Bill Carmichael: Diet of misery for poorest

OK folks, brace yourselves for the bad news – you’re all gonna die!

In fairness, this is a bit of a truism – as at some point in the future, near or far, every last one of us will shuffle off this mortal coil.

Death, according to Benjamin Franklin, is one of the two nailed-on certainties – along with government taxes – in this life of pain.

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Not the sunniest thought for a bright Friday morning, but you’ll have to forgive me, as I’ve been reading the doom-laden prognostications contained in the latest report from the activist charity, Oxfam, Growing a Better Future, published this week.

It predicts a crisis in food production over the next 20 years that will drive much of the world’s population into starvation, with demand rising by 70 per cent and the prices of staple foodstuffs increasing by between 120 per cent and 180 per cent.

It’s tempting to shrug one’s shoulders, and think: “Ho-hum, here we go again.”

After all, in the last few years we have survived dire predictions of global cooling, rapidly followed by equally terrifying prophesies of global warming, with disaster by way of the Millennium Bug, Aids, mad cow disease, the Sars virus, the hole in the ozone layer, bird flu, West Nile virus and half-a-dozen other “inevitable” calamities along the way.

Those of us who haven’t shoved our heads in the gas oven stubbornly cling on to life, so: “Yeah, whatever!”

But I actually think Oxfam has a point here – food security will become an increasingly important issue over coming years, especially in countries like the UK where we import most of our essential food supplies.

But Oxfam’s statist, authoritarian solution of increased regulation, more government interference, increased taxes and a naïve reliance on the ability of politicians, is exactly the opposite of anything that has a chance of working.

State interference in the food supply – from Joe Stalin to Robert Mugabe, by way of Kim Jong-Il – invariably results in famine, destitution and oppression.

The only policy that will respond to people’s needs is for politicians to get the hell out of the way and allow the markets to do their magical work.

If, as Oxfam argues, increasing demand will drive up food prices, then – if the state leaves well alone – more entrepreneurial farmers will respond by investing in agriculture and producing food to meet that need.

It is tried-and-tested, supply-and-demand capitalism and throughout human history it has been proved time and again as the only reliable way of filling the bellies of the poor.

Certainly, old-fashioned Soviet-style central planning – of the kind advocated by Oxfam – is absolutely guaranteed to fail.

For an example, look no further than the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy(CAP) – one of the single biggest causes of Third World poverty.

The most significant impact of the CAP is to keep the poor, poor.

It pays taxpayer-funded subsidies to rich, inefficient farmers in the West, while penalising enterprising Third World farmers with swingeing tariffs.

It also dumps subsidised European foodstuffs on Third World markets, thereby destroying the livelihoods of millions of farmers.

If the CAP were abolished, it would at a stroke provide the biggest boost to the incomes of the poor in modern history, as well as dramatically reducing food bills for working families in Europe.

Yet Oxfam can’t even bring itself to mention it. Instead of less state interference, the charity actually campaigns for more.

Oxfam’s devotion to outdated, top-down thinking – in the teeth of all the available evidence – is a terrible betrayal of its mission to the poor.