Britt’s post below about food ethics motivated me to revisit my extended commentary on the economics of food.
Previously in the series, I described the apparent zero-sum game between economic success on a global scale and local economic prosperity. Aid tactics that aim to expand the competitive remit of local farmers in poor regions, such as the World Food Program, appear to succeed at improving local economic conditions, but do so at the expense of long-term local prosperity. While expanding the global markets to which every person potentially has access, these tactics shrink the local markets to which poor populations actually have access.
Paul Thompson, a food ethicist, also notes in a recent blog post that there is an additional tension between “things that are good for farmers and things that are good for the urban poor.” Policies and practices that aim to address hunger in poor urban areas – Thompson cites the donation of food surpluses, which depresses the cost of food – often disadvantage poor farmers (in this example, because their food sells for less), precisely because these policies and practices do not circumvent the rules of the zero-sum economics game.
This puts us back to square one – starving people will not be fed, and their numbers will continue to grow. Increased market participation increases a supply that is only available to some, which benefits those who are already well-entrenched at the top of the global economic system. Can we blame the farmer for being a good businessman? Can we blame the market for being so shrewd? Or could we instead blame those who tout market expansion as the end-all, cure-all for world hunger?
What we can say definitively is that this neoliberal capitalism only pays lip-service to helping the hungry. Relying on this system to end starvation, a system that has proven not only to continually funnel money toward the top of the socio-economic pyramid, but also to thwart any attempts to reform its doing so, is more than irrational and morally reprehensible; it is directly responsible for millions of starving people around the world.
So the threat to national security is not simply angry, economically-downtrodden populations, nor is it simply lack of access to food; what is most threatening to national security are the neoliberal capitalist policies that drive economic inequality – that define the rules of the game – and limit access to essential needs, while simultaneously moonlighting as the solution to such inequalities and issues of access.
In short, neoliberal capitalism is a threat to national security.