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The question should really be "How are many national economies keeping innumerable people hungry, even though there's plenty of food to go around several times over?"

In most places in the world it's easy and cheap enough to produce food and distribute it. Actually, it's so easy and cheap that many world states artificially subsidize agriculture/livestock farming/etc. to prevent them from collapsing due to low prices.

Because powers that be want control more than they want happy, well-fed, even productive population.

Ask any organizers of international food programs. In most cases local authorities will demand that they, not the international do-gooders, distributed the food. When they get hold of that food, they keep it under lock and key and distribute in a way that supports the existing power / social status structure, not in a way that helps most hungry people. Some food could even rot unused, but not given away to the hungry.

The problem is not a lack of food. The problem is that certain power structures emerged on top of traditional food-deficient economy, perpetuate it to stay in power, and can't be fixed by injection of food from the outside.

Reminds me of Russia today which banned certain import of food (like Parmesan for example and many others) then publicly and demonstratively destroyed it, airing on state TV, using trucks etc. Even few live goats got under truck. That's the most surreal thing I've seen.

Meanwhile we have people who die from hunger.

Anytime you give a person group the ability to distribute necessary goods, you will organically create a patronage system.

That patronage system will out-compete other, non-patronage systems, because it will have a stronger internal power base.

There are only 2 classes of solution that work here, where “work” = “not accidentally create/enable a patronage scheme”:

1. Impose power from outside, non-locally. This is generally frowned on, as it’s basically colonialism.

2. Withhold the flow of outside aid, as this takes away the resources the local power structure is free-riding on to sustain its power base. This is also generally frowned on, as it feels like useful resources are being withheld.

Because both solutions are unacceptable, the status quo and its power structures persist.

Doesn't the fact that they're subsidized to keep them from collapsing due to low prices mean the opposite of it being easy and cheap?

If the subsidies were removed, the farmers/etc would need to raise their prices to pay for whatever the subsidies paid. That new higher price would reflect the real cost of production. The subsidies are there to keep prices low and accessible despite a higher cost of production.

Well if you take corn for instance, we use a large portion of that to create high fructose corn syrup. The government subsidizes it to keep prices low, so that it's cheap enough to stick in everything from soft drinks to salad dressing to bread. We don't actually need all that sugar; it's keeping Americans fat and unhealthy. But I'll leave you to draw the obvious conclusions about what a fat sugar-addicted population does for revenue.

We also turn the corn into ethanol and force everyone to add it to their auto fuel, and they want to increase that amount. Which is, in essence, forcing everyone to burn corn.

Is it really that much of an evil scheme? Isn't it just dating back to sugar tariffs? Wasn't sugar the first tariff in the history of the US?

It seems more like it's just an entrenched industry. Corn especially now that it's tied up in gassoline and Trump's trade war.

> Is it really that much of an evil scheme ... seems more like it's just an entrenched industry

Same thing, really. Entrenched industries usually find themselves a nice feedback loop and dig in. The nature of capitalism allows them to ignore any negative externalities of their product. They ship out corn-sugar and dollars roll in. They don't deal with the realities of diabetes and heart disease caused by their products. Heart disease is the #1 killer in this country. Diabetes is #7. If we want any hope at combating this, we need less sugar in this country. But big sugar is indifferent to this, and that's where the evil comes in. In fact, they know this is happening, but the calculus is clear.

Thats not an example of an economic externality. Externalities are about effects on third parties not involved in the trade.

The problem here quite simply is that people kove sugar. Arguble some historical regulatory mistakes made suger consumtion too high but the primary reason is people demand.

An externality is a cost someone incurs that they didn't consciously choose. They can absolutely be involved in the trade. For one thing, excessive sugar intake is a blight on children. Childhood obesity is an epidemic on this country fueled by the corn industry. Excessive HFCS is in everything from applesauce to bread to juice boxes. It's hard to argue children are actively involved in the trade.

But it applies to adults too who purchase the goods. Most people if you ask them don't realize how much sugar is in the food they consume, and they don't understand the connection between sugar consumption and heart disease. No one chooses heart disease.

People can read a percentage or a gram count on the packaging, sure, but the nature of sugar is that of addiction. It's not just that people like sugar, it's that we are wired to want to consume it, and Big Sugar takes advantage of that by loading a surprising amount of our food with too much of it. Many people are surprised to learn their bread has sugar in it. Even with soda they are surprised just how much is in a can if you measure it out physically on the table in front of them. People aren't well-informed about what they are consuming and the long term health related effects, and even if they are they are too addicted to stop. Big Sugar knows this and takes full advantage, because millions of people dying every year does not affect their bottom line (and they can easily replace their old, dead customers with new, young ones)

Yep, but small nit. Farmers don’t really “raise their prices”. With commodities you can’t really raise your prices. You either sell at the market price or sit on it. And sitting on it is really dangerous with perishable commodities.

Look at mines, oil companies, etc for other examples of industries with participants lacking the ability to raise their prices.

