India

India's Misguided Push for Food Security

Will India's right to food bill actually put food in the mouths of the poor?

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Earlier this month a country that's home to millions of poor and hungry people tested a missile capable of striking deep into distant continents. North Korea may come to mind, but the country whose missile proved it's actually capable of targeting (rather than merely intended to target) foreign lands is India.

While spending dearly (something on the order of $500 million) to test launch the Agni-V missile and flex its military muscle, India is also poised to introduce a law that the country hopes will guarantee an end to hunger. A "right to food" movement has built momentum in India over the last decade thanks to a Supreme Court case there. The Food Security Bill now under consideration would "offer nearly two-thirds of India's population a legal entitlement to foodgrain."

In a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, New Delhi-based researcher Ashwin Parulkar endorsed the measure. "Discounted food," he wrote, "should be a universal entitlement."

But the staggering cost of ensuring a right to food for all Indians—estimated at $22 billion, or the cost of more than 40 Agni-V rockets per year—is just one problem with a government guarantee of food for all.

The larger question is whether any government can make good on a guaranteed right to food. If the Indian government's recent food-policy failures are any indication, establishing a right to food will be a grand subcontinental experiment in wasting food, money, and lives.

After all, malnutrition in India (a leading cause of death) is often the result of inept government micromanagement of the food economy and other counterproductive policies. And even before it's enacted, the pressure of ensuring a right to food has already played a role in wasting food and hurting farmers. In 2007, for example, India banned wheat exports entirely after the country's leaders claimed they needed time "to judge its wheat availability in the light of the proposed Food Security Bill."

These policies led to a domestic wheat glut, which happened to coincide with a global surplus.

When the Indian government finally did open exports again more than four years later, many farmers found it was months too late for them to sell on the world market.

India's government itself was unready for the excess of grain its own policies created, since government capacity to store grain was far less than its ability to bolster domestic grain production by decree. Hence, today the government "does not know where to store the bumper grains to be harvested for the third year in a row," leading to the likelihood "that the grains would be out in the open, rot and be eaten by rodents even as millions go hungry in the country which is planning to enact a right to food law."

Is there a way to feed the poor without top-down government food policies? Yes, and economic growth is the key. From the big business tech boom to small entrepreneurs benefiting from microfinance to some government recognition of economist Hernando de Soto's arguments about reducing barriers to starting businesses, India has been a success story. According to the World Bank and other sources, for example, poverty in India is receding greatly as the country's economy expands. "India's poverty declined by 19% between 1990 and 2005," according to World Bank estimates.

There's also no shortage of charitable, non-governmental organizations working to feed India's most impoverished people. Reforming the country's charitable-giving laws is one necessary fix that could boost this output even further. For example, India currently taxes charitable organizations on what in the United States would be tax-free earnings.

And there's also this: The poor are very often capable of providing for themselves if left to their own devices.

The startling thing about a recent attack by some radical Hindus on a group of Dalits (members of India's lower caste) who were eating beef (which is verboten to many Hindus) at an outdoor festival is not the vile attack itself. No, the surprising fact is that Dalits—two-thirds of whom are among India's poorest—gathered in numbers greater than a thousand to share a meal of beef (a food of the wealthy in most any country).

"Everyone should have the freedom to eat the food of their choice," said event organizer B Sudarshan.

Of course he's right. And when such a choice is available to even the poor, then the need to codify a right to food seems inapt. Add to this India's recent failures at centrally planning its food supply and the country's ability to ensure a right to food seems downright implausible.

Instead of India's government trying (and failing) to provide its hungriest with food, India should create a legal and policy climate that lets those Indians who can provide for themselves do so, and encourages domestic and foreign charitable giving to fill the gaps as needed.

Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of culinary freedom.

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  1. Man must always offer supplications for his food: in the past to the gods and in the future to the govt. The vast majority of humanity just demands to be reassured that there is a Power that can be propitiated and will provide all that is needed.

  2. Still. It makes more sense than a right to birth control.

    1. georgetown has private insurance einstein & customers have every right to criticize services

      1. Well Copernicus, she was not testifying to a congressional committee in order to “criticize” services but was doing so to advocate for using the goverment to force her “private” insurance company to supply her with birth control for free.

