Hunger on Hold

POLITICS

FORTY MILLION people will die from hunger and malnutrition this year. Half of them will be children. The figures are taken from The World Economic and Social Crisis, a new book by Cuban president Fidel Castro's economists. The book is mostly a bunch of tables and charts showing the economics conditions of the world's less developed countries. The hunger figures in particular are worth pondering.

Arguments in favor of a "new international economic order" inevitably come down to the vast numbers of starving people, particularly the starving children. Any system that produces so much misery alongside extravagant wealth has got to go.

Such arguments, not surprisingly, largely fall on deaf ears in America. The growing consensus on the need for a new order is dismissed as Soviet propaganda mouthed by tinhorn Third World dictators--as if none of the 40 million that will die could have figured things out for themselves.

One index of how easily the question of redistribution is sloughed off in the U.S. is the way issues of world economic inequality are discussed. Last year, when most members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were calling for more loans to less developed countries, a New York Times news article in September carried a revealing description of the problem:

Increasingly, the question is whether the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the lender of last resort for the down-and-out nations of the world, has enough money in its coffers to meet the needs of these nations, and if not, what can be done about it.

Note the phrase "down-and-out nations of the world"--you'd think the IMF was talking about a global Great Society Program. The words lack even the slightest hint that the member nations of the IMF have anything to do with the disastrous economic conditions of the rest of the world.

The truth, of course, is different. Third world nations have long been sources of cheap labor and raw materials for the Western economics. Many countries--forced at economics and military gunpoint to become export-crop farms--are the places where hunger is most pernicious.

THE DOMINICAN Republic, for example, exports nearly two thirds of its food, while malnutrition decimates the population. Infant mortality is a stunning 10 percent of live births, and half of the survivors suffer malnutrition. (Gulf & Western, a chief exporter of Dominican agricultural goods, is doing quite well.)

The standard line against a new world political and economic order is that, well, these things take time. Turmoil would ensue if we tried to restructure the world, it is said, so we must be cautious--only slow and steady efforts will help the rest of the world develop. But just how long, if present trends continue, would it take for the less-developed nations to emerge from their current straits?

Well, the Cuban economists, using U.N. data on rates of development during the 1970s, have draw up a chart with estimates of when the less-developed countries will achieve the 1980 per capita GNP level of the U.S., West Germany and other Western nations. At current rates, the lesser-developed countries will not reach the 1980 per capita GNP of the United States until the year 6007. They will not possess the 1980 wealth of West Germany until the year 6508.

The chart provides endless laughs, if one's sense of political humor runs that way. Less amusing, however, is the fact that scores of millions will continue to starve to death every year--while the Western capitalist nations continue their stalling tactics against a reorganization of the current global system.

We should hope that Western economists and politicians will come clean and admit that for all their talk about development, they've ducked some serious questions about the timetable of development. It's just sick for 40 million a year to perish, while others grow fat from food shipped away from hungry mouths. And to argue against immediate, sweeping change under such conditions is an abomination.