UN touts, then memoryholes, ‘the benefits of world hunger’
Author tells CapCon it’s 'unfortunate' that the paper was removed
The thought leaders at the United Nations have apparently given up on ending world hunger, and decided instead to reframe it. That's the takeaway from a story in the UN Chronicle called "The benefits of world hunger."
The story was written for the UN's digital magazine by retired University of Hawaii professor George Kent.
It had gone little-noticed until it resurfaced Wednesday on Twitter and went viral. When Elon Musk made a $44 billion bid to buy Twitter, critics said he could've ended world hunger instead. CNN put the price tag at a mere $6 billion. Perhaps he read Kent's article and decided not to.
By day’s end, the UN Chronicle had pulled the story down. A visit to the link reports a 404 error, or “Page Not Found.” Because the Internet is forever, the story can still be accessed through The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Read it for yourself.
Michigan Capitol Confidential reached Kent via email. He said the story was first published in 2008. That’s almost 15 years before the controversy. In the space of a day, it was gone.
"I think it is unfortunate that the paper was taken down," Kent told CapCon.
Kent added: "The purpose was to bring attention to the simple fact that hunger is allowed to persist at least partly because hunger has some types of benefits for some people, such those who own businesses that rely on low-cost workers."
UN Chronicle did not respond to a CapCon request for comment on why the story was pulled.
Kent said he was not writing sardonically. He disputed the characterization that his story “touted" the benefits of world hunger.
“I wrote this to draw attention to what I see as a simple fact: some people benefit from persistent hunger,” Kent wrote to CapCon. “In efforts to end hunger, it is important to give attention to this point. My paper was not written as some sort of joke or as praise for persistent hunger. I have devoted decades of my work to ending hunger.”
But Kent was not betrayed by a strong headline. The story itself comes closer to "touting" than he cares to admit.
“We sometimes talk about hunger in the world as if it were a scourge that all of us want to see abolished, viewing it as comparable with the plague or AIDS,” Kent wrote to start the essay. “But that naïve view prevents us from coming to grips with what causes and sustains hunger. Hunger has great positive value to many people. Indeed, it is fundamental to the working of the world’s economy. Hungry people are the most productive people, especially where there is a need for manual labour.”
Hunger is a real problem in Michigan. The organization Feeding America suggests that about 12.5% of Michigan residents, or one in eight, “faces hunger.” That’s roughly the same percentage of Michigan residents who received food assistance in 2021, or roughly 1,278,000 people. It's tough to see the benefits.
The upshot of Kent’s argument is that if a good amount of people weren’t hungry, they wouldn’t be willing to work undesirable jobs.
“For those of us at the high end of the social ladder, ending hunger globally would be a disaster,” Kent wrote for the Chronicle. “If there were no hunger in the world, who would plow the fields? Who would harvest our vegetables? Who would work in the rendering plants? Who would clean our toilets? We would have to produce our own food and clean our own toilets. No wonder people at the high end are not rushing to solve the hunger problem. For many of us, hunger is not a problem, but an asset.”
Interesting argument, but it leaves you with a question. Are we $44 billion — or is it $6 billion — away from ending world hunger now and forevermore? Or will the hungry always be among us? If the latter is true, the UN's goal of "Zero Hunger" is a dead letter.
Does the UN want to end global hunger? Or should it be counted among "those of us on the high end of the social ladder," who benefit from it?
James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at email@example.com.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.