      2. Wants =/= Needs =/= Rights =/= Guaranteed Favorable Outcomes.

        You can criticize services all you wish, Urine, and have the right to inquire: just be prepared for the possibility (and probability) of a “no”. Especially regarding voluntary acts.

      3. Wants =/= Needs =/= Rights =/= Guaranteed Favorable Outcomes.

        You can criticize services all you wish, Urine, and have the right to inquire: just be prepared for the possibility (and probability) of a “no”. Especially regarding voluntary acts. Galileo.

        1. So nice, worth saying twice.

          The squirrels actually did you a favor, Groov.

  3. Also Cows.

  4. Fuck, what an insipid term… “food security”. That kind of empty bullshit terminology could only come from a leftist think-tank.

  5. so man believes he can legislate against laws of nature. Every other species is subject to the consequences of diminished food supply. I don’t wish to see people starve but, unlike the other beasts, man has the ability to control procreation.

    If society can legislate a “right” to food, can it also legislate similar rights to adequate housing, reliable transportation, steady work, and a host of other things? Seems that the more govt programs we have that make mascots of the poor, the more poor that are created to take advantage of the help.

    1. Funny how that works huh. As they say, if you want less of something tax it, if you want more, subsidize it.

    2. If they would just legislate weather justice, the food production problem would be licked.

    3. “I don’t wish to see people starve but, unlike the other beasts, man has the ability to control procreation.”
      Even this is marginal to the problem; humanity at its current peak, has far fewer starving in both total number and percentage than ever before.
      And if the Indian gov’t got out of the way and left those folks to prosper, the birth rate would likely plummet as it has everywhere else.

      1. This is your chance to gambol on over there and extoll the virtues of eating cattle lichen!

        1. Don’t wake up the Godesky! He’s a light sleeper, despite his ponderous, sleep-apnea’d bulk!

    4. “It’s a law. We change laws all the time. We can change economic laws too!”

  6. a food security bill now under consideration that would provide a legal entitlement to discounted food for all Indians.

    If a discount is given to all, what is a discount?

  7. Centralized agriculture production has worked so well everywhere it’s been tried, why didn’t they think of it sooner. Maybe they can hire consultants from North Korea. Or they can trade services with them. We’ll show you how to build rockets and you can show us how to starve our population.

    1. Consultants? Poppycock. All they need is a few Five-Year Plans.

  8. Back in the day I went to a college lecture by a Socialist. (Self-identified SWP member.) He gave a brilliant presentation on how, if only the capitalist countries would convert to socialism then the grain they were growing could be redistributed to socialist countries, and world hunger would be eliminated.

    Then some stupid freshman asked why, if socialism was so much more rational and efficient, it was the capitalist countries who had all the surplus grain and the socialist countries who needed it.

    Ruined the whole show.

    1. :^D

  9. First they impose conditions that cause you to starve.

    Then they create conditions that increase the amount of vermin with all the problems that causes.

    Then they promise to feed you.

    Then they don’t.

    Then they come up with a new plan.

    Then you wait, again.

    Then what?

    1. maybe grow moar [THEYS]

  10. I don’t think you should have a centrally planned economy, but if you’re gonna have one anyway, …

    China invested in educating its peasants to read and write and do some math–essential skills for factory work. Even with one of China’s biggest problems being a shortage of factory workers, India has a hard time picking up that slack because India has so many potential workers who can’t read to follow instruction or do math.

    …because while China was out educating their peasants, India was dumping tons of money into educating their elites to be mathematicians and engineers.

    Centrally planning these things is a fool’s errand, but at least when China’s peasants are displaced to put up a factory or the infrastructure to support it, they’re educated well enough to get a job in the factory.

    Sadly? Many Indian farmers aren’t. India’s doing a better job of things if they’re starting to think from the ground up. Making sure everybody’s children gets to learn to read and write and do some math should be the priority. After that, if you’re gonna do some central planning, trying to make sure all those kids get enough to eat isn’t the worst mistake they could have made.

    China made some huge mistakes that way, too, but the mistakes they made were in the execution, not in failing to identify the problem. India was dumping tons of money into educating their elites to be engineers–at least now they’re starting to see the real problem.

