Maybe food shortages and hunger will do what intellectual debate can’t
By Dave Duffy
Issue #112 • July/August, 2008
Food shortages around the world. Wal-Mart rationing rice in their United States stores. We had an advertiser who sells preparedness foods cancel his ad in this issue because he couldn’t get enough grain to sell his U.S. customers. Imagine that! In the United States of all places! Reminds me of the French Revolution!
The French Revolution? Sure! That was the last great revolutionary movement in world history that was sparked by food shortages. The French had been complaining for years about their oppressive government, but it took a food shortage that prompted mothers to march for bread in Paris in the summer of 1789 to really get the revolution going. It led to the beheading of Louis XVI, the most powerful monarch in the world, brought on Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in which 20,000 fat cat aristocrats were guillotined in one year alone, and eventually led to world wars that ended monarchic rule across Europe.
That’s what food shortages can do. For centuries the French and the rest of the world had lived under the despotic rule of divine right monarchy with its tiny privileged class and everyone else poor, powerless slobs, but it took mothers marching for bread to finally get them to act in their own behalf. Intellectuals can complain all they want about government despotism, government encroachment on individual liberty, but in the end it takes an issue that affects the belly. Mothers in need of food for their babies are a fierce force of nature that politicians dare not ignore.
Maybe that’s what we need in the United States — a little more food shortage — to get people to act in their own behalf, on behalf of the freedoms that their government strips away from them on a near daily basis. Maybe that will get them to take our own fat cat bureaucrats by the neck and throw them aside. Nothing else has worked.
In this country, the conservative right and libertarians have complained about government encroachment on our freedoms for years. I’ve been doing it in this column for nearly 20 years. Smarter people have written books about it, detailing the abuses, pointing the way to reform. Outfits like the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have attacked the problem from a scholarly perspective, presenting their arguments before a nodding Congress that, in the end, did nothing to stem the loss of our freedoms.
During the last eight years, liberals have finally joined conservatives and libertarians in our chorus of complaints against government abuse of individual freedom after they watched a Republican administration do what we have been saying Democratic administrations have been doing for decades: stripping away our freedoms.
Bush did his freedom stealing under the guise of protecting us from terrorists, but we all recognized what was happening. The government finally had its perfect pretense: an apparently unending war against terrorism that provided the perfect umbrella from which government could launch its final assault on freedom. If you question the government’s new laws to curtail our freedoms in the name of fighting the War on Terror, you are accused of being a terrorist sympathizer who must hate the United States. What Orwellian logic!
But we’ve all come to question government these days. A policy that defends against terrorists by stripping away our remaining individual liberties just doesn’t make sense, not to us conservatives and libertarians, and at last, not even to liberals. Ironically, the terrorist attacks on America have done some good after all: They’ve united Americans, no matter their political persuasion, in realizing that the real enemy always has been and always will be our own government.
We can fight terrorists without giving up our freedoms. We just need a government that works for the good of its people, not one that looks for any opportunity to grow itself in size and power at the expense of the rights of its citizens.
The recent shortage of food across the world is due, in part, to government’s sheer ineptitude in combatting both a terrorist problem and a fuel supply problem. Our government, by offering incentives for American farmers to take food producing land out of service and convert it to fuel-producing land, has helped create a global food shortage. Since food shortages mean only high prices for Americans, but starvation for many poorer countries, Americans so far have only grumbled about prices while other nations have already toppled their governments.
But our government is so inept, and so slow to correct the stupid laws it passes, that maybe the food shortage the government has created will yet spark the mothers of America to follow the French example of so long ago, namely, provide the spark in our intellectual debate about how best to rein in government.