Yes, that's why the subsidies are there, to keep them from collapsing. Raising their prices when the subsidies are removed is a hypothetical scenario to highlight what the real cost of production probably is. In reality, they'd probably realize that it's hopeless to even try.

World-wide more people die from the "side effects" (i.e., obesity) of too much food, than not enough food.


Junk food is not "real" food

Any single food in inappropriate quantities can be called junk food, any food eaten in moderation and with variety can be appropriately nutritious...

In the world of abstract logic, perhaps. In practical reality, no.

Some foods are just more nutritious than others, and some foods cause more trouble than the nutrients that they provide. There is junk food that is just based on empty calories and toxic elements that then have to be worked on by the body to just remove (much more so than other food). You could say that junk food is perhaps better than no food, if someone is really starving. But it does not magically become good for you because you eat it "in moderation and variety".

FYI: “toxic elements” is a quack term when it comes nutrition. Everything is poisonous (i.e. “toxic”) at the right dosage level.

Also, a “nutrient” is just something that promotes growth and provides energy. That makes olive oil and sticks of butter a lot more “nutrient rich” than a pile of broccoli. Nobody will survive on the latter alone.

Regardless. Death is death. And while we have traditionally feared shortage, the truth is excess - albeit of the wrong "foods" - is now the bigger problem.

Yes, although it's globalizing a pretty big problem. What you said is absolutely true in countries that are adopting a more modern western diet (eg. those upping their intake of processed foods, more meat, tobacco/alcohol, etc. + a bunch of factors around things like AIDS, malaria, diarrhoea, etc. not killing them before those things have a chance to do so which all usually take much longer.

If we're talking about many countries in sub saharan Africa for instance though, I'd say shortage is still a problem and probably going to get worse with climate change since Africa is particularly vulnerable (literally read an article about this yesterday but can't find the link right now)

> "How are many national economies keeping innumerable people hungry, even though there's plenty of food to go around several times over?"

I never see this question on TV. What I mainly see on Tv is talk about political strategies, result surveys and the like. Climate change is one of the few things that I see being discussed. And even that has a lot of this let's talk about politicians positions and poll results.

I want to see more about how to improve the world. Does anyone know any good on-line resources about this? Because mass media is doing a poor job. And we need them to do a better job.

https://thebreadbook.org/ - Peter Kropotkin argues that there's now enough industrial capability to feed, shelter, and clothe everyone, but this capability is poorly distributed. Notably he wrote this over 100 years ago.

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/no-shortcuts-9780190... - Jane F. McAlevey examines the difference between the ineffective activism of the last 40 years and successful movements like the Civil Rights Movement and the industrial labor movement. Her work is also explained well in this interview - https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/04/jane-mcalevey-on-how-...

>Notably he wrote this over 100 years ago.

Is that notable in a good way or bad way? Anything written for the population densities and totals 100 years ago is woefully out of date.

100 years ago there were homesteaders in the western US who were given free acres of land just for being there.

A huge part of Kropotkin's arguments are about what's possible with the technology of the time. This is even more relevant now with 100 years of improvements. It's a strong contrast to the futurist "everything will get better by default because technology."

Population densities are higher now but Kropotkin was writing before the green revolution. Our capability to feed everyone has grown dramatically in the intervening time


The tough truth is that improving the world at that scale is mostly about politics. Politics is how the nations allocate resources to problems.

You maybe want them to talk about the technical fundamentals of the problem but the important bit is usually the politics.

[A sibling comment says to look at TED talks. This is an excellent idea. Then, after a couple of years, ask why none of the solutions have been implemented, and you are ready to get interested in the politics.]

In the 1950s, building a moonbase would have been an engineering and technological challenge.

Today, it's basically a political and economics challenge, to convince enough people it would be worth while to spend the time and effort to do it. Which is not to say there wouldn't be engineers involved, solving new problems, but we already know enough of the solutions that it's not really the sticking point now.

(Which is to agree with you, a lot of things are organizational problems at this point.)

> "Today, it's basically a political and economics challenge, to convince enough people it would be worth while to spend the time and effort to do it."

There's a quote by (I believe) Winston Churchill - which I can't seem to find atm - that goes something along the lines of:

Winning a war/battle is relatively easy. It's convincing them to let you fight that's far more difficult.

The 50s were during the Cold War so building a moon base was absolutely a political challenge. It just so happens that it was an internal political challenge rather than an internal one.

Politics is the wrong word. Not everything is about the state. Its about property rights distribution and the ability to trade.

Politics of course often leads to bad propert rights distribution and limitations to trade.

But I prefer this definition because in many places de-facto property tights are privatly enforced and defended and its produce is not effected by state level politics.

You overall point is certainly true, bad governance leads to a lack of food.

> Politics is how the nations allocate resources to problems.

That's a hard pill to swallow, but I fear you're right.

