Famines and economics
The author observes that famine, defined as widespread hunger or starvation, has occurred in most parts of the world in the twentieth century. Famines are more avoidable now than ever before. Famines defy simple explanations and geographic boundaries. They have occurred under both socialist and capitalist economic systems, with and without wars, or unusual political or social instability. Economic analysis can help explain famines. Under certain conditions, the threat of mass starvation can emerge from seemingly small economic shocks, or from a steady decline in average living standards. Similar shocks in similar settings can have very different consequences. Market and nonmarket institutions can fail under unusual stresses, making poor people highly vulnerable. Famine can be viewed as a tragic magnification of normal market and governmental failure. The factors that transform a shock into mass starvation seem to be intrinsic features of normal economies rather than peculiar features of highly distorted or badly managedeconomies. Normally hidden from view, they can surface in a number of ways. Certain elements increase a region's vulnerability to famine: poverty; weak social and physical infrastructure; weak and unprepared government; and a relatively closed political regime. Arguably the same factors constrain longer term economic development.
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