Milton Friedman Unmasked--as Malawi Ignores Free Market Policies to Enrich Itself
December 2, 2007
Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts
LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.
But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the United Nation’s World Food Program than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.
In Malawi itself, the prevalence of acute child hunger has fallen sharply. In October, the United Nations Children’s Fund sent three tons of powdered milk, stockpiled here to treat severely malnourished children, to Uganda instead. “We will not be able to use it!” Juan Ortiz-Iruri, Unicef’s deputy representative in Malawi, said jubilantly.
Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer.
Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.
Stung by the humiliation of pleading for charity, he led the way to reinstating and deepening fertilizer subsidies despite a skeptical reception from the United States and Britain.
_________________________________________________________________ If there is such a thing as a good time to die, Milton Friedman picked it, just before Naomi Klein took on his legacy with The Shock Doctrine, the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. A book is a book, a good cigar is a smoke and Friedman was forever. Enabler of dictatorship and the destruction of democratically elected governments in South America, Friedman's Chicago School economics ruined country after country. That at least is the theme of Klein's book and she makes a strong case against the Chicago School's informal (yet deeply entrenched) partnership with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Now the actualities are beginning to trickle in, like shadows darting in out of the storm. Malawi, one of the world's most poverty stricken nations, simply kicked out WB and IMF advice--no more Western-enriching free market policies of indebtedness and ruination. Friedman used the developing world as a sociological ant-farm, an interesting intellectual speculation on the theories of what he termed free market principles. Every experiment had a single common flaw; the labor factor in the equation was not free, only the market. Free markets were loaded theoretical dice. The financial world applauded record profits and market advances while the poor (who had been gaining prior to 'Milton-Shock') got poorer--stacked in mountainous tin-shack ghettos in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Bingu wa Mutharika is Malawi's benefactor, an inconvenient economic truth and another crack in the Friedman mystique.