THE BLOG
12/03/2007 12:30 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who Are These People?

Over the weekend, I managed to avoid reading the article in the New York Times about agriculture in Malawi for about four hours. I knew what would happen, and when I finally read the article, it happened -- I was livid. In case you haven't read it, it is entitled "Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts". The experts happen to be the folks at the World Bank.

Judging by the article, what they are expert in is not soil science, growing food, generosity, or humanity. The gist of the article is that for years the World Bank, in its punitive way, "advised" the government of Malawi not to subsidize fertilizer handouts to the farmers, but to let the "free market" work. The result was famine, starvation, and the almost total depletion of local soils, as starving farmers planted without fertilizing the soil and depleted it more and more, thus killing themselves and wrecking the environment. This seems to have been fine with the World Bank, who were acting on principle: "In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, the World Bank pushed Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidies entirely. Its theory both times was that Malawi's farmers should shift to growing cash crops for export and use the foreign exchange earnings to import food."

What was that again?

Their advice was, don't feed your children or elderly relatives, or even yourselves, but grow things like, I don't know (I really don't), sugar cane or tobacco, export it using lots of high-priced fuel, and then import a few, I don't know, potatoes or ears of corn, and hope for the best.

According to the article, part of the hunger problem in Africa is a lack of fertilizer (something they have plenty of in Washington, D.C.). The World Bank opposes fertilizer subsidies in order to -- well,it boggles the mind. In order to what? Get rid of the population? Degrade the soil beyond repair? I cannot think of any other reasons.

What is the goal here? Regularized financial markets? More billionaires? Really, it makes you almost vomit to imagine how the minds of these people work. Don't they understand free market capitalism? Free market capitalism operates by lurching here and there and then correcting itself. Every correction is a correction for a reason -- people made bad choices and then had to pay for them, often with their houses, sometimes with their lives or those of their relatives.

In the US, the agricultural free market has brought us lots of booms and busts, depleted soil, contaminated groundwater, superbugs, obesity, the end of the family farm, and numerous other
disasters. But the World Bank says "More of the same". Free marketers never seem to understand what an investment is -- it is something that cannot actually be "corrected" at all easily, and so people who make them (as in ethanol factories for processing corn kernels into fuel) want to protect them. In order to protect them, they fight tooth and nail against innovation and "correction". You and I might call this stupidity. The free marketers call it "creative destruction". During "creative destruction", lives and livelihoods are lost.

Doesn't that sound fun?

Of course, if you are sitting in your luxury office high in some building somewhere, perhaps it is fun to watch people starve. Perhaps it is fun to pronounce "expertly" when you don't know beans about how things grow and how agriculture works. Perhaps it is fun to coerce people into acting on your stupidities. But really, the rest of the human race has to wonder where these World Bank experts gained their expertise -- oh, I mean their sociopathic personality disorders.