Yet another weird SF fan

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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, May 11, 2003

A Threadbare Excuse for Communist Famines

The comments to a recent post by Chris Bertram about distorted history emanating from the loony left reminded me of one of their attempts at excuses.

After a few decades of ignoring my fellow reactionary crackpots pointing out the enormous death toll of Communism, the loony left has come up with a response: “I know you are but what am I?”

The book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis tries blaming classical liberalism for famines in India, Brazil, and China, in addition to the usual complaint about Ireland. (Never mind that classical liberalism got into power in Britain in order to clean up the Irish famine and never mind that China wasn't even any kind of colony.)

Apparently, there weren't any pre-British famines in India in Davis's universe. He did mention that the Mogul and Maratha regimes fixed prices, but experience shows that mainly prevents people from preparing for famines. The existence of famines in late-19th-century India, if anything, points to the importance of privatization. Those famines started after the British government took over from the East-India Company. It was a case of the following common phenonenon:

  1. Owing to alleged “market failure,” a formerly private function was socialized.
  2. This is followed by disaster.
  3. This, in turn, is followed by a call for more government.
I wonder why Davis didn't write about early Victorian holocausts? Could it be that letting capitalists have a really free hand kept famine away for a few decades?

Meanwhile in Brazil, something resembling classical liberalism was preceded by slavery. Even Karl Marx could tell you there was something wrong with defending slavery. In any case, Brazilian emancipation went directly into the KKK and Jim-Crow stage without going through Reconstruction. One of the famines Davis mentions was aggravated by Brazilian governments keeping would-be migrants out of cities. (In today's U.S. this is done by zoning laws with the approval of trendy liberals.) That is not capitalism—especially not the kind Julian Simon defended.

It's interesting that in Brazil, the capitalists traded with southern Brazil whereas the famine Davis discussed was in northern Brazil. Let's see. Capitalists can be blamed for trading and also for not trading…


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