government is under extreme pressure to take quick and effective action whenever famines threaten.
In analysing what c auses famines, it is important to take into account not just the rise and fall of food production, but the general prevalence of poverty in the country or region, and to examine its causes [general prevalence of poverty in the US is the highest in decades]. The economic roots of the Irish famines have to be sought in the general weakness of the Irish economy [The fundamental underlying the US economy are critically weak] - not just in the difficulties with food production. Groups that are not only very poor but also especially vulnerable to economic changes (to shifts in, for example, relative prices or employment) are of particular importance. It is the general defencelessness of the vulnerable poor, combined with additional misfortunes created by economic variation, that produces the victims of drastic starvation [1 out of 9 Americans on food stamps + hyperinflation = famine?]. Social divisions are central to famines, and the economic analyses of the causation of famines have to identify the factors that lead to the specific destitution of particular sections of the generally deprived.
While the economic progress of any country depends on its public policies, particularly on its ability to promote economic expansion and distributional equity, the government has a special role in protecting the vulnerable when something goes wrong and a lot of people lose the means of commanding food in the market [In hyperinflation, the government becomes the CAUSE of people losing "the means of commanding food in the market"]. Whether the government works towards regenerating the lost purchasing power of the destitute depends on political incentives to intervene and help.
This is where democracy and political independence come into their own [As Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic demonstrate, democracies can cause famines when they destroy their currencies through the printing press.]. The ruling groups have to pay the price of their negligence when they can be forcefully criticized by opposition parties and the news media, and when they have to face elections on a systematic basis.
The Chinese government could keep its failed policies of the Great Leap Forward unchanged through the 1958-61 famine, while many millions died each year, because it had no opposition parties to face, and no criticism from the government-controlled media. When things are going well enough, the corrective power of democracy may not be badly missed, but when something goes seriously wrong (through design or bungling), democracy can deliver things that no other system can. Even in the famine-stricken continent of Africa, the lack of famines in democratic Botswana and Zimbabwe [Zimbabwe has experienced hyperinflation and famine, proof that democracy is no safeguard against famine] contrasts with the persistent famine experience of Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique and the Sahel countries. Of course, even a non-democratic country can be lucky and not experience the economic circumstances that lead to famine; and a sympathetic dictator may, should a famine occur, intervene just as effectively as a popularly elected government. But, in general, democracy
guarantees protection in a way that no form of authoritarian rule can, whether it is an old-fashioned colonial administration, or a modern political or military dictatorship. [Corrupt democracies are perhaps more dangerous ]
Famines are, in fact, extremely easy to prevent. It is amazing that they actually take place, because they require a severe indifference on the part of the government [Like the US selling off the last of its wheat reserves and manipulating commodities markets]. Here political asymmetry joins hands with social and cultural alienation. The sense of distance between the ruler and the ruled-between 'us' and 'them' - is a crucial feature of famines [Agreed. Do you think Goldman executives care that they have left the average American vulnerable to starvation? They are getting billions in compensation]. It is as true in Sudan and Somalia today as it was in Ireland and India in the last century.
Gormanfamilytree.com reports that The Great Irish Famine And Starvation.
WHY THEY LEFT IRELAND:
AN GORTA MOR: THE IRISH HOLOCAUST
THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE AND STARVATION: 1845-1849
[First off, I want to say I don't expect anything on the level of Irish famine to occur in the US. That being the case, some level of famine is likely.]
There were many bad harvests in Ireland before the Great Famine of 1845-1849, but the size of that Disaster dwarfed those that preceded it. A contemporary comment was that "God sent the blight, but the English made the famine": and to some extent this was true because the governments of both Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) and Lord John Russell (1792-1878) did little to help the starving Irish population.
In 1800, some five million people lived in Ireland. Forty years later, on the eve of the 1845 Great Famine, the 1841 census recorded an Irish population of 8.2 million. Ten years later, the 1851 census reported that the population had been reduced to 6.5 million. Over two million people disappeared: one million starved to death or succumbed to disease and one million emigrated to Britain and North America. Many of them were wretchedly poor, eking out a precarious living on tiny plots of land, and dependent on each year's potato crop. As mentioned above, hunger was no novelty to peasant families, for there had been partial failures of the potato crop all during the early 1800s. However, these had always been of limited duration, and confined to a small number of counties. The Great Famine lasted from 1845 to 1849, and crop failure affected every county of Ireland.
These statistics give some indication of the scale of the disaster but since many of those affected by the famine lived in remote and inaccessible places, it is more than possible that far more people died that has ever been thought.
The cause of the famine was a fungus disease which made the potato plants to rot in the ground, giving off an appalling stench. The blight first destroyed crops on the eastern seaboard of America in 1842, then appeared in England in the summer of 1845. In September, the counties of Wexford and Waterford reported the disease. More than half the Irish potato crop failed in 1845. Sir Robert Peel, the British prime minister, appointed a commission to investigate the problem, but scientists were unable to explain the disease, let alone find a cure. In 1846, The potato crop was a total failure.
