Monday, 9 November 2009

Famine and a free press

In a comment to the posting Famine and trade, John Small notes the argument by Amartya Sen that no substantial famine has ever occurred in a country with a relatively free press,
I have discussed elsewhere the remarkable fact that, in the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press. We cannot find exceptions to this rule, no matter where we look: the recent famines of Ethiopia, Somalia, or other dictatorial regimes; famines in the Soviet Union in the 1930s; China's 1958-61 famine with the failure of the Great Leap Forward; or earlier still, the famines in Ireland or India under alien rule. China, although it was in many ways doing much better economically than India, still managed (unlike India) to have a famine, indeed the largest recorded famine in world history: Nearly 30 million people died in the famine of 1958-61, while faulty governmental policies remained uncorrected for three full years. The policies went uncriticized because there were no opposition parties in parliament, no free press, and no multiparty elections. Indeed, it is precisely this lack of challenge that allowed the deeply defective policies to continue even though they were killing millions each year. The same can be said about the world's two contemporary famines, occurring right now in North Korea and Sudan. (Amartya Sen, "Democracy as a Universal Value", Journal of Democracy 10.3 (1999) 3-17)
But I won't mind betting that there is a positive correlation between countries who allow relatively free trade and countries who have a relatively free press. Economic and political freedoms go together. Milton Friedman, for example, argued in "Capitalism and Freedom" that economic freedom is not only desirable in itself but is also a necessary condition for political freedom.

1 comment:

John said...

Sure: they generally go together. My point is that freedom to trade is definitely not enough. There are instances where trade is extremely bad.