Poverty: domestic vs. international

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

We can’t solve poverty in this country. Is it reasonable to think we can fix it world-wide first?

There is poverty and hunger in this country, as well as other countries world-wide. If these countries cannot solve their own problems with it, how can it be solved by expanding it to countries outside of their own? Can we justify letting people in their own countries go without, with a grand gesture of trying to help everyone world-wide? I’m sure the rationality is to pool resources and hope everyone benefits, but we’ve seen that before, and in the end it just doesn’t work. Sustaining people with food has always been a ‘band-aid,’ but the cure seems to still be elusive.

There is nothing elusive about the cure for hunger. Hunger is almost always policy-engineered. Since around 1970, the world consistently produces more food than it consumes. If you look at where and when in the world hunger happens, you will see that it usually happens during a civil war (as in, for example, Ethiopia, where farmers are driven off their fertile lands and languish in the desert) or in a country where government interferes in land ownership, agriculture and/or food wholesale, while simultaneously restricting food imports (as in, for example, India, where the government retains the monopoly on rice wholesale).

As to “justifying letting people in their own countries go without”, you really should read up on how big foreign aid really is and where it goes. In 2005, the U.S. spent $27.2 billion on foreign aid, of which $6.9 billion went to Iraq and $1.1 billion to Afghanistan (so if the U.S. government chose not to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, the figure would have been under $20 billion). Also in 2005, the U.S. government spent $31.1 billion on food stamps, over $300 billion on Medicare, and over $400 billion on defense. So if you are really concerned about hunger in the U.S., there are larger targets than foreign aid out there…

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