    1. Also, they need roads. Lots of roads.

    2. Wait, you want them to educate the untouchables? But they’re like untouchable.

      1. Yeah, it’s hard to believe that if you treat people like that, they start turning to Marxism.

        It’s also hard for some people (I’m lookin’ at you, T o n y) to believe that democratic socialism tends to disenfranchise people like that, too.

        But it does!

        Being a minority in a democratic socialist society sucks. Thank God for individual rights.

  11. Will India’s right to food bill actually put food in the mouths of the poor?

    A good, relevant question. Unlike the libertarian question: why should I care about feeding the poor?

    40 Agni-V rockets per year

    Sounds cheap when you put it that way. It’s a huge population. Only 40 WMDs?

    The poor are very often capable of providing for themselves if left to their own devices.

    So there was no hunger problem prior to government meddling? However inept the government was at managing the wheat economy, there were presumably right choices to be made about problems that did exist.

    domestic and foreign charitable giving to fill the gaps as needed.

    What is it about government that makes it inherently worse at doing something than a charity? It’s singular ability to mobilize resources is also its downfall? How? What else? Its democratic nature? Access to food as a political issue too distorts the food market?

    America’s management of its food market has faults too. But is there a right to food or not? If so, what does it take to secure it? Certainly not letting the weather decide who eats and who starves.

    1. Hey, why bother trying to improve your own lot? Just put your faith in government instead.

      And, no, there is no “right to food”.

        1. Common sense and logic, stOOOpid.

        2. society through the years, that’s who. No nation that has seen prosperity has treated food as a freebie. The ones who tried to centrally plan everything has usually been the ones with the poorest outcomes.

          1. so close all the mission houses & food banks, eliminate meals on wheels, & cancel school lunches? >winning platform there ace.

            1. It’s not working now, stOOOpid. All those trillions spent on the War on Poverty… and there’s STILL poverty.

              1. “mission houses and food banks” are run by government? Who knew?

            2. o3|4.21.12 @ 2:54PM|#
              “so close all the mission houses & food banks, eliminate meals on wheels, & cancel school lunches? >winning platform there ace.”
              Taking lessons from shithead, are you? Changing the subject sorta points out your stupidity.

            3. Maybe people would be more charitable than you think, o3, if they were allowed to spend their money as they wish. Maybe all those programs could survive – and be even better – if they were totally private.

        3. o3|4.21.12 @ 2:40PM|#
          “who says?”
          Those who can count higher than ten.

    2. What is it about government that makes it inherently worse at doing something than a charity?

      Because a charity depends on voluntary contributions from people who think it is doing a good job. Governments, on the other hand, have tools that make voluntary contributions superfluous.

      1. Team Blue should just go ahead and make voluntary charity illegal. It’s what they want, after all… everyone dependent on the dole, instead of people giving out of their inherent goodness.

    3. But is there a right to food or not?

      No. Which renders the rest of your egalitarian meanderings moot.

      1. It’s meanderings all the way down.

    4. one can always count on Tony to take the Obama route – argue against a point that NO ONE is making. Not a word here about “who cares”. Lots of words about how govt intervention has caused much of the trouble in the first place.

      Once again Tony proves that liberalism can only survive in the midst of a massively uninformed population. No, there is not a “right” to food, certainly not in the entitlement sense in which you ask the question.

      1. You forgot how he brings “morality” into the discussions… as if government can be an arbiter of morality.

        1. “should be an arbiter of morality”

          Self-FIFY’d. I’ll send myself the bill.

    5. T o n y|4.21.12 @ 2:16PM|#
      “Unlike the libertarian question: why should I care about feeding the poor?”
      Shithead, do you ever comment without lying?

      1. Tony can’t be bothered to argue in good faith.

        So, every time one of us replies, we should start along the lines of: “Unlike the liberal question: Why should I care whether I trample on your rights to achieve my utopia?”

        That should level the playing field.

      2. Actually, that probably should be the first libertarian question: “Why should I care?” – but it’s not the rhetorical question I think he thinks it is. If you don’t know why you should care, how are you going to know *how* you should care?

        In the case of India, it ain’t sending boatloads of free food over there – it tends to put local farmers and merchants out of business. (Even though it does give Americans the warm fuzzies to think of how caring they are.) Hungry people need more farmers and more markets, not fewer.

