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Could Elon Musk’s Billions Really Solve World Hunger?

¿Elon Musk podría resolver el hambre? no. Imagen: EFE/EPA/ALEXANDER BECHER

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Could Elon Musk solve hunger by giving away 2 percent of his fortune? The question was raised by a CNN article featuring a statement by David Beasley, director of the United Nations World Food Programme, that even an amount as small as 2 % of fortunes such as those of Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk could solve world hunger.

At first glance, Beasley’s statement sounds like the typical goody-goody demagoguery one might find in any neighborhood political speech or Facebook discussion, similar to the famous “with the Vatican’s wealth we could solve world hunger twice over”, which is stated on the air and applauded with equal frivolity. However, here the story was different, because Elon Musk responded to the challenge.

The Tesla founder took to Twitter to point out that, if the United Nations World Food Programme was able to answer him in that same thread how $6 billion dollars (2 % of Musk’s fortune) would solve world hunger, he would sell Tesla shares immediately to cover that amount and make it happen.

Beasley, the UN bureaucrat, responded by qualifying his initial statements, saying that the $6 billion would not solve world hunger, but it would save 42 million people on the brink of starvation and could we can “bring hope, build stability and change the future”; the typical demagogic gobbledygook that is the UN’s lingua franca.

Musk retaliated with a knockout. He asked Beasley to have his UN office publish the detail of its current and proposed spending “so people can see exactly where the money goes. Sunlight is a wonderful thing.” He then tweeted an article about the scandal of children as young as 9 years old starving to death and being forced by UN officials to give them oral sex in exchange for food. Beasley was silent.

An unrealistic proposition

And he can’t, for the simple reason that world hunger is not an economic problem, but a political and social problem. On the contrary, the approach of drowning these problems in investments through agencies such as the World Food Programme is chronically inefficient.

Let’s take it one step at a time.

To begin with, it is true that for most of human history, hunger was a fundamentally economic phenomenon: a shortage of animals for hunting or a poor harvest resulted in an absolute shortage of food and even entire civilizations died of starvation. It used to be like that, but not anymore.

Technology and modern economic development allow us to produce food in abundance, while only a small percentage of the population is dedicated to the agri-food industry. We have the capacity to produce more food than ever before, for more people than ever before. We produce so much food that obesity has become a veritable epidemic not only in the first world, but even in developing countries.

So why are people still starving?

The answer is simple: it is not for lack of resources, it is not for lack of food. It is not because of economic issues, it is because of political issues. The regions of the world that face widespread famine are those where a civil war or a socialist government deliberately alters the flows of capital and production, using the resulting famine as a tool of control.

Yes, again, to be clear: hunger in Africa or certain parts of Asia is not a consequence of overeating or wealth accumulation in the West. That typical phrase of moms “eat all the soup, eat, because in Africa there are hungry children” is as absurd as the claims of the left that full supermarkets in America are responsible for empty cupboards in the Central African Republic or Ethiopia.

Therefore, merely throwing money around, even entire fortunes, will not solve hunger. Since that famine is ultimately the result of a political strategy, “solving” it by funding governments means directly funding some of the cruelest and most corrupt regimes on the face of the earth. Time and again, programs to forgive debt or fund countries in food crisis end up paying for the tyrant’s apartment on Champs Elysees, instead of feeding the child in the leaflet.

Nor is the solution to simply give money to the UN or some other NGO and ignore the issue, for two reasons:

The first is that even in situations as critical as Haiti, indiscriminate and capricious “aid” resulted in serious long-term damage. The gifts from the West put many Haitian entrepreneurs out of business, further weakening the country’s fragile economic structure. The damage was such that even Bill Clinton, one of the prime movers of the strategy of solving Haiti’s problems by throwing money at them and giving them food, eventually recognized that the strategy had backfired.

The second is corruption, as Elon Musk brilliantly put it in the aforementioned Twitter thread. One of the most serious problems with organizations that supposedly fight poverty is their chronic lack of transparency. Certainly daylight is a wonderful thing, but when it comes to shining a light on their spending, the UN and many NGOs shun that light like Dracula. Their budgets, priorities and strategies are completely behind the backs of society at large, and even the donors themselves.

The result is corruption. Whether in a Catholic seminary, on a Hollywood set or, of course, in a crisis zone, the brew of lack of transparency, high concentration of power and high level of discretion results in abuses, some as serious as UN officials raping 9-year-old children in exchange for food.

¿Elon Musk podría resolver el hambre y la pobreza? No. Es tema político, no basta con dinero. Imagen: Unsplash
Could Elon Musk solve hunger and poverty? No. It’s a political issue, money is not enough. Image: Unsplash

Is the solution to remove the evil politician?

Since hunger is essentially a political problem, at first glance, it would seem that the solution is to get the evil tyrants out of the game, so that innocent children can eat in peace.

Sounds nice, but it doesn’t go that way either. Simply replacing a corrupt politician does not guarantee a long-term solution. Let’s think, not to go any further, of the Venezuelan case: Venezuela, one of the world’s most oil-rich countries, faces poverty levels similar to those of Haiti, because of the deeply inept and corrupt Chavista dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.

However, even if a vigilante group were to arrest Maduro tonight, Venezuela’s problems would not be solved automatically, as both the regime and much of the so-called opposition are equally socialist, similarly corrupt and equivalently inept. Removing Maduro and replacing him with another socialist would be to stir the crisis rather than solve it.

How can we solve the problem of hunger?

In the short term, especially in acute crises such as those caused by war or natural disaster, it is indeed necessary to send food and aid directly, but it is equally essential that this aid be operated in a transparent manner. Non-governmental organizations must learn to operate under standards of transparency that are at least similar to those required of governments. They could even set an example by adopting technologies such as blockchain to track the use of the donations they receive.

In the long run, the best route is trade. If good consciences are serious about helping the poor, they should first focus on reducing the tariffs and restrictions the West imposes on products from such nations. After all, the solution is not to keep the poor at the whim of our handouts, but to integrate them into the chain of trade that allowed us ourselves to leave behind the specter of famine.

And what to do with corrupt politicians? To begin with, we must make it difficult for them to launder money and prevent, as far as possible, the Bolibourgeois Chavista or the African dictator from spending with impunity in Paris the money and freedom they stole from their compatriots. And when it is necessary to directly remove from power those who, like Nicolás Maduro, turned the government into a full-fledged mafia. A strategy that goes beyond the simple change of ruler will be needed.

It is not enough to replace the staff in the Government offices, a change of regime and social consensus is needed. Otherwise, neither 2 % nor 200 % of Elon Musk’s fortune will ever be enough.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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