In the first place, this is a thoughtful essay, though weakened by demonizing the hand that seeks to feed the starving. I believe this essay raises an insightful and critical point about the inherent danger of transforming democratic processes into philanthropic ones. However, I believe we need to look even deeper to understand the root cause of hunger, and that is the "global marketplace," in which philanthropization, if you'll forgive the term, can be understood as part of the current state in the evolution of an economics that removes resources from local--or democratic--control. In this regard, the Gates Foundation's new focus on developing a local philanthropic circuit that serves to keep local production available to local populations seems wise, and yet this "leaked document" about "land mobility" reveals that its envisioned solution requires a reduction of "local" population, which is to say that it embraces the global-marketplace solution; and indeed the foundation has been clear that it intends to seek to solve hunger in Africa by developing local access to the global marketplace because that will bring wealth to the "smallholders" and so increase their potential for productivity.
Now, the basic problem of the global marketplace is that it follows the money. For instance, rainforest is being burnt to create land to grow corn to feed cattle for Western consumption because dollars are cheap, so to say, in the West, or, in other words, beef ranchers can earn more dollars selling meat to obese nations than by selling the grain to the poorest of the poor. It's certainly no mere coincidence, but a sad irony, that the green revolution has seen an increase in both starvation and obesity because the products flow into the mouths of livestock for the wealthy. The story in Malawi mentioned in the essay is illustrative, as higher yields produced rising exports while peasants continued to starve.
However I am not commenting here just to expand the discussion of problems but instead to offer a proven but ignored solution. This solution depends on recognizing that the growing primacy of the global marketplace--a marketplace which delivers resources to the highest bidder on the planet--is the root problem, because in so recognizing we can then understand that developing local currencies that are more valuable than national/global currencies is a natural solution.
Now, this notion will be new to most who read this comment, so let me try to clarify with an example.
Suppose you can purchase a bag of grain for a dollar or with the equivalent of a dollar using whatever currency is in use, but that you can also receive a substantial discount (50 percent, for example) if you purchase the grain with a currency that is recognized only in the very immediate area. Well, obviously, everyone in that area will prize that very local currency quite highly--will seek it, will demand it, will honor it. And yet, what good is that currency to the global trader? Very little, for it has no value outside the area. The global trader who wishes to purchase the grain with the local currency to enjoy the discount will find it necessary to participate in the true local marketplace, as distinguished from the local hub of the global marketplace, to accumulate the local currency, and yet what can they offer locally except to exchange national/global currency for local at a higher rate, or to offer goods and services at discounted prices when paid with local currency? And so we see how creating local currencies that are guaranteed to gain value by discounting essential local commodities turns the tables on the marketplace by making local marketplaces always the highest bidder. In this way, the essential commodities of food and water will always flow locally to those who need them most before these commodities enter the global marketplace, because regardless of how much the global marketplace will pay, the local currency discounts that price.
This strategy doesn't prevent local people from trading with national/global currencies in the least. Indeed, people who can purchase their food and water with local currency will have more national/global currency available to spend outside the local marketplace. And certainly, well-fed local populations will be more prosperous and so better customers in the global marketplace. Moreover, prosperous local communities are empowered to protect themselves from the general exploitation of the global marketplace. No more will you see the sweatshops and smokestacks of exporters there, because the slave-labor has vanished with the creation of a prized local currency. In fact, the otherwise ineluctable process of environmental degradation will reverse because prosperous people can point at what is unsustainable and stop it. This is why there are trees on the street where I live, here in my western town, because we have the prosperity to enforce laws against chainsaws.
Again, this understanding begins with understanding that the root cause of the problem lies in the nature of the non-local, global marketplace, and so the root solution lies in empowering the true local marketplace. If we don't do this, then eventually even my town will see its trees fall, since our prosperity doesn't derive from a true local marketplace but from exploiting other communities. If we make the mistake of imagining that the flow of populations towards western-style urban settings solves the problem by transforming "local" populations into global populations, then we forget that locally prosperous populations are necessary to local environmental diversity and health. And everywhere is local.
And so, eventually, there will be nothing left to exploit, unless we act first to change the paradigm from global sustainabilty to sustainable local prosperity.
To learn more about this local-money solution, please visit my site, sunmoney.org, where you'll find links to a series of pages that support and clarify the argument I present here--for instance, explaining why communities that discount essential commodities when purchased with local currency take no risk of losing income, describing variations on the strategy that work with communities at every stage of economic development, etc.
Saint Augustine, FL
Sep 8 2009 - 9:22pm