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Could Elon Musk Really End World Hunger Instead of Buying Twitter?

Elon Musk, o novo dono do Twitter.

Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter.

| Photo: EFE

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The purchase of Twitter by billionaire free speech advocate Elon Musk recycled a debate that has already been in the trending topics last year. Making use of selective rigor, aimed only at the rich who are not fully aligned with the progressive agenda, digital influencers dissatisfied with the acquisition of the social network began to denounce an alleged lack of sensitivity by Musk who could have used the US$ billions invested in business to end world hunger .

Even ignoring how opportunistic and demagogic this type of charge is made to a successful individual, citizen of a democratic country and who has the right to use honestly earned money as he sees fit, the prosecution creates the opportunity to dispel the myth that a lot of money donated at once could solve, forever , an age-old structural problem like world hunger. Experts less interested in attacking Musk for his opinions, and more fond of facts, help explain why this simplistic solution is, in fact, a hoax. Michael Shellenberger, environmental activist and founder of the NGO Environmental Progress, was one of the people to publicly draw the attention of David Beasley, director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), who took to Twitter in November 2021 to ask Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to donate $6 billion to the initiative he directs. At the time, the money would be intended to help millions of people who “literally are going to die if we don’t reach them,” Beasley said, then followed up with a laconic and provocative “it’s not complicated.”

In an extensive article published in the New York Post, Shellenberger explains that, yes, ending hunger simply by donating money is a more complicated problem than it seems. . At that time, in part, the problem lay in the WFP’s own bureaucratic structure, which faced severe criticism from governments and donors who complained about the lack of transparency in the use of money, questionable accounting, but, above all, the methods defined by the complainants. like “dumping food on poor nations”, without effective planning to make them self-sufficient, forcibly driving down prices and driving local farmers into bankruptcy.

As an example, he exposes three occasions in which the US government decided to show solidarity with the world, donating tons of food that ended up causing more problems for recipients. In the decades of 1950 and 1960, surplus wheat from the US was shipped to India, seriously harming local producers who were trying to make sustainable domestic production viable. In 1976, again with wheat, the US sent the excess to Guatemala, in response to a earthquake, even though the country had just produced record yields. The fall in prices was so bad for farmers that the government banned grain imports. Six years later, the Peruvian government asked the US government to stop dumping rice in the country, due to its impact on small rural landowners.

An even bigger problem, however, is that the cause of hunger in most countries is not the lack of food or money to buy it, but the occurrence of wars and political instability.

A few days after the discussion between Musk and Beasley, the WFP released a list of countries that would receive food and money if the billionaire did what the institution’s director asked via social media. The list included the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Sudan, Venezuela, Haiti and Syria. All were going through some kind of violent political turmoil, some in a state of civil war, which makes it very difficult to transport food and facilitates acts of corruption with the money donated. As history has proven in numerous episodes, when the cause of conflicts has cultural and ethnic roots – and almost always does – there is no food aid capable of bringing peace to the region.

Which would be the solution?

For Shellenberger, there are about 26172455 years almost all nations that manage to overcome hunger do so in the same way. With enough social stability to allow farmers to produce and transport their crops to cities, and for businesses in cities to function without being bombed or looted.

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It is this stability that allows local producers to become more productive and is also what enables the installation of industries, even if they are the most rudimentary. “Increased agricultural productivity means that fewer people are forced to work on farms, and many of them move to the city to work in factories and other industries. In cities, workers spend their money buying food, clothing and other consumer products and services, resulting in a richer workforce and society engaged in a greater variety of jobs,” explains Shellenberger.

It also highlights that during the last 200 years ago, poor nations discovered that they did not need to completely end corruption or educate all citizens to just then develop – which would put the hope of better days in the very distant future. Instead, he realized that as long as factories could operate freely and politicians “don’t steal too much from their owners”, manufacturing could drive economic development and, consequently, fight hunger in a sustainable way.

Another source of funds?

It is undeniable, however, that a large amount of money used in the distribution and purchase of food in vulnerable regions would be able to alleviate the problem, being able to guarantee at least a few more meals than certain hungry people would have without such help. In this sense, generous donations would be more an act of charity, with punctual and temporary effects, than a definitive solution to the social problem of hunger.

Even so, it is worth asking whether it would not be more legitimate to demand this type of engagement from governments that make much less noble use of not negligible amounts of public money. Taking Brazil as an example, R$ 4.9 billion are allocated to the electoral fund, money spent mainly on the production of political propaganda, an activity that in some developed countries is financed privately, without the use of taxpayers’ money. There is also the R$ 2.6 billion party fund, a sum that the acronyms use to promote conventions, pay for travel and maintain physical headquarters in the cities they consider most electorally important. If we consider that there is equivalent waste in the vast majority of democratic countries, charging for the transfer of such expressive values ​​from a single individual, no matter how rich, becomes even poorer in meaning.

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