Charles Krauthammer

     ``This is the first generation in all of recorded history that can do something about the scourge of poverty. We have the means to do it. We can banish hunger from the face of the Earth.''
     -- Hubert Humphrey, 1965
    
     WASHINGTON -- When Hubert Humphrey said this almost 40 years ago, concern about the wretched of the Earth was the almost exclusive preserve of American liberalism. Barry Goldwater sure did not talk that way.

     It was a Democratic Party that was behind the establishment of the United Nations with its various humanitarian agencies (such as UNICEF and the High Commissioner for Refugees). It was the Democratic Party that pushed for foreign aid, starting of course with the Marshall Plan. It was John Kennedy who created the Peace Corps.

     And it was in liberal households that little baby boomers were exposed to their first guilt-inducing non sequitur: ``Finish your cereal. There are people starving in India.'' Which was not just a way to get you to clean your plate, but a reminder -- while you were enjoying yourself! -- of a social obligation to strangers out there.

     That same spirit carried over a generation later when, upon arriving at her post as ambassador to the U.N., Madeleine Albright pledged ``to terminate the abominable injustices and conditions that still plague civilization.''

     How times have changed.

     Turns out, Humphrey was wrong. At the time, we really did not ``have the means to do it'' because we did not yet know how to banish poverty and hunger. Today we do.

     The answer is not foreign aid, which is corrupting and often worse than useless. In many cases, it actually further impoverished an already poor country. Enriched urban elites bought luxury goods, while donated food and socialist controls drove down the local price of food, ruining the farmers on whom these subsistence economies had depended.

     We now know that the secret to curing hunger and poverty is capitalism and free trade. We have seen that demonstrated irrefutably in East Asia, which has experienced the greatest alleviation of poverty in the history of man. In half a century, places like Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea have gone from subsistence to First World status. And now free markets and free trade are lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty in India and China.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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