Post Blames Free Market For Starvation In Niger
Timbergs rant bypasses poverty, drought, locusts and other causes to blame greedy capitalists.
The decades-long crisis of African poverty and starvation has been
the focal point of endless media coverage. The Aug. 11 Washington
Post finally named a culprit the free market.
The 1,100-word article, The Rise of a Market Mentality Means Many Go Hungry in Niger, was more of a rant against the free market system than objective journalism. Craig Timberg, a Post correspondent, pulled out an anti-capitalist critique blaming vendor profiteering, a government policy shift toward a free market, and a decline in the traditional culture of generosity that once helped communities in Niger survive cyclical periods of scarcity. Essentially, the article asserted that greedy capitalists are the real reason for the starvation of millions.
The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Associated Press and U.S. government all claimed otherwise. Even Timbergs previous writing disagrees on this point.
According to Timbergs Aug. 8 piece on Niger, This is a nation where chronic poverty, cyclical drought and flooding, and international indifference have created conditions that are among the worlds worlds most lethal to children. He added that Floodwaters have contaminated drinking sources and created pools for breeding mosquitoes. He could have added that an ill-conceived left-wing-backed ban on use of DDT is another reason for the spread of mosquitoes.
There are so many things wrong with Timbergs anti-free market claim that it is hard to address them all. However, his trashing of a nation freed from government price controls and other mechanisms that once balanced market forces deserves some analysis. Here are some of the broader points:
- Other causes:
An Aug. 5 AP article did a better job than Timberg of synopsizing
the problems facing Niger, citing Ed Fox, a senior official with
the Agency for International Development: The causes of the
crisis are poverty, locusts, a precarious food security situation,
encroaching desert, inadequate water and sanitation services, and
meager health coverage. The free market wasnt mentioned.
- Western greed:
Timberg mocked Niger as it reaches for a more materialistic,
Westernized future. That same Westernized culture is actively
giving aid to the starving nation. He didnt mention that. APs
Aug. 5 story pointed out that 200 tons of high-energy food from
the United States were on the way to Niger to help feed children.
And he didnt address the billions of dollars in U.S. government
aid or charity funding that help poor people around the world.
Timberg didnt tell enough about Nigers poverty or why the
residents might embrace free markets. He did say: The sandy soil
holds water poorly, and only one acre in 30 is considered arable.
AP gave more essential information: Niger is the worlds
second-poorest country, with an estimated 64 percent of its 12
million inhabitants surviving on less that $1 a day. To a
starving, poverty-stricken nation, a free-market approach is the
only way to provide for long-term survival.
growth: Despite its overwhelming poverty, Nigers 11 million
strong population is expanding at 3.3 percent per year, according
to the Aug. 1 Christian Science Monitor. Thats the 10th-highest
growth rate in the world, according to the UN, and it means the
countrys population will double in just 21 years. Having
additional mouths to feed is a major problem for a starving
country and not a problem driven by the free market.
- A young
democracy: Even The New York Times gave more credit to Nigers
troubled recent history. An Aug. 1 article by Lydia Polgreen tried
to get at the same question Timberg addressed but Polgreen
included facts, not opinion. Her story, New African food crisis
raises a question: Why, pointed out that Nigers democracy dates
only to 1999, when it made the transition to multiparty democracy
and constitutional rule after a decade of turmoil. Funny how
Timberg left that out.
- The free-market
solution: The Times article explained that Niger has also
made, in part at least, the painful transition from a centralized,
state-run economy to a market-driven one, earning praise and
ultimately relief from about half of its estimated $1.6 billion in
foreign debt from the World Bank. If the free market is to blame
for something, its that $800 million boost.
- The rest of
Africa: Lastly, the Times made it clear that Niger isnt
alone in its troubles. Polgreen explained that Of the 25
countries at the bottom of the UN development list, all but two
are in Africa. She added that Nigers food crisis is not,
despite news reports, a famine and not even the worst on the
continent. So is the free market to blame for all African
poverty? Even Timberg acknowledged that 1.7 million people in
nearby countries form a band of hunger thousands of miles across
the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. If the free market isnt
responsible for those problems, then why is that the case in