Why do people go hungry in a rich world?
In 2018, the United States was the world's largest economy based on its gross domestic product of 20.5 trillion US dollars. Adding the low incomes of the majority to the high incomes of the minority and dividing the sum by the number of the total population gives a per capita income of $62,887 in 2018, making the United States one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world.(1)
According to an official US government report, more than 37 million people in this prosperous country are struggling with hunger.(2) For more than 35 years, Feeding America has responded to this hunger crisis in the United States by providing food to those in need through a nationwide network of food banks. The concept of food banking was developed by John van Hengel in Phoenix, AZ in the late 1960s. Van Hengel, a retired businessman, had been volunteering at a soup kitchen trying to find food to serve the hungry. As the number of food banks grew with the increasing degree of food insecurity, van Hengel created a national organization for food banks. Today, Feeding America is the largest domestic organization in the USA to help the hungry, alongside various other relief organizations.(3)
Without diminishing the willingness to donate and the often voluntary work in organizations such as Feeding America, everyone knows that limiting ourselves to charity and food distribution cannot eliminate the cause of hunger. Only when we look at the deeper, fundamental causes can we begin to find real solutions to social misery at source. But what is the fundamental cause of hunger in a rich world?
The widespread criticism of »social injustice« does not address the deeper cause of hunger. The critics of »social injustice«, like the advocates of free market forces, want to let the question of what is produced, how and for whom be decided by the purpose of private enrichment in competition on the markets. The "social market economy" should function according to the principles of the market economy, but should be better than the "neoliberal" market economy. The economic contrasts that determine the social interaction of people through competition on the labor and commodity markets should continue to apply. Likewise, the right to ownership of the means of production and thus the destitution of those who, for whatever reason, do not belong to this privileged circle. The supporters of the "social market economy" do not want to do without the much-vaunted efficiency of the market economy. Only the costs incurred as a result of efficient working conditions, efficient child and elderly care, efficient education and health policy, efficient environmental policy, etc., should be avoided by welfare state regulation.
In the market economy the majority of the population becomes a cost factor in the profit calculation of the minority of the owners of the means of production. The ideal of a market economy regulated by the welfare state therefore contains the contradiction of wanting efficiency geared to the purpose of private enrichment without the consequences caused by this private efficiency calculation. Despite the growing gap between poverty and wealth, despite rising unemployment, despite growing poverty in old age, despite street children and a lack of education, despite misleading advertising, food and environmental scandals, despite hunger and misery, which have always accompanied capitalism, the critics of "social injustice" do not demand the abolition of the reason, the ownership of means of production, but rather the social state regulation of the market as a way of dealing with the necessary consequences.
Since the starting point of this demand is the partisanship for the market economy, the narrow limits of reasonable regulation are already set. The competitiveness of companies must not be seriously endangered. After all, the basis for what, how, for whom or whether at all production is carried out is the promising business, private economic enrichment, and not the planned social organization of manufacturing articles of daily use for the purpose of supplying the community. "Can we afford the welfare state?" is therefore the inevitable question that arises and is discussed among supporters of the market economy in view of the social misery. The question is answered by competition in the market and since critics of social injustice agree with the advocates of free competition at the outset, competitiveness determines what is realistic or unrealistic. Unemployment benefits, social assistance, labor protection laws, environmental protection laws, food laws, the scope of medical care, etc. are based on what is feasible in market competition. Anything else in this economic order would indeed be pure dreaming.
The question of the alternative to these achievements of the market economy therefore begins with a critique of the politically desired economic order. As long as the purpose of earning money determines the economic order, the result that only the solvent need counts is inevitable. Food surpluses and world hunger are not contradictory in a market economy. You cannot eliminate the underlying cause of hunger in a rich world if you want to maintain the market economy. There is no help in well-meant benefit concerts for the hungry and the general consensus that help is needed. Charity, food banks and help for self-help remains the only offer that is compatible with the market economy. Help for self-help as an obligation to try one's luck again in the competition of the labor and commodity markets, although this competition was precisely the starting point for one's own misery.
(2) USDA-report 2019 Household Food Insecurity, https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america