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Starving in Abundance

Every year 9 million people starve to death globally. 1 Simultaneously, in the United States alone, 80 billion lbs. of food are thrown away each year. 2 These statistics are what originally drove me to become a Socialist. Growing up in American you are told all your life that socialism is a fool’s ideology, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions. However, we never question how many deaths are laid at the feet of capitalism. Global capitalism has created a situation in which more than enough food is produced to feed the entire world, yet that food is thrown in a landfill, while at the same time human beings wither away and starve from lack of nutrition. Clearly the problem is not lack of production, but a failure to distribute what is produced. These simple, statistics about food waste and starvation are proof that our economic system is irrational. There is no rationality to a system which produces mountains of food, while allowing millions to starve to death, and this irrationality is inherent to the capitalist system.

Throughout history, imperialist forces have turned colonized nations into monocropic countries, and have then extracted the food those nation’s produce for dirt cheap. This is the phenomenon which has led much of the Global South to suffer from starvation, while countries’ in the Global North face a crises of Obesity. For an in depth analysis of how this happened I would urge you to read the work of my colleague Alex Zambito, who published an article titled “Imperialism and Food Supply.” The article is an amazing read, and helps shine a light on the reason such inequality exists between the Global North and South. In this article however, I have a different goal than Alex. Rather than explain the history behind food imperialism, I am simply attempting to make the Morale argument for socialism, based on capitalism’s inability to end mass starvation. It is a moral imperative that we set aside the profit motive of capitalism, and use the excess of food to feed our starving friends around the globe.

The shortest definition of politics is “who gets what.” Who is getting the resources which are created through human labour power? Under capitalism resources are distributed to those who can pay for them. Goods and services are not produced to meet human needs, but rather to make a profit. This means even though Capitalism is extremely productive, it fails to distribute even basic necessities such as food and shelter to those who can’t afford it. The Capitalist ideologues then shame those who find themselves homeless or starving. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” they say to the Yemeni Children lying dead in the dirt from lack of nutrition. 3

Experts on hunger have come to a clear consensus that enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet. 4 Most starvation happens in the Global South, and is blamed on lack of economic development. While my aforementioned colleague Alex explained in his piece exactly how the Global South was driven to starvation, my analysis will be far simpler. I’ll ask the question any empathetic person may ask themselves after reading the statistics of food waste and starvation. Why does the US choose not to ship their excess food to the areas in need? The answer to this question is profit. Those who own the means of production and material wealth in society make decisions which will continue to maximize their profit. Shipping excess food into Yemen, where many die of starvation every day, does not make anyone a profit. Despite the fact that human suffering would be eliminated in mass, capitalists cannot bring themselves to take actions which don’t bring in revenue for their companies. This has led us to the absurd condition, where 80 billion tons of food is thrown away. It happens simply because distributing the excess food would not make anyone a profit.

So why don’t we force the capitalists to feed the poor? Why doesn’t the United States Government pass a law declaring that all excess food be gathered and shipped to the Global South? Well the answer, in reality, is that the richest in society own the Government, and would never allow such a law to be passed. But how about ideologically? Why is it that every empathetic citizen in the United States is not demanding something be done about food waste and world hunger? Well, because that would be socialism. Scary and evil socialism which infringes on the freedom of individuals. A law declaring that private firms be forced into sharing a portion of the commodities their workers produce would spark massive outrage from Capitalist ideologues. There is no doubt that wealthy capitalists, and the US media alike would declare such a law as an infringement on the freedom of private firms to do what they like, with the commodities they produce.

You may be asking yourself, how is this an infringement on freedom? If the food is going to be thrown away anyways, and people are starving to death from lack of food, then what’s the harm of giving the food to those who starve? Is it not an infringement on the freedom of those who starve, to allow them to die a long and painful death, while others sit upon a mountain of uneaten food? These are the questions my 19 year old self began to ask after finishing a paper about world hunger for my Global Politics class. The answer I got from my peers was “forcing companies to give away food would be socialism.” That answer was not enough for me anymore. The idea began to form in my head that socialism was nothing more than a scare word to stop society from feeding the hungry.

The more research I did, the more I found that the majority of society’s ills stem from capitalism. In high school I volunteered for an Organization called “Feed my Starving Children” who package food, and send it to the Global South. My family, and wrestling teammates, worked for the organization each year. Yet no matter how much food we bagged and shipped, people continued to starve. At one point, I figured that I needed to join the Peace Corps and travel to the Global South myself. I followed the Peace Core on all social media, and witnessed them sending a constant stream of smiling American youth to the Global South. Even still, I would go to class and read about those who continued to starve. It became apparent to me that charity is simply a Band-Aid on the gaping wounds of capitalism. No matter how much food you bring to the Global South, people will still starve, and wealthy countries will still throw away mountains of food.

Despite being indoctrinated into fearing socialism all my life, I slowly started to become a socialist. It became clear that all society’s ills, which my family and I had attempted to mend through charity, were simply baked into the system. Capitalism has never fed the hungry, housed the homeless, or seen peace between nations. The evil scary socialism I had been warned about, would take both power and resources from the capitalists who only care for their own profit. It would remove the anarchic market system which allows for absurd contradictions such as, throwing away tons of food while people starve, and creating more empty houses than homeless people.[5] Capitalism is simply irrational, and it has always been irrational. It produces enough for everyone, and distributes it to only a few. Not just luxury commodities, but human necessities like food, water, and shelter.

My argument, in a nutshell, is that socialism is simply common sense. It takes an incredible amount of propaganda to convince people that feeding the hungry is morally wrong, or that it infringes on individual freedoms. It is high time we question whether those in power have been lying to us about socialism all along, in an effort to continually hoard wealth and power. It’s time we move on from this capitalist system which incentivizes only selfishness and greed. We must create a system which produces commodities not for profit, but for the good of all humanity. This is how we feed the hungry, house the homeless, and end the wars. Capitalism is the source of these societal ills, and socialism is the answer.


Footnotes

  1. Mai, H.J. “U.N. Warns Number Of People Starving To Death Could Double Amid Pandemic.” NPR. NPR, May 5, 2020. npr.com
  2. “Food Waste in America in 2020: Statistics & Facts: RTS.” Recycle Track Systems. Accessed September 11, 2020. rts.com
  3. Duffin, Published by Erin, and Nov 13. “Global Hunger Index 2019: Countries Most Affected by Hunger.” Statista, November 13, 2019. Statista.com
  4. “Can We Feed the World and Ensure No One Goes Hungry? | | UN News.” United Nations. United Nations. Accessed September 11, 2020. UN.org
  5. Brinklow, Adam. “San Francisco Has Nearly Five Empty Homes per Homeless Resident.” Curbed SF. Curbed SF, December 3, 2019. sf.curbed.com

Republished with permission from Midwestern Marx • Photo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Russ Allison Loar.

Edward Liger Smith is an American Political Scientist and specialist in anti-imperialist and socialist projects, especially Venezuela and China. He also has research interests in the role southern slavery played in the development of American and European capitalism. He is a co-founder and editor of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies.

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