On Resolving World Hunger

Kylie Price, Guest Writer

Never have we lived in a world characterized by such a polarizing dichotomy, the deep disparities between the astronomically affluent and extremely impoverished are incomprehensible. The global wealth rift only continues to widen; and by proxy, severe starvation. Although the United States wields control over the world’s reserve currency and exudes economic prowess, the third-world nation hunger crisis has fallen on deaf ears. According to World Hunger: A Moral Response, a 2015 article by Claire Andre and Manuel Vasquez published in Santa Clara University’s Ethics journal, “more than 250,000 children die from malnutrition and illness” weekly, and barely 0.05%  of  “the global gross national product is devoted to aiding poverty-stricken nations” of which the United States contribution has been marginal (Andre and Velasquez). These figures beg the question: how does world hunger exist in a climate of unprecedented surplus? Why do Americans spend one-third of their incomes on luxuries? Is it moral to deliberately justify suffering and hoard personal wealth? However convoluted debates can transform to tackle this geopolitical, agricultural, and financial dilemma, I maintain that the resolution is straightforward. Despite the false notion that Earth’s finite resources are fixed and will be burdened by aiding lower socioeconomic populations, humanity—and prosperous nations especially—are morally obligated to monetarily support third-world countries on the grounds of instilling the right to liberties such as human dignity and upholding the value of justice.

To understand the ramifications of fulfilling our ethical responsibility of feeding third-world nations, we must debunk past theories that have led to mass misconceptions of human geography. In 1968, Stanford University biologist Paul R. Ehrlich postulated in his book The Population Bomb, that Earth’s finite store of resources would be exhausted by skyrocketing birth rates, a result of the industrial revolution ushering in an era of technological innovation (The Population Bomb?). Ehrlich’s work incited an uproar of terror among government regimes transcending political boundaries, developing the apocalyptic “Zero Population Movement.” Supporters of the movement fervently spoke against aiding poor nations plunged into starvation because less death would lead to greater resource extraction and expanding family structures. Essentially, the wealthy would be forced to share. Similarly, ecologist Garret Hardin’s Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor published in 1974 by Psychology Today argues that every country is like a lifeboat limited in rations and defined by carrying capacity (Hardin). Furthermore, Hardin hypothesizes that private ownership prevents “the tragedy of the commons” where distributing food, money, or infrastructure, deprives all beneficiaries and is easily corrupted. Both Ehrlich and Hardin’s theories have not amounted to their historical significance in contemporary times, primarily because the 1980s Green Revolution yielded abundant harvests through human selection, pesticides, and fertilizers. Economics Professor, Jaqueline P. Kasun has analyzed averse statistics of decline in the world population, where crude birth rates are dropping in developing countries, which she believes will reach net zero growth by the 22nd century (Kasun)

Ultimately, the global population has surpassed the carrying capacity of Earth anticipated by The Population Bomb and Lifeboat Ethics, and the overall percentage of undernourished people has declined dramatically (The Population Bomb?). Thus, the world will not collapse by aiding world hunger, rather, education and economic support jumpstart business cycles, the workforce, and limit family sizes. Arguments against feeding the poor do not have weight because their isolationist rhetoric is built on a false foundation, and many are inconsiderate of the fact meritocracy doesn’t exist. Riddled by luck, uncontrollable circumstances, generational wealth, and coincidences, every human is born with some inherent advantages and disadvantages. Although voluntary exchange justifies consensual transactions of money, no one person morally deserves greater amounts of wealth than someone else. Libertarians such as Harvard University professor, Robert Nozick, object that redistributive and welfare practices exercised by governments are immoral because humans are entitled to their property. However, it seems that through Nozick’s line of reasoning, we lost value in the collective, caring, and generous persona that we ought to aspire to. After all, what is one or two dollars to the 1% of the wealthiest people in the world? To someone who is starving… it is everything. Overall, we ought to help solve world hunger through economic aid because it will quell population growth and improve the standard of living through the redistribution of wealth.

