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A "Report" in the Post

This “report” in today’s Washington Post is utterly inept.  The “reporter” aims to explain some of the causes of the famine in Niger.  Here’s a sample of the “report”:

It [the famine] is the result not only of food shortages but a host of other problems, including vendor profiteering, a government policy shift toward a free market, and a decline in the traditional culture of generosity that once helped communities in Niger survive cyclical periods of scarcity.

I wonder if editors at a newspaper as sophisticated as the Washington Post are just a bit embarrassed that one of their reporters (Craig Timberg) explains food shortages as being caused by, among other things, “food shortages.”

Of course, the other things Mr. Timberg lists don’t pass the smell test.

I don’t know much about Niger (and I’m vacationing this week in Virginia Beach, so I’ve too little time to do much impromptu research), but because free markets have an overwhelmingly positive record at delivering the goods – and because this record is pretty widely understood today – surely listing “a government policy shift toward a free market” as a cause of famine requires a great deal of explanation.

But if you read the story, you’ll find none.  What you will find is a juvenile willingness to accept the myth of generous pre-commercial man – man who, pre-market, shared, but who now is given more and more to selfish exploitation.

I was struck then that even Mr. Timberg – after praising the great generosity of Nigeriens before their alleged descent into markets – writes that "Niger, a landlocked nation of 11.7 million, suffers through hunger crises about once every decade.”  I suppose that such periodic famines are consistent with a splendid sharing ethic, but it’s something of a stretch to explain why the market has made things so bad today while in the sharing-dominated past things were, well, still rather bad.

I’m also struck by this remark in the report:

A U.N. report found that prices in markets in Niger have shot up sharply because of profiteering, said James Morris, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, speaking from San Francisco.  Some traders, he said, have raised prices in anticipation of the arrival of aid groups, which often buy food locally to save on transport costs.

Perhaps if the U.N. weren’t in Niger, traders would be selling food directly to starving people rather than waiting for well-meaning westerners to buy it.

I don’t know what’s going on in Niger, but I’m pretty confident that it has precious few market forces at work – despite this “report” in today’s Washington Post.

Hat tip to Jude Blanchette.