Mises Wire

The Major Cause of Mass Poverty in Sudan

Mere days prior to its receiving renewed attention because of an ongoing civil war, Sudan and many other African countries were (and still are) being promoted by news organizations as citadels of suffering. Viewers are subjected to heart-wrenching images: The gaunt, skeletal bodies of starved children crying out in hunger. Families left with only emaciated cows, selling sticks to produce some kind of livelihood. After observing these agonizing spectacles, the only logical question anyone could ask is, why does this poverty exist?

Fortunately, the impeccably informative news sites are quick to relieve us of this uncertainty. “Climate change” is the answer, they declare. Not “global warming” but the new existential threat of human-caused climate change has resulted in an increase in water levels, leading to accentuated poverty in Sudan and the greater African region, and this justifies a sizable increase in government spending in the area.

One need not look too far to discover that this reasoning is filled with both logical and factual errors. To begin with, famines and poverty have been the norm in society since time immemorial, certainly before any accusations of climate change were leveled at humanity in general and the West in particular. Indeed, the West, until quite recently in human history, was one of the main victims of extreme famines. Before the 1700s, people in England and the West lived in constant fear that they would be struck with a poor growing season and famine, forcing them to go hungry through the next year.

This fact shows us that what people in Sudan are experiencing is a completely regular aspect of human existence. Prosperity is the exception to history rather than the rule. Furthermore, poverty is not lessened by demonizing certain portions of the world with accusations of climate change. It is also necessary to point out the distinct possibility that “climate change” is not the main cause of the Sudanese people’s poverty.

According to virtually every available metric, climate-related deaths have been substantially decreasing at a sharp rate since at least the 1930s. This includes the last year of 2022, which saw the fewest climate deaths ever recorded. With the effects of the supposed main catalyst of poverty in Sudan being drastically reduced, it would seem only logical that Sudan’s people would also see reduced evidence of poverty in their country. But Sudan is as poor as ever. This should lead us to believe that the actual reason Sudan, and much of the rest of Africa, is in poverty is for a separate reason.

This separate reason is Sudan’s form of government. Sudan possesses one of the most oppressive and authoritarian governments in the entire world. According to the Heritage Foundation, of the 176 countries the organization grades in terms of economic freedom, Sudan ranks 173. Only Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea have more repressive economies. Private property rights are abysmally negligible and bureaucratic corruption runs rampant. The result of this is that people are either unwilling or unable to go through the process of producing a good when they know their right to possess it will not be respected.

Additionally, when government organizations like the United States Agency for International Development send exorbitant amounts of resources to Sudan (as they did at the beginning of this year, dispatching an additional $288 million), the incentives for citizens to increase their own productivity or attempt to instill reforms in their own government are greatly reduced.

Basic economic knowledge teaches us that you get more of whatever you subsidize. By “aiding” countries based on how poor they are, the United States is essentially subsidizing poverty, just as it does domestically with welfare. People are essentially getting a reward from the government for being poor. This causes the recipients of the subsidy, in this case the poverty-stricken people in Africa, to simply sit back with the expectation that others will take care of them, build their infrastructure, and deliver their food. There is no reason to save or invest in the future because others have already pledged to take care of them for the foreseeable future. Additionally, it would be foolish for someone to work and make themselves ineligible for free gifts from the government, and so still more people cease to work.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t help Sudan. Charity is good. But we should think about who “we” really refers to. Generally speaking, it is not well-meaning individuals, religious institutions, or private charities. Instead, it’s the state that inefficiently and arbitrarily distributes aid wherever bureaucrats and politicians feel it is politically advantageous to do so.

If any private sources misallocate a few million dollars, they feel the cost almost immediately. This is not the case with politicians, who simply choose where other people’s tax money should be spent without experiencing any ramifications from losing exorbitant amounts of money other than possibly needing to smooth things over with their supporters.

Many people, it would seem, see that the government is inefficient. A study from the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans believe that government is “always wasteful.” Disconcertingly, however, the same study found that an even larger portion of Americans think the government is not doing enough to “solve problems.” Why people would wish for admittedly “wasteful and inefficient” governments to take on still more power and responsibilities remains a mystery.

The most likely reason is that people want themselves and others to be taken care of by the government. This is a deadly frame of mind that served as the justification for killing over one hundred million people in search of utopian communism. Nobody thinks about what will happen, only what they intend to cause through foreign aid.

Instead, people should consider whether the US is unintentionally propping up these dictatorial regimes by showering them with welfare, condemning the poor to a continued life of subsistence at the hand of their own government.

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