No Famine Ever

December 15, 2008

[First published February 24, 2005] There are tons of websites devoted to famine, hunger, and trying to help the starving around the world. Yet, not one of these good people devoted to this great cause realize that there is a solution to famine at hand, which is practical and much desired in itself. What is this miracle? Democracy.

No democracy has ever had a famine.
This, even though democracies have been struck with the awful droughts that would have created millions of deaths under thug regimes, or had famines before they became democratic. I have just put a commentary on this on my web site that goes into more detail than I should here. (link here)

The greatest famines in history have savaged people already suffering under the most repressive regimes, those of the Soviet Union and communist China. Below is a table providing the empirical evidence for this claim.


Why are democracies immune to this greatest of all disasters. Three fundamental reasons. One is that democracieis have a free or semi-free agricultural market that usually produces more than enough food and is resilient in the face of local shortages. Two is that democracies have a free press that almost immediately communicates nationally, and especially to elected legislators and administration leaders, dangerous agricultural conditions in one part of the country or another. And three is that these politicans better do something about it, since their political future depends on the rapidity and success of their response.

There is a saying: “Provide a starving man with fish, and you need to do that everyday; teach him how to fish, and you never have to do it again.” To this we now can add: “Free him, and he soon will provide others with fish.”

Link of Note

Amartya Sen, ”Democracy as a Universal Value” Journal of Democracy 0.3 (1999) 3-17.

Amartya Sen is the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economics, is Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Lamont University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.

“I have discussed elsewhere the remarkable fact that, in the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press. We cannot find exceptions to this rule, no matter where we look: the recent famines of Ethiopia, Somalia, or other dictatorial regimes; famines in the Soviet Union in the 1930s; China’s 1958-61 famine with the failure of the Great Leap Forward; or earlier still, the famines in Ireland or India under alien rule. China, although it was in many ways doing much better economically than India, still managed (unlike India) to have a famine, indeed the largest recorded famine in world history: Nearly 30 million people died in the famine of 1958-61 . . . .”