June 15, 2019

BUT WHY IS GUATEMALA HUNGRY? The Answer Eludes Nicolas Kristof:

Kristof, who has been feeling a little literary of late, interposes snippets of high-end conspicuous consumption with his tale of Guatemalan woe. The headline reads: “The World’s Malnourished Kids Don’t Need a $295 Burger.”

Ah, but they do. That is exactly what they need.

Guatemala has many hungry children. “In another world,” Kristof writes, “on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the restaurant Serendipity 3 offers a $295 hamburger. Alternatively, it sells a $214 grilled cheese sandwich and a $1,000 sundae.”

(I am not sure about the word “alternatively” in that sentence; I believe the word he is looking for is “also.” These are And People we’re talking about, not Or People.)

* * * * * * * *

The economic arrangements that produce the $295 hamburger also produce the abundance that ensures practically no one in the United States is starving to death for purely economic reasons. Hunger, like genuine homelessness — sleeping-on-the-street homelessness, not living-in-cramped-quarters-with-people-I-would-rather-not-live-with “homelessness” — is in the United States a phenomenon that has little to do with economic exchange (much less insufficient production) but is instead mainly the product of addiction, mental illness, and — worse — the terrible condition of being a child dependent upon someone who is an addict, mentally ill, or indifferent.

* * * * * * * *

What Guatemala needs is capitalism. But what capitalism needs are physical security, property rights, an independent judiciary, political stability, the rule of law, and a functioning civil society. Guatemala does not have these.

But it does have an abundance of “bad luck.” Unexpectedly, of course.

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