Friday, August 05, 2005

Free Market Starvation in Niger

The next time you are in the local park watching children play, spend some time on their smiles, their energy, their zest for life.  Drink it in as many of us who have children do, as a joy of life.

Then count down the line, and mentally disappear 1 out of every 5 of them.

Those children that went "poof" in your mind are a metaphorical representation of the dead and dying children in Niger at this time.

In today's New York Times, a desperately sad assessment of the hunger crisis currently ravaging Niger, reported to be the second poorest nation on earth:

Niger's Anguish is Reflected in its Dying Children

The situation is grim.  If you believe the press, then 3.6 million folks, nearly 1 million of them children, will die in the next year if something is not done, soon.

I was enraged to read that the government of Niger decided to use a "free market stabilization" approach to solve the problem, choosing to reject a free food approach and deciding instead to play market maker.  According to this article, it decided to sell its own surplus grain in an effort to drive down the price of millet by flooding the market.  According to the article, this resulted in a market backlash, the price of millet skyrocketed, and families were forced into the choice of selling what little they possessed to pay for food or starving.

You gotta love trickle down economic theory.

The part that that truly caused me to gasp in horror (although not surpised horror; I am never surprised anymore) was this:

Among others, the United Nations World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders sounded alarms, and Niger's government, with World Food Program approval, quickly asked donors to give Niger 71,000 tons of food aid and $3 million for the 400,000 most vulnerable farmers and herders.

By May, it had received fewer than 7,000 tons of food and one $323,000 donation, from Luxembourg.

I subscribe to a theory, not well developed, that people have a better grasp of dollar figures exceeding $1,000,000 when you break it down for them in terms of things they can see every day.  Let's test theory in this context.

Setting aside the pounds of food, the missing $2.7 million dollars could have been sent to Niger to feed 400,000 of the worst off farmers/herders if:

1.35% of the 100 million households in the United States had bought one less loaf of bread in the past eight months since Doctors without Borders and others began their cry for humanitarian aid.  (Bread averages $2/loaf in the US - unless you're where I live then it's ugly).  If we're talking only about married/partner households, that contribution would skyrocket - it would take 2.2% of all households to have done it, since there are only 58 million of those.

On the other hand, if just 1/10 of the 25,000,000 Americans who visit Starbucks each week for their fix (myself included) had just skipped a cup of their least expensive beverage (tea, at $1.30 if I recall what my sister paid yesterday), there would have been enough.

Since it is totally unfair to expect the US to shoulder the burden of helping the ancestral homeland of all those slaves it profited from for 400 years, the world as a whole (other than Luxembourg, it has clearly stepped up) should share in the responsibility.  That shouldn't be too difficult, right?

It seems that if each of the world's estimated 2.1 billion Christians had sent in a penny, we'd have been OK. (If only stated adherents to Islam had been stuck with the entire bill, they'd have had to dig deep and pay two cents).

Had each nation on earth with a lottery system salted away 2/1000th of a cent of their 1998 revenue from lottery sales (126 billion), the bill would have been covered without anyone breaking a sweat.

On the other hand, Robert Johnson -- former head of Johnson Publishing, Black darling of the right-wing business establishment and beloved (not) to us progressive Black folks as the reason we are stuck with that booty shaking, rump breaking embarassment to a people known as Black Entertainment Television today as our sole television voice -- could have just written a fucking check.  It wouldn't even have hurt much.  After all, it would have been only 1% of the price Johnson sold BET to Viacom for in 2000 ($3 billion).  And just 2% % of the rumored size of his personal holdings (less than the savings his family will receive from the permanent repeal of the estate tax when that "I got mine get yours" self-hating idiot finally keels over.

Fuck him.  I'm going to put him on my "you should be ashamed of yourself you greedy SOB" political letter writing list.  Just as soon as I write what will be the 10th check I can't really afford this year (it's been a bad financial year, as is often the case for lawyers who don't have mega corporation clients who always pay their bills on time) to Doctors without Borders.


In my most cynical moments, I sometimes put on my tin foil hat and speculate that the reason most of the leadership of the Free World does so little about Africa's suffering -- a suffering in which the West played no small part in creating -- is that it is far cheaper to take back the West's former colonies by letting everybody in them die than to negotiate fairly for access to what is indisputably the vast untapped wealth of that continent.  I know that at G8, Tony Blair tried to make Africa a priority -- for privitization, free market solutions and the like.  Conditional aid to human suffering -- the condition being that Africa needs to become hospitable to "investment."

Right.  Investment is clearly the way to save a child hours from death from starvation.  Everybody knows this.

I'm going to stop now because I'm too depressed to write any more.


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