Peel eventually introduced relief measures. In November 1845, the government spent Ł100,000 on buying grain from America, in the hope of keeping food prices down in Ireland. He appointed a relief commission which set about forming local committees to raise money and to distribute food. At Westminster, in part prompted by Ireland's problems, Peel succeeded in repealing the protectionist corn laws in June 1846. This opened up the prospect of cheap imports from America.
A month later he was out of office, defeated over a bill to deal with the growing agrarian disturbances in Ireland. The new Whig government, led by Lord John Russell, believed in a free market and was content to leave the supply of food to private merchants. However, the Irish peasants were unused to a cash economy, for they had traditionally worked for a landlord in return for a plot of land on which to grow potatoes. The government hoped that Irish landlords would bear the major responsibility for their tenants' welfare, but many landlords already faced ruin. The most successful relief came from soup kitchens, originally set up by bodies such as the Society of Friends, the Quakers. Where public works continued, they were often delayed by bureaucratic procedures, and workers' health suffered from the inadequacy of wages to buy what food was available. Evictions were common.
Even the weather contributed to the distress, for the winter of 1846-47 was exceptionally cold and wet. To starvation was added typhus and relapsing fever, both commonly called "famine fever". Scurvy and dysentery flourished, and in 1849 an outbreak of cholera claimed many lives, particularly in the larger towns. Many sought to escape to America, only to drown at sea in over-crowded "coffin ships". Those who did reach the New World were often weakened beyond recovery.
Ironically, during the Great Famine, the major problem was not that there was no food in Ireland - there was plenty of wheat, meat and dairy produce, much of which was being exported to England - but that the Irish peasants had no money with which to buy the food. Here are the food exports from Irish ports for the month of July 1846:
Landandfreedom.org explains how a lack of purchasing power caused Irish famine.
Long before the great famine devastated Ireland during the l840s, the Irish had been under the domination of the British. During earlier periods of subjection, English rulers -- Henry II, Elizabeth I, and Cromwell -- confiscated provinces in Ireland to reward their followers and pay off debts. Many Irish suddenly became landless. With the passage of the Penal Laws in 1695, Irish were not only reduced to second-class citizenship, but were forbidden to purchase any land. Large Catholic estates were broken up, reducing acreage to smaller and smaller lots. Deprived of their land, forced to live from hand to mouth in mud huts on small, often barren lots the Irish became dependent upon a crop which required little acreage and a minimum of good soil: the potato. The Irish peasantry's dependence on the potato set the stage for the famine which began in 1845.
Absentee land ownership was very common. Approximately 1200 non-Irish, mostly living in England, owned most of the land. Farms were usually leased from these owners, but, unlike today's leases, they could be revoked at the whim of the landlord. Farms were allowed to pass down from one generation to another -- but only if the landlord approved. With no sense of ownership or pride in the land, little care was paid to conservation, and land was often overfarmed. In addition, all improvements, such as buildings, reverted to the landlord when the lease ended, thus discouraging any attempts to better the property.
The economist John Stuart Mill commented, "In Ireland, the whole agricultural population can be evicted by the mere will of the landlord, whether at the expiration of the lease, or, in the far more common case, of their having no lease."
The famine lasted several years. One and a half million peasants died and another million emigrated to the United States and England. Attempts to aid the Irish, such as those by the United States, were of little avail. At the height of the catastrophe, the British withdrew all benefits to anyone who owned over one quarter of an acre -- which included most Irish. The exodus was on.
Had the Irish population been smaller, it was claimed, the famine would have been less severe. However, even when the famine was at its worst, food was being shipped out of Ireland to England. The Irish did not lack food; they lacked buying power. Even during the famine, rent paid to an absentee landlord represented a substantial portion of a tenant's savings or crop. Past accumulations could have enabled the peasant to purchase food that was being exported, but the system of land ownership prevented this. The simple fact was that most of the Irish had no money to pay for food. To keep what land they had, they were forced to pay their landlords almost all the food they could grow.
Findarticles.com reports that the great irish famine.
The great Irish famine: a crime of free market economics
Monthly Review, April, 1996 by John Newsinger
[Again, I don't expect the US to experience famine as intense as Irish famine described below.]
Potato blight (the fungus phytophthora infestans) first appeared in Ireland in 1845, destroying some 40 percent of the crop. It caused considerable hardship but, as yet, few fatalities. The following year the blight ruined the whole crop. The result was the terrible famine of the winter of 1846-47 that was to continue into the early 1850s. This was Western Europe's worst modern peacetime catastrophe with a million people dying of starvation, disease, and exposure and another million fleeing their homeland as refugees, seeking safety in England and the United States. The hardes t hit were inevitably the rural poor, the landless laborers, cottiers, and small farmers: the number of landless laborers was to fall by over a quarter and of small farmers by nearly half in the course of the Famine.
