Sunday, February 7, 2010

Haiti: A Libertarian View of World Hunger

With some justification, rights-based libertarians have been accused on being chronically insensitive to world hunger. Actually, the issue is much more complex. Take, for example, the ongoing food distribution debacle in Haiti. It seems that much (if not most) of the food aid being funneled into earthquake ravaged Haiti has been plagued by bribery, corruption, and theft perpetrated by gangs of predatory males. (This was true even before the eathquake!) To combat male-dominated food piracy, and maldistributed food aid, relief agencies have been issuing food coupons to women, who in are expected to exchange them for food and distribute it equitably among men, women, and children. Unfortunately, to the surprise of profoundly naive distributers, women are now being robbed by men of their coupons and food rations before they even get home with the goods. As reported by USA Today, these same women are being raped and victimized by these predatory males in the re-settlement camps.

Back in the 1970s, Neo-Malthusians like Garrett Hardin pointed to the intergenerational "ratchet effect" that invariably plagues food distribution. You feed one generation, they have more babies, population increases, and your moral obligation to feed them increases geometrically. But there is also an intrageneration "ratchet effect." In order to feed the hungry, distributers must first clear the rubble out of the streets, then police the roads for gangs that demand bribes for safe passage, set up distribution centers, make certain that the food gets to vulnerable women and children,and then police the camps where the Haitians are living to make sure that women and children are not victimized by men on the way home or at the lawless camps. In other words, at least in Haiti you cannot realistically expect to "feed" anyone without monitoring and enforcing a semblance of "rule of law" and, ultimately, without rebuilding their nation from the bottom up.

If you are a utility-minded libertarian and you want to spend your hard earned money to feed starving fellow humans, is Haiti a good place to send your money, or are there other countries where you'd get more "bang for a buck?" Of course, once the intragenerational ratchet effect subsides (if it ever does), then what? When is the job finished? How long will it take to teach Haitian males not to advance their individual and collective well-being through violence, threats, thievery, and corruption? If you expect the Haitian government to soon rise to the occasion, forget it. It is too busy prosecuting misguided missionaries caught trying to smuggle a few children out of a Malthusian quagmire.


Sherrie said... I have some thoughts on the Haiti situation. I have a huge soft spot in my heart for people who are hungry and homeless. However, I agree that with all the corruption that is taking place in Haiti, how can we distribute needed supplies such as food if it is not being utilized to feed the very people that need it most? Are we supporting women getting raped or beaten for their food coupons, and if so, does that mean we do not try to help them because of the risk? Do we let them go hungry? What a mess.... Haiti is full of corruption and I don't think it will be resolved by the "person" who is "running" the country. So what should America's involvement be? I am a humanitarian but I am also a utilitarian and the cost/benefit factor may not be weigh out in sending supplies to a country who's people that need it the most will only be beaten, raped and still left hungry.

Sherrie Kleinholz

Freedom's Philosopher said...

WOW! Great points. What do you think about the hoards of well meaning philanthropists that send money to Haitian relief agencies without knowing whether those agencies actually accomplish anything, or even if they are "real" charitable organization? Do we have a moral obligation to focus assistance on desperate countries that at least try to protect the rights of women?

Sherrie said...

Here is my comment on philanthropist.... I appreciate them for the meaning behind what they do. They bring something very speacil to the table of life...and most typically the world is a better place because of them. I strive to be mimic their efforts. However, there are instances in which their efforts are twisted and their initial intentions which were pure are now dirtied and discombobulated and used to inflict harm.

Therfore we have what I call "watchers" who are basically the realizationist that see when this is happening and shed light on the morally impure and work to keep things in perspective. This reminds me of my husband... a realizationist.

As far as having a moral obligation to countries....well...I do not believe in moral obligations to countries...but I do believe in moral obligations to people.

I would like to point out that although proximity does play a role in who we choose to be "humanitarian" to (Which by the way,I find that to be very interesting), I believe that a person suffering in the deepest part of China is equally important as a person suffering under a bridge in downtown Cincinnati.

Sherrie said...

Wow...did I really write the word "realizationist".... lol. I meant "realist". Showing my exhaustion. :)

APLS said...

The proximity problem is one of utility: it's harder to help people that are a long distance away. It's harder to know whether you are "really" doing any good or not. On the other hand, it SEEMS easier to help someone in Cincinnati because of closer proximity. But even then, your assistance might not be REALLY helpful over the long run. And your observation on human equality is right on, but it can conflict with utility. It's usually easier and more cost-effective to help Cincinnatians. Then again, sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.