Philanthrocapitalism and World Hunger

Philanthropic Capitalism a.k.a. Philanthrocapitalism

Philanthropy refers to charitable giving, usually in the form of money or basic necessities: food, clothing, medicine, etc. Capitalism is a commercial system based on making a profit, usually from the sale of good or services. Are these two systems incompatible? No, say a new breed of philanthropists, who are using the tools of capitalism to accomplish philanthropic goals. Their basic idea is to use a business model, including in many cases making a profit, in order to help those in need.

Philanthro-Capitalists: “They’re here to save the planet. But not for free.”

How does this apply to world hunger? I am convinced that we can’t end world hunger by pure philanthropy. Suppose that there is a sudden crisis resulting in a famine. The only viable approach, in the short term, is purely philanthropic: ship in food and give it away for free. Fine. But hunger is a different problem from famine. Hunger is chronic undernourishment; it continues month after month, year after year. The hungry of the world generally have enough food to survive, but not enough for good health.

Suppose that we tried to end world hunger by simply buying the food needed by the nearly one billion hungry and giving it to them for free. This approach would be prohibitively expensive. The hungry are scattered all over the face of the earth, within many nations. Distribution costs would be many times the cost of the food. Then, too, the world agricultural system does not produce enough food for the current world population of 7 billion persons. So if we bought food for the hungry and gave it to them, we would essentially be taking that food away from a different one billion persons.

Finally, if we give away food to the hungry, they become dependent on our generosity, and the problem continues. This approach does not end world hunger, it just delays it. What is needed is abundant local sources of food (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), and a commercial system of production and distribution. The hungry must be intimately involved in the process of ending world hunger, and it will be largely their work that produces and distributes the food. They will benefit nutritionally and financially.

The capitalist system is partly responsible for world hunger. This system generally requires a person to have money in order to obtain basic necessities like food. But the same system can be used to address world hunger. Take, for example, the CleanStar Mozambique project. They assist farmers in growing, distributing, and selling food. They are making a profit, and so are the farmers. as a result, subsistence farmers, who formerly grew food mainly for their own needs, are now able to become commercial farmers. They make a profit, and use that profit to hire workers and to expand their business.

A similar approach, on a much wider scale, is needed to end world hunger. We must make use of the capitalist system, tainted though it is, in order to help people obtain the basic necessities of life, including nutritious food and clean safe drinking water.


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