Launching humanitarian campaigns to end world hunger are moral actions because by providing others with fundamental needs to survive, we maintain their human dignity. In Plato’s Apology, Aristotle argues against his charges of corrupting the youth—bearing in mind that a guilty verdict results in the death penalty—at a courthouse in Athens, Greece (Socrates). His argument of self-interest claimed that human nature is to be good to others to create an atmosphere of generosity that is beneficial to oneself. By aiding developing nations, our world would begin to universally uphold human dignity to spur diplomacy, reciprocal aid, and fellowship. Even if the consequences of our actions don’t live up to their grand promise, philosophers like Immanuel Kant believe what makes black ehaviors moral is distinguished by good will or intentions. Since humans are rational beings, and therefore of indispensable worth, we “ought not to be sacrificed for anything of lesser value” including material possessions, wealth, and luxuries (O’Neill). House of Lords member, Onora O’Neill, applies Kantian ethics to the starvation crisis and claims that his doctrine advocates for feeding third-world countries to ensure the human dignity of all intrinsically valuable humans. 

Employing a different rationale, utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, who famously published Famine, Affluence, and Morality in 1972 by the New York Times, echoes the sentiment that maximizing happiness calls for solving world hunger (Singer). Singer strictly believes that aiding other nations to support starving populations is a responsibility for the wealthy, who stand silent knowing they could save lives. The equivalence of killing someone. The cost is merely luxuries unnecessary for survival, as researchers from Santa Clara University point out that the deaths of “16,000 children every day could be prevented by 10-cent packets of oral rehydration salts” to cure diarrhea (Andre and Velasquez). Often, critics of economically supporting third-world nations appeal to the loss of wealth rich countries would suffer, but are over exaggerated in scale. Even the virtuous approach to ethics emphasizes the paramount status of human dignity, as Pope John Paul II wrote in a statement to the United Nations, “[humans have] worth that is unconditional and inalienable; life itself from conception to natural death is sacred; that human rights are innate and transcend… constitutional order” (Kasun). We must help feed the starving people of developing nations to promote a world of generosity and protect the fundamental right to human dignity.

Furthermore, we should feed populations with a deficit of nutrition in developing countries because the value of justice obligates us to. Similar to reparations, the popular belief is that third-world countries were thrown into poverty by colonialism, defined by systemic oppression and imperialism, as well as corporate expansionism (often coined as neocolonialism) spearheaded by transnational businesses’ foreign direct investments (FDI). The perpetrators of the starvation crisis, many believe, must pay for their corruption. Garret Hardin despises the idea of pure justice which “leads to an infinite regression to absurdity” (Hardin). In his perspective, it is impossible to carry out and would require the wealthy to voluntarily give up their superior standings on the “lifeboat.” Yet, Hardin’s ethical theories do not adequately consider utilitarianism: a philosophical theory integral to policymakers, a crux to government affairs. Peter Singer views the hunger crisis as a problem that can be resolved by aiding developing countries and will maximize the utility of all stakeholders. The wealthy lose negligible amounts of money and get rid of their guilty conscience. The starving can maintain human dignity, feel they have been served justice, and live to see another day. It is that simple. 

As past excerpts from Santa Clara University and Jaqueline P. Kasun have shown, Earth is stocked with ample resources and humans have more than enough food to satisfy the bloated stomachs of the malnourished. It is the exaggerated, hyperbolic assertions of philosophers and ecologists like Hardin and Ehrlich whose syllogistic reasoning is congested with fallacy that strike fear into the pockets of the rich. Arguments that appeal to the most base and selfish nature of us all; materialism over collectivity. The Population Bomb and Lifeboat Ethics have resulted in dire imbalances in the dependency ratio of countries like China which once sponsored anti-natalist and extermination policies to save resources. Who knew that one day the population would shrink and it would be their most pressing issue to support the aging population with half the labor force? Moreover, international organizations that sponsor diplomacy and farming technology have led to spikes in standards of living everywhere. The year 2023 exemplifies enough to demonstrate the coexistence of welfare and prosperity.

Altogether, it is clear that our moral obligation as constituents of the United States is to help resolve the world hunger dilemma in developing countries. Harvard Professor of Ethics, Michael Sandel, writes in his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? that there are three approaches to justice: welfare, virtue, and freedom (Sandel). By the standards of consequentialism, deontology, and historical precedent, economically supporting starving populations can be justified by every single one. Stepping back from the manmade lens of these philosophical theories, feminism also modifies the argument we should aid third-world countries from a novel point of view. According to Professor of Philosophy, Dr. Laura D’Olimpco, care ethics prioritize “relationships between specific individuals in a particular context” to gauge ethical behavior (D’Olimpio). Thus, helping those nearby who are financially struggling and are deprived of access to food banks is also our moral obligation. Whether on a micro or macro level, wealthy countries must end their oblivious attitudes to world hunger, instead they must stare it down unafraid, and combat it until humanity is freed from the shackles of starvation.