Preventing food riots


According to Mark Winne

Having devoted 35 years of my professional life to community food programs designed to end hunger […] I have come to believe that continuous growth in these efforts are dramatic and expensive failures. Not only do they not end hunger, they operate in illogical defiance of the principles of American individualism and self-reliance.

As if asking the victims of our failed national and global food systems to accept their fate—to be poor, to be hungry—isn’t enough, we also ask them to forgo their innate human desire to challenge that fate. “Don’t worry,” say the agencies and the charities, “Do as we say; fill out the forms, stand in the lines, and you shall be fed.”

Whatever their virtues—these programs do prevent food riots—they do not lift their clients out of poverty. Nor do they help people find their democratic voice, build confidence and wealth, or otherwise take a stand against their poverty.

According to MLK

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.

According to John Whitfield

Last year Karla Hoff, an economist at the World Bank who is currently working at Princeton University, and her colleagues reported the results of experiments conducted in villages in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (American Economic Review, vol 98, p 494). In these tests, two players started out with 50 rupees each. The first could choose to give his to the second, in which case the experimenters added a further 100 rupees, giving the second player 200 rupees in total. The second player could decide to keep the money for himself, or share it equally with the first player. A third player then entered the game, who could punish the second player – for each 2 rupees he was willing to spend, the second player was docked 10 rupees.

The results were startling. Even when the second player shared the money fairly, two-thirds of the time the newcomer decided to punish him anyway – a spiteful act with seemingly no altruistic payoff. “We asked one guy why,” says Hoff. “He said he thought it was fun.”

Hoff found that high-caste players were more likely to punish their fellow gamers spitefully than low-caste players, leading her to suggest that context is everything. It is not that people in Uttar Pradesh are nastier than elsewhere, but rather that the structure of their society makes them acutely conscious of status. The sensitivity of higher castes to their position makes them tend not to support any changes that threaten to level the social hierarchy, such as development projects. But higher castes can also put others down, safe in the knowledge that “untouchables” are unlikely to strike back. “If you’re low caste it’s dangerous to rise in status,” says Hoff. “You’ll get beaten up or worse.”

Sous les pavés


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