Food and Third World
by Noam Chomsky
(interviewed by David Barsamian)
Talk about the political economy of food, its production
and distribution, particularly within the
framework of IMF and World Bank policies. These institutions extend
loans under very strict conditions to the nations of the South:
they have to promote the market economy, pay back the loans in
hard currency and increase exports-like coffee, so that we can
drink cappuccino, or beef, so that we can eat hamburgers-at the
expense of indigenous agriculture.
You've described the basic picture. It's also interesting to have
a close look at the individual cases. Take Bolivia. It was in
trouble. There'd been brutal, highly repressive dictators, huge
debt-the whole business.
The West went in -- Jeffrey Sachs, a leading Harvard expert, was
the advisor -- with the IMF rules: stabilize the currency, increase
agro-export, cut down production for domestic needs, etc. It worked.
The figures, the macroeconomic statistics, looked quite good.
The currency has been stabilized. The debt has been reduced. The
GNP has been increasing.
But there are a few flies in the ointment. Poverty has rapidly
increased. Malnutrition has increased. The educational system
has collapsed. But the most interesting thing is what's stabilized
the economy-exporting coca [the plant from which cocaine is made].
It now accounts for about two-thirds of Bolivian exports, by some
The reason is obvious. Take a peasant farmer somewhere and flood
his area with US-subsidized agriculture-maybe through a Food for
Peace program-so he can't produce or compete. Set up a situation
in which he can only function as an agricultural exporter. He's
not an idiot. He's going to turn to the most profitable crop,
which happens to be coca.
The peasants, of course, don't get much money out of this, and
they also get guns and DEA [the US Drug Enforcement Agency] helicopters.
But at least they can survive. And the world gets a flood of coca
The profits mostly go to big syndicates or, for that matter, to
New York banks. Nobody knows how many billions of dollars of cocaine
profits pass through New York banks or their offshore affiliates,
but it's undoubtedly plenty.
Plenty of it also goes to US-based chemical companies which, as
is well known, are exporting the chemicals used in cocaine production
to Latin America. So there's plenty of profit. It's probably giving
a shot in the arm to the US economy as well. And it's contributing
nicely to the international drug epidemic, including here in the
That's the economic miracle in Bolivia. And that's not the only
case. Take a look at Chile. There's another big economic miracle.
The poverty level has increased from about 20% during the Allende
years [Salvador Allende, a democratically elected Socialist president
of Chile, was assassinated in a US-backed military coup in 1973]
up to about 40% now, after the great miracle. And that's true
in country after country.
These are the kinds of consequences that will follow from what
has properly been called "IMF fundamentalism." It's
having a disastrous effect everywhere it's applied.
But from the point of view of the perpetrators, it's quite successful.
As you sell off public assets, there's lots of money to be made,
so much of the capital that fled Latin America is now back. The
stock markets are doing nicely. The professionals and businessmen
are very happy with it. And they're the ones who make the plans,
write the articles, etc.
And now the same methods are being applied in Eastern Europe.
In fact, the same people are going. After Sachs carried through
the economic miracle in Bolivia, he went off to Poland and Russia
to teach them the same rules.
You hear lots of praise for this economic miracle in the US too,
because it's just a far more exaggerated version of what's happening
here. The wealthy sector is doing fine, but the general public
is in deep trouble. It's mild compared with the Third World, but
the structure is the same.
Between 1985 and 1992, Americans suffering from hunger rose
from twenty to thirty million. Yet novelist Tom Wolfe described
the 1980s as one of the "great golden moments that humanity
has ever experienced. "
A couple of years ago Boston City Hospital- that's the hospital
for the poor and the general public in Boston, not the fancy Harvard
teaching hospital-had to institute a malnutrition clinic, because
they were seeing it at Third World levels.
Most of the deep starvation and malnutrition in the US had pretty
well been eliminated by the Great Society programs in the 1960s.
But by the early 1980s it was beginning to creep up again, and
now the latest estimates are thirty million or so in deep hunger.
It gets much worse over the winter because parents have to make
an agonizing decision between heat and food, and children die
because they're not getting water with some rice in it.
The group World Watch says that one of the solutions to the
shortage of food is control of population. Do you support efforts
to limit population ?
First of all, there's no shortage of food. There are serious problems
of distribution. That aside, I think there should be efforts to
control population. There's a well-known way to do it- increase
the economic level.
Population is declining very sharply in industrial societies.
Many of them are barely reproducing their own population. Take
Italy, which is a late industrializing country. The birth rate
now doesn't reproduce the population. That's a standard phenomenon.
Coupled with education?
Coupled with education and, of course, the means for birth control.
The United States has had a terrible role. It won't even help
fund international efforts to provide education about birth control.
from the book The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
published by Odonian Press in 1993
Tucson, AZ 85751
tel 602-296-4056 or 800-REALSTORY
other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
Secrets, Lies and Democracy
What Uncle Sam Really Wants
Few and the Restless Many