Democracies don’t have famines

Quote of the week from Roger Kerr:

Less edifying was a session titled ‘An Uncertain Harvest: Investigating Global Food Security’. Malthus seemed to have a couple of seats at the table in a round of agonizing about food security and whether the world can feed its population in the 21st century.

I made the point that food security is often the code word for agricultural protectionism. It has been the excuse for the common agricultural policy and protection of Japan’s rice farmers, for example. If markets are allowed to work, trading is free, and property rights and contracts are secure, it is hard to see why global supply and demand will not balance over the longer term.  As one delegate said, there’s never been a famine in a democracy.  

Consumers never win from protectionism and in the long-term producers don’t either. New Zealand is proof of that.

We might have been dragged kicking and screaming into the real susbisdy-free world in the 1980s but New Zealand farmers are much the stronger for it now.

Protectionism increases the power of politicians and bureaucrats which adds costs and uncertainties.

It also upsets the law of supply and demand, creating unwanted surpluses or unnecessary shortages.

Aid might be needed in the short-term but the best way to tackle famine is to open borders and ditch subsidies.

Fair Trade is a compelling slogan but the only really fair trade is free trade.

4 Responses to Democracies don’t have famines

  1. gravedodger says:

    I have friends who, because thy were too exposed, couldn’t or didn’t make the necessary adjustments, lost much of their superannuation security fund when Douglas jerked the the “subsidy” rug out from NZ agriculture. Some now drive Buses, do casual work, suffer health issues and a couple took their own lives
    Through the exit package that basically allowed them to keep enough from the “train wreck” for a home, the rest as they say is history. Being there, and almost succunbing myself, it was a very daunting prospect that farmers no longer listened to the “budget” to make short term plans.
    Looking back it was such a sensible, practical and necessary move and you are correct Ele it is the main strand in the success of the primary sector we enjoy today in spite of a record high Dollar.
    Loved the line “Democracy never endured famine”, my instinctive thought was, what about Ireland in the 40s potato famine then remembered the poor buggers were an exploited colony enduring such crap interference as “Trevellyan’s Corn Laws”.

    With so much clear evidence of unintended outcomes, one wonders in these enlightened times how pollys can inflict such rubbish on the electorate, then I think of the salient fact,
    “would I have voted for Rodger Douglas’s reforms” and the answer is absolutely not, at that time, simply because without subsidies that everyone else in the world enjoyed we would be annihilated.

    Surprise, surprise, most were not.

  2. homepaddock says:

    GD – there are other examples like the one you give where people lost their farms, other businesses and/or homes and that is sad.

    But the blame for that should be laid on the bad policies which promoted subsidies and protection, not the ones which removed them.

    I cetainly didn’t enjoy it at the time but accept now the need for the changes.

  3. Bulaman says:

    It comes to how you do it. If we regulated the export of unproccessed logs we would generate 16,000 direct and indirect jobs. Just as live sheep bans protect/shelter the meat processing industry!

  4. homepaddock says:

    Bulaman – would that have any impact on the price or quality of the product?

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