        So it will be interesting to see how India guarantees cheap food for everyone. Government getting out of the way and allowing freer markets in food production and distribution to give farmers and merchants incentives to get rich producing more food and instead concentrating on the infrastructure to deliver the goods to market?

        Instead of sending them free food, I would suggest sending a few Wal-mart executives their way. That’s how we got to the point where the government here isn’t trying to figure out how to feed people, it’s trying its’ best to figure out how to make people stop eating. That’s a hell of a problem to have.

    6. What is it about government that makes it inherently worse at doing something than a charity?

      The folks who run charities tend to ask the people they help what the people need. The government tends to concentrate on what the government thinks the people are entitled to.

  12. A right to food/education/medical care/etc. requires that you enslave the producers of said good. The word for this system is “serfdom”.

    1. ^This.^

    2. One of the amusing things about people who want a government to “perfect” society is that they assume that they will be in charge.

      They see themselves as getting the food the government hand out, and not as the guy who has to forego growing a cash crop because the state has upped his wheat quota again.

      They see themselves as the guy getting a good education for free, not as the guy who has to settle for curricula that he disagrees strongly with while being denied a chance to study counsel of knowledge that he finds interesting.

      1. Very true. I wonder how much the average “progressive” would sacrifice to achieve the society they want to impose on others. Very little, I imagine.

        Whether they recognize it, many of them act like they’re descendants of the Leninist Vanguard, ready to make decisions for everyone with or without his consent. I mean, how much do you think they really admire the Marxist philosophy that all people can have all they want and need if they just formed a collective that relied on “scientific” precision? Any deviations, of course, in theory and practice, would be squelched.

    3. When you think of producers as the subhuman bourgeoisie, “serfdom” is a word the “progressives” delight in. After all, wouldn’t that be social justice?

      1. Give ’em a term or two with unlimited, veto-proof power, and they’d go beyond those goals, cw.

  13. Speaking of food, I got to step away from the keyboard and get started on some New England-style clambake grilling.

    1. You’re going to eat that, while starving children are being devoured by their starving grandparents because of the Bush tax cuts?

      /Tony

  14. The are actually a whole bunch of countries that guarantee this “right to free food”. The “right” to free food predictably decreases the amount of food produced, and when the world prices for certain foods go up these places can very rapidly combust into riots, countries such as Egypt and lots of countries in Africa are good examples.

    If India passes this right to food, and the predictable rise in food prices hit India, no doubt the idiots like Tony will blame it on the speculators and elite billionaires.

  15. NotSure|4.21.12 @ 7:47PM|#
    …”If India passes this right to food, and the predictable rise in food prices hit India, no doubt the idiots like Tony will blame it on the speculators and elite billionaires.”

    No “if” involved in either prediction.

  16. a grand subcontinental experiment in wasting food, money, and lives.

    Kinda like their new ICBM.

    1. Both of their biggest enemies, Pakistan and China, have nukes.

      I’m not so sure their nuclear missile program is entirely wasteful.

      1. Agreed, Ken.

  17. OK heck yeah man lets hit it up dude.

    http://www.Anon-How.tk

  18. I’m glad to see someone providing a voice of reason in the growing food problems India is facing. You can’t eat legislation, money or government entitlements. Right now in the absence of food they are feeding their people promises and incomprehensible statements. The food security problems of the world won’t be solved be economists or politicians. Someone has to grow some food.

  19. India is an uncivilized nation for farmers/peasants.
    A farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes in India.
    Since Independence, New Delhi regime treated farmers/peasants as their slaves by prohibiting them from **selling their crops for profit** and banned them from exporting their crops to foreign countries.
    Now Indian regime is grabbing farmers/peasants land and giving it to Industrialists/SEZs so that they can **make millions** by exporting their products to foreign countries for profit.

  20. A farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes in India.
    Since Independence, New Delhi regime treated farmers/peasants as their slaves by prohibiting them from **selling their crops for profit** and banned them from exporting their crops to foreign countries.
    Now Indian regime is grabbing farmers/peasants land and giving it to Industrialists/SEZs so that they can **make millions** by exporting their products to foreign countries for profit.

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