Shouldn't government's priorities be establishing rule of law, courts & justice, national defense, and regulating commerce? How did massive taxes, a huge budget, and political fights over resource allocation ever get thrown into the mix?

A historian once said that democracy fails when people begin voting themselves into the nation's purse [i.e. voting for politicians who promise them money].

Because rich people don't get rich by spending money. With unfettered capitalism taxation is the best system available to keep the wealth from pooling at the top, so the government is needed to decide what to spend the money on.

>Because rich people don't get rich by spending money

That’s an oft-repeated but incorrect trope. You can’t save your way to being rich. Rich people are either born rich or they spend lots of money on investing into businesses (their own and others).

You also made no supporting argument for why the government is needed to decide what to spend some peoples’ money on. If we eliminated the top 1% and gave everyone else in the US the resulting few thousand dollars each, do you think that would eliminate the need for taxation going forward?

Why should maximizing the well-being of the people not be a government priority?

Any system, including someone's anarcho-capitalist fantasy, determines allocation of resources. Some are just more humanitarian than others.

Because it’s a fantasy to think there is even agreement on what “maximizing the well-being” means. The people running the re-education camps in China probably even think they are doing that.

A fundamentally American idea is that maximizing freedom results in maximum well-being of the people.

Though that idea was footnoted: not so with people lacking in moral virtue.

You might be interested in supporting Andrew Yang: https://www.yang2020.com/

All he talks about is the problem of resource redistribution through the means of a basic income, $1000/month to every citizen!

It’s too bad his arguments for basic income aren’t backed by better arguments. His whole example of his wife not being valued by the market makes no sense because personal caretakers are super expensive on the market.

They just chose as a couple to have her take care of her own son as a caretaker instead of her working and them hiring. That’s not a failure of the market anymore than the market not valuing my car because I refuse to sell it.

"Redesigning Civilization with Permaculture" http://tobyhemenway.com/videos/redesigning-civilization-with...

With integrated carbon-neutral fuel production: http://www.alcoholcanbeagas.com/node/277

> "Alcohol Can Be a Gas!" (subtitled Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century) is an information-dense, highly readable, profusely illustrated manual, covering every aspect of alcohol fuel from history through crops, hands-on fuel production, and vehicle conversion. It's the first comprehensive book on small- to farm-scale alcohol production and use written in over 90 years.

It's mainly focused on how to do good with your career but 80,000 hours (https://80000hours.org/) has a lot of resources and articles about basically what problems out there make sense to tackle and then career pathways to do so. Alternatively Effective Altruism (https://www.effectivealtruism.org/) has a bunch of resources more closely aligned with just understanding how to do the most good possible. If you're looking for something more one-off and easier rather than a career change or something significant, I recommend Givewell.org which ranks some of the charities that they've verified do the most good at the lowest cost and donating to one of them!

You could try TED (or TEDx) talks. For example, a couple of titles I see by skimming the video list are "The living tech we need to support human life on other planets" and "5 challenges we could solve by designing new proteins".

The main reason there is not enough food for everyone is that farmed land is hoarded by a few people, and agricultural production is targeted at crops with high market value. In other words, because agriculture is treated as an activity that must turn a profit, instead of a vital resource for the survival of the population in a country. Rich countries are able to subsidize their agriculture, but this is even more important in poor countries. In that case, starvation is the result of most internal agriculture being targeted at exports. Land owners can make a lot more money exporting their production to rich countries, where there is a large market for higher priced products, instead of the cheaper crops that could be sold internally.

People need to be motivated by death in order to work, or so I'm told by many who argue against government programs to feed the needy.

mandeepj 55 days ago [flagged]

ha ha. What a logic to tackle a question - let's change the question itself. I guess you have never witnessed or heard about green revolution. Welcome to the real world.

> In most places in the world it's easy and cheap enough to produce food and distribute it.


Please don't be a jerk on HN. If you know more than another comment, share some of what you know so we all can learn. Alternatively, it's fine not to post. Either way, please don't break the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

Well simple really, there are still many shitty governments out there and not much of anything that we can do about it. worse is when they get sufficient weaponry it pretty much puts them off limits for any intervention and in some cases lets them blackmail others.

look at Venezuela and even North Korea, then look who supports these regimes that allow the governments of each to keep themselves in power. We cannot do much more than harm the people of countries like these two but surely trade sanctions or limits can be applied to their supporters.

The US is actually causing incredible harm by its trade sanctions against Venezuela, with the US being that country's main trade partner:


A special UN rapporteur sent to Venezuela suggests the sanctions are causing death due to lack of things like Insulin.


You are probably very young if you believe that fantasy.

Who is this "we" that it's so worried about the welfare of humanity?

Read about the interventions of first Europe and then the USA in the global affairs.

You can check how sugar, then cotton and later oil interest have shaped the world. Or even fruit (1).

(1) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Fruit_Company

This one book is filled with so much information. Hands down one of my favourite books. If you ever wanted to understand how sugar shaped the world.


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