… and I’m increasingly sure that Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek doesn’t either.
We’ve been treated to four posts from Professor Boudreaux about Niger in the last four days which illustrate how his thinking has evolved, and on what basis:
- first, we are told that "Perhaps if the U.N. weren’t in Niger, traders would be selling food directly to starving people"; this is based on a newspaper article which we all agree does not seem to be plausible;
- then this hypothesis hardens up: "the fact remains that in the here and now people starve while local farmers await the free-spending ‘aid’ agencies to buy their produce" (this firmer allegation is apparently not based on any new information, just a hardening of Professor Boudreaux’s resolve on this point)
- third, it turns out that Niger’s problem is "impediments its people suffer in their attempts to pursue those wealth-creating activities";
- and fourth, we find out that "the facts that Tim uncovered are sufficient evidence against the proposition that Nigeriens enjoy a market economy. They don’t. And therein is Niger’s problem". This, at least, is based on some actual information, albeit sketchy and anecdotal, about government regulation in Niger.
So that’s it, then? Because it is expensive to set up a limited liability company in Niger, employment laws are rigid, loans require collateral and the commercial law is time consuming, that is why there is hunger in Niger?
And why, may I ask, was there no famine last year? Was government regulation lighter then?
I have no disagreement with the thought that, if Niger had a better Government, the people there would be more wealthy and less likely to suffer from hunger. But there are many things about the world which, if they were different, might have changed the likelihood of Niger suffering from a famine: if there had been a Green Revolution in Africa, if the French had been better colonialists, if northern countries had opened up their markets to developing countries, or if the rest of the world had decided to use nuclear power instead of fossil fuels, then Niger might have been less poor and there might have been less hunger. To conclude that any one of these is "Niger’s problem" is a statement of ideology, not economic analysis.
(Parenthetically, I should say that I agree with two of the points that Professor Boudreaux makes: we should not assume that Niger should produce all the food that it consumes; and it is not necessarily a good idea for aid agencies to buy food directly for the people of Niger. As I argued in my original post, there is a case instead for giving money to the people who are hungry, and letting them buy the food that they need from whomever can supply appropriate food most cheaply.)
I agree with Professor Boudreaux about The Beatles, though.