of famine lies not in the gods or in the stars but in the actions
Murray Rothbard (1985)
the holiday season it is good for the soul to spend a moment and
give thanks to God for His blessings so thereafter, soul at ease
and heart full of holiday cheer, you may rush back to Wal-Mart and
resume punching out your fellow shoppers during infantile orgies
of spending. I fear with America's high unemployment and a political
elite seemingly bent on destroying the currency we might be psychologically
inclined, as libertarians, to look on the dark side of things this
Christmas. Allow me to point out a little ray of sunshine.
our nation's history we see that America is indeed exceptional and
blessed by God in one very important way — we have never experienced
famine. It might not sound like much, but you don't know what you've
got until the refrigerator is bare. Episodes of famine are rife
throughout recorded time; the past gives us innumerable episodes
when millions of desperate, starving people were reduced to wander
like the animals of the forest, every moment of their last wretched
days spent in agonizing and often futile searches for food.
Famine is an
unrivaled horror; of all the ways to die none comes close to matching
the physical and psychological torment of starving to death. It
is the most painful way to end your life, a slow, drawn out execution
that will reduce even the most proud of men to root eagerly through
horse manure and swallow any undigested oats within it. Better for
any nation an atomic bomb attack than famine, if history is any
guide. Hardly any peoples on earth can boast of never knowing famine.
During their time under the Tsars famine swept Russia so frequently
that permanently staffed government bureaus were always on hand
to deal with them.
physical effects of starving are pitiful and utterly disgusting.
The primary change, of course, is a dramatic loss of weight as the
body, in order to keep the heart pumping and central nervous system
nervous, extracts the needed energy from pre-existing muscle and
fat. Once this is depleted the body slows down to save energy, the
starving become lethargic and incapable of any prolonged physical
exertion. Entire families will lay down together and pass away one
by one, famine will reduce whole villages and towns into graveyards.
Under the assault of hunger great cities of millions will
grow quiet as coffins.
St. Petersburg during the worst of its 900-day World War 2 siege,
people considered themselves lucky to be eating the lubricant used
for tanks and one person noted "people are all bloated, frightful-looking,
black, dirty, and emaciated. Young people have become so ghastly
looking…it's simply awful to look at them." (Lincoln, 2000,
282) Starving people are not only hard on the eyes, they are worse
on the nose. With a weakened immune system the body is exposed to
a number of diseases that cause various skin eruptions, diarrhea,
and sores. The stench of the starving revolts the senses.
even more than the physical devastation, it is in its psychological
effects where starvation extracts the heaviest toll. People withdraw
from the world about them, even from family, and think of nothing
but food. The urge to survive, the endless craving from hunger will
turn men into predators against each other. During the time of Stalin's
terror famine upon Ukraine (when at least six million perished)
it was dangerous for children to walk around alone — they were prone
to be snatched, strangled, and cooked. In the town of Poltava an
entire operation for the processing of children's meat was discovered
by the Soviet secret police (Conquest, 1986, 288). But the consumption
of a child didn't necessarily need to be done by strangers. When
Mao's famine was raging throughout China from 1958 to 1961 a couple
in Anhui province, driven mad by hunger, murdered
then ate their eight-year-old son. (Chang & Halliday,
There are important
lessons to be learned from the history of famines and the radically
progressive Murray Rothbard once hit the nail on its head when he
quipped, "Why does nature seem to frown only on socialist countries?
If the problem is drought, why do the rains only elude countries
that are socialist or heavily statist? (Rothbard, 2006, 84)
Above all it
is a country's agricultural sector where the political class must
be strictly forbidden to venture. Such meddling carries a unique,
very deadly risk to the safety of the working masses as should the
political authorities get hold of the means of production and distribution
of food society will lay at their feet, helpless for its very life.
Instances of wholesale death by starvation – whether bought
on by political bungling or deliberately engineered "terror-famines"
– stuffs our libraries history sections and grants to us a
Our last century
experienced famine of a scope and virulence unmatched in human history,
this despite a revolution in agricultural productivity that should
preclude any famine at all. Look at those countries stricken by
famine during our last (and current) century and they all share
a common characteristic — in each the political class had control
over that most commanding height of any economy: its food supply.
From the 38
million or so starved on the whim of Chairman Mao to the 6 million
done in by Stalin to the current misery and starvation in North
Korea, each and everyone lends truth to the great Leon Trotsky's
warning regarding political power over resources, "The old
principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced with
a new one: who does not obey shall not eat." Food has
too often been used as a weapon by the political class.
the agricultural sector has, despite constant political inroads,
been for the most part free of the degree of government control
found in countries prone to famine. That is our saving grace and
our safety. But should this ever change and we find ourselves in
the sad state of a North Korea you can still be thankful to God
for His mercy upon us, His favored children, and count your holiday
For even should
a deadly famine descend upon America and condemn you and your family
to lay weak and still as corpses, feverish for food, your children's
pathetic, skeletal appearance and stench will not trouble your mind
in the least.
You will look
right past them and think of nothing but food.
- Chang, Jung
& Halliday, Jon. Mao:
The Unknown Story. (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2005)
Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine.
(Oxford University Press, New York, 1986)
W. Bruce. Sunlight
At Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia.
(Basic Books, New York, 2000)
Economic Sense. (Ludwig Von Mises Institute, Auburn, AL,
[send him mail] lives
and works in New York City. He blogs
for Liberty & Power on the History News Network website and
His first book Back
to the Land (Arthurdale, FDR's New Deal, and the Costs of Economic
Planning) is to be released by John Wiley and Sons in