Zimbabwe used to be a breadbasket for much of southern Africa. In 2000, the country's long-time dictator Robert Mugabe ordered the farms of white farmers be seized and divvied up among his cronies. Corn production fell from 2.148 million tons to 500,000 tons in 2002 and was 800,000 tons in 2013. Wheat production fell from 255,000 tons to 150,000 tons in 2002 and was 25,000 tons in 2013. As a result, the country has had to import grain to prevent famine several times. This year Zimbabwe will have to import 150,000 tons of corn to forestall staravation among 2.2 million Zimbabweans.
Mugabe has followed to near perfection the recipe for producing poverty that I laid out in my 2002 article. "Poor Planning."
Some recipes guaranteed to get lean results
Here, then, is a short guide for kleptocrats and egalitarians who want to keep their countries poor. All of these policies have stood the test of time as techniques for creating and maintaining poverty. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it will give would-be political leaders a good idea of how to start their countries on the road to ruin.
First, make sure that your country's money is no good. Print money like there's no tomorrow. Hyperinflation is one of the easiest and most popular ways to dismantle an economy. Another popular monetary gambit is to make sure your currency is not convertible. This guarantees that no one will ever want to invest in your country.
To further discourage investment, be sure to nationalize all major Industries. Nationalization has additional poverty-enhancing benefits. For example, it will ensure that the nationalized industries never improve technologically or become more efficient, and it makes workers pathetically dependent on their political masters, namely you.
Of course, you may find it too tiresome to nationalize everything, in which case it is very important that you establish high tariffs that insulate your country's remaining private industries (usually owned by your cronies anyway) from competition.
In addition, your legal system should make it nearly impossible for anyone to license a new business, however small. This will offer opportunities for your bureaucrats to make a living through corruption and will protect your cronies from domestic competition. An added advantage is that most commerce will be made illegal and subject to arbitrary enforcement.
This leads to the point that property is critical. Once people start to own something, they invest in it and improve it, leading inexorably to the creation of wealth. Again, the legal system can help to make it impossible to issue clear titles so that your citizens can't buy, sell, or borrow against their "property." Also, force your farmers to sell their crops to government commodity boards at below-market rates. This will discourage them from investing in anything more advanced than subsistence agriculture, and you will be able to sell whatever crops you do seize at low prices to keep the urban populations quiet.
Another popular policy is confiscatory taxes. This strategy, which allows you to claim that you are soaking the rich in the name of equity, has long been fashionable among the genteelly stagnating economies of Europe.
Finally, you may have missed the golden age of international graft, when the World Bank and even commercial banks showered the governments of poor countries with loans. But if the opportunity arises, you should follow in the footsteps of two deceased leaders whose fortunes are now being divvied up in "Please Help" spams: Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Nigerian General Sani Abacha. Take a page from their book by redirecting international loans directly to your Swiss bank accounts, sticking your citizens with the bill.
In other news, it is rumored that the nearly 90 year-old Mugabe may have "collapsed."