Compounding the hunger and disease was the way that the Famine became the occasion for dramatic land clearances, for a concerted landlord offensive against the poor. The larger Catholic farmers joined in this assault and in fact emerged as important beneficiaries of the famine years. Exactly how many people were evicted during these grim years is unknown because the authorities only began keeping records in 1849. Nevertheless the figure certainly exceeds half a million people, an astonishing figure by any standard. This is one of the most terrible acts of class war in British history even without the accompanying hunger. How does the standard history, Modem Ireland by Roy Foster, the eminent Professor of Irish History at Oxford, deal with it? The whole Famine receives pretty minimalist treatment, but the clearances only merit one sentence,just one sentence, in 596 pages of text!(8)
In December 1849 the correspondent for the London Illustrated News reported from Moveen, a village in the Kilrush Poor Law district:
There is nothing but devastation . . . the ruthless destroyer, as if he delighted in seeing the monuments of his skill, has left the walls of the houses standing, while he has unroofed them and taken away all shelter from the people. They look like the tombs of a departed race, rather than the recent abodes of a yet living people, and I felt actually relieved at seeing one or two half-clad specters gliding about, as evidence that I was not in the land of the dead . . . The once frolicsome people--even the saucy beggars--have disappeared and given place to wan and haggard objects, who are so resigned to their doom, that they no longer expect relief. One beholds only shrunken frames scarcely covered with flesh--crawling skeletons, who appear to have risen from their graves. . . .
The report goes on to emphasize "the vast extent of the evictions at the present time."(9)
The spectacle of troops, police, and bailiffs evicting starving, sick men, women, and children, leveling their homes and leaving them to live in holes in the ground or die by the roadside even appalled some members of the British Government. Prime Minister Russell himself on one occasion complained that "the murders of poor cottier tenants are too horrible to bear" (my emphasis) and that "we ought to put down this lynch-law of a landlord.(10) Bear it he did, however. The majority of the cabinet insisted that the rights of property had to be upheld and indeed Lord Palmerston, himself an Irish landlord, argued that what Ireland required was "a long and systematic ejectment of smallholders and of squatting tenants."(11) Even more extreme were the sentiments the Viceroy, Lord Clarendon gave voice to in August 1848: "I would sweep Connacht clean and turn upon it new men and English money just as one would to Australia or any freshly discovered Colony." This, the forcible removal of some two million people, was the only solution he could see to "the Irish Problem."(12)
John Mitchel and the Famine
Looking back on the Famine in 1854, John Mitchel wrote that while now "I can set down these things calmly . . . to see them might have driven a wise man mad." He went on about how families, when all was eaten and no hope left, took their last look at the Sun, built up their cottage doors, that none might see them die nor hear their groans, and were found weeks afterwards skeletons on their hearth; how the law was vindicated all this while . . . and many examples made; how starving wretches were transported for stealing vegetables by night . . . and how every one of these years, '46, '47 and '48 Ireland was exporting to England, food to the value of fifteen million pounds sterling.
He accused the British government of deliberately starving the Irish people, of making use of the potato blight to "thin out these multitudinous Celts." While the potato crop might have failed, there was still more than enough grain, cereals, and livestock in the country to have fed double the population, but it was exported to England. He wrote of how "insane mothers began to eat their young children who died of famine before them; and still fleets of ships were sailing with every tide, carrying Irish cattle and corn to England." This was what "free trade did for Ireland in those days."(14)
The failure of the British government to feed the starving Irish and its involvement in mass evictions in the 1840s is without doubt the most terrible indictment that can be laid against British Imperialism in the nineteenth century. The Opium Wars, the incredibly brutal suppression of the great Indian Revolt of 1857, the conquest of Egypt and the Sudan, the invasion of Tibet--all of these crimes are eclipsed by the horrors of the Famine. Here we see hundreds of thousands of people dying or forced to flee for their lives so that Political Economy could prevail. It was a crime that should never be forgotten.
My reaction: The immanent collapse of the dollar leaves the US vulnerable to Famine.
1) There is no fixed relation between food and famine.
2) Many large famines have taken place despite moderate-to-good food availability
3) A famine develops when a sizeable number of people lose the economic means of acquiring food.
4) This can result from unemployment or from a sharp drop in earnings compared with food prices (ie: hyperinflation), even when there is no fall in food output or supply.
5) Market-based movements of food are related to demand and purchasing power.
6) The general prevalence of poverty and weakness of the economy in the country or region is an important pre-requisite for famine.
7) The sense of distance between the ruler and the ruled (between 'us' and 'them') is a crucial feature of famines.
Conclusion: Famine is caused by sudden loss of purchasing power by a portion of the population already living near poverty. If the dollar collapses and the food stamps one out of nine Americans depend on become worthless, the US would meet all the criteria for a potential famine.
Famine in Weimar Germany as an example
In January 1922, hyperinflation exploded in Germany. By December 1922, Germany was unable to feed its population or provide employment for even 60 per cent of the labor force. People began to die in the streets from starvation and hypothermia...