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This month the United Nations declared all African food shortages in decline—except in Zimbabwe, where a growing majority of the twelve million citizens are desperately starving.
Growth forecasts for 2003 reveal this plight in stark contrast. While Zimbabwe faces the worst situation of any country, with a predicted 10 percent GDP decline, its neighbor Mozambique—with which it shares an expansive common border, cultural affinities, similar resources, geography and climate—will surge forward with a stunning 10 percent GDP growth, making it the third fastest growing nation.
How could the year’s biggest economic success and most desperate disaster be next-door neighbors? Why would these similar sub-Saharan countries face such disparate outcomes?
The most poignant difference is whether their political institutions emphasize individual or social rights; the sobering situation shows the perils of marrying political power with economic controls.
Incredibly, Mozambique is growing consistently despite a tortured history. After suffering under Communist rule as the second poorest state in the world and over two decades of civil war, Mozambique established a stable democracy, rooted out corruption and fitted itself into the “Golden Straitjacket” of liberal economic policies.
Making no excuses, Mozambique’s astonishing GDP growth rate of 10 percent per year over five years has persisted in the face of February 2000’s devastating floods. The president has privatized 900 of 1,200 state firms, tamed inflation into single digits, avoided foreign debt and encouraged foreign investment.
Strong individual rights that protect property and prevent persecution fuel this new growth. Although far too much poverty and corruption persist, Mozambique’s poor are thankful to avoid Zimbabwe’s absolute poverty, famine and persecution.
Zimbabwe’s current squalor is perplexing given its favorable history. With a flourishing economy under British rule and continuing prosperity early in its independence, Zimbabwe’s GDP growth exceeded 20 percent in 1980. Zimbabwe never endured Mozambique’s harsh Communist rule, decades of war or such devastating floods. Its circumstances, infrastructure and vast resources should seemingly facilitate continued growth.
Yet Zimbabwe spirals into despair in an unsuccessful attempt to defy the laws of economic gravity, indulging socialist impulses towards property seizure, fixed currency and price controls. These policies are labeled “social rights” for the poor—policies which include making basic items like bread, sugar and oil more affordable, and redistribution of wealth and property according to rules of “justice.” Like other foes of globalization, the regime aims to curb “runaway market forces” which are waging an “assault on the poor,” and establish “a firm launching pad for our fight against poverty and food insecurity.” What sets Zimbabwe apart is that it has actually enacted these anti-globalization and so-called “anti-poverty” policies.
Now, after shrinking 35 percent in five years, Zimbabwe’s economy will plummet another 10 percent this year alongside exponentially rising inflation predicted to reach 500 percent by year’s end. Because of land seizure and redistribution, agricultural production has dropped off by 67 percent, leaving over half of Zimbabwe’s 12 million inhabitants slowly starving. All food and produce now have price controls and correspondingly dire shortages—leaving them eerily and fatally absent from grocery shelves, leaving millions desperate for food.
Although Zimbabwe’s land reforms often become political largesse to the president’s cronies, the root problem is individual rights violations from unconstrained, arbitrary government. Shirking the Golden Straitjacket of liberal economic policies that prevent political oppression and encourage economic development, Zimbabwe has donned the Incredible Shrinking Economy and the infamy of starvation amidst political tyranny. While unfavorable weather may diminish harvests, bad government is the real cause of hunger and famine. All of the 25 worst nourished nations of the world suffer under bad government and supposed “social rights” policies.
But such devastating results are predictable under these policies. In the first decade of Communism, Russia reversed from being the world’s largest grain exporter to the largest importer. Output plunged such that 7 million Russians starved while another 10 million were narrowly saved by Western donations. Similar mass starvation followed socialized “land reforms” in Eastern Europe, China and post-colonial Africa.
On the other hand, India abandoned agricultural price controls during their famine in the early 1970s. By 1977, it became self-sufficient and even a grain exporter. After post-Mao China recognized more economic rights in 1977, food production increased at 12 percent per year, persisting in growth despite poor weather in 1980. After a devastating 1983 famine, African nations forsaking “social rights” policies for private ownership saw an immediate food production surge, including Zaire, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Madagascar and others.
While the stated goal of social rights is to promote equality, they always create a new (and more dangerous) inequality of power wherein political leaders hold the reigns of both military might and economic production: a difficult or impossible task even for the competent and beneficent—and a lethal temptation for power-hungry tyrants.
Before bad weather or rich countries (lack of aid or global institutional bias) can be blamed for the plight of the globe’s poorest, we must hold domestic governments accountable. Judging by its tumultuous history, miraculous Mozambique should be trailing far behind faltering Zimbabwe. Yet it surges upward while its neighbor spirals downward. Tragically, countries that scoff at the economic Miracle-Gro of individual rights protection and savor the emotional satisfaction of “social rights” rhetoric continue to indulge political lunacy while millions needlessly die of hunger.
Richard T. Halvorson ’03 is a philosophy and government concentrator in Pforzheimer House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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