Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Too Much Food (1980)

From the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism has outlived its usefulness; it has developed the means of production and distribution to a point where abundance is within our grasp. Yet as the twentieth century totters to a close, we still have to contend with the same old problems that were a feature at the turn of the century —unemployment, poverty, bad housing, war and so on, and, in some parts of the world, starvation wipes out thousands of human beings. If these deaths were the result of an unbountiful Nature, of the world being incapable of producing sufficient food for its people, we would be faced with a very difficult problem. But this is not the case.

Capitalism is a system of commodity production — of buying, selling, profit. Sometimes the wheels grind to a halt, with too many cars, carpets, ships, suits or whatever to meet market needs. And "too much" food, even when so many go without; but food, like a car, is a commodity. If too much is produced for the market to absorb production is cut back.

When Russia invaded Afghanistan President Carter, waxing indignant, decreed an embargo on US exports of grain to the Soviet Union, which is heavily dependent on this feedstuff to increase cattle population. The American farmers, who for long have looked on the Russian market as a profitable channel for their surplus grain crops, hummed and hawed, did a bit of tooth sucking but eventually agreed to support Carter. It was supposed to be their sacrifice for the nation's good — but the farmers were not about to turn a shotgun on themselves. It was of course agreed at the time, that the US government would compensate them by itself buying this grain.

The American government has just completed the purchase of 156 million bushels of grain at a cost of 600 million dollars. With this amount of grain around, storage space is at a premium and there is a constant search for any odd corner where the stuff can be dumped. The bottom fell out of the market and as a result many American farmers have gone bankrupt. As those still in business (the majority) plan their sowing schedule for this year, the high cost of borrowing money (US Bank Rate around 20 per cent) for seed and fertilisers is having its effect on the total acreage to be planted. This cost, and the large surplus of grain available, has led one Chicago grain analyst to say . . . "It would be economic suicide to plant at these prices". Prudential Insurance of Chicago, one of the largest agricultural finance houses, has already stopped loans to farmers and does not know when they will recommence.

Food production and selling is big international business. To add to the woes of the American farmer, Canada is planning this year a 6 per cent increase in planting acreage; the Indian harvest looks good; Brazil has just gathered the largest soya bean crop for years and the world stock of grain is the highest for 15 years.

Anyone who thinks this promises well for the starving millions should remember: in the past, grain stocks have been high and yet people died through lack of food. In the Guardian (17 April) a large advert stated that harvest failure has led to a new crisis in Kampuchea. This country desperately needs food to survive, but the profit motive of capitalism ensures that it does not get enough of it. As long as food is produced for sale and profit, then so long shall we have these futile appeals.

When food is produced for the sole reason that people need it then we shall have socialism —a world community based upon common ownership of the means of production and distribution. It will be a way of life divorced from the stupidities of a wages and monetary system. For the good of all, the earth with its riches and potential, harnessed with humanity's creative ability, will provide what we need for a full and meaningful life.
Cyril May