Category Archives: famine

Distributional Ethics and Economic Justice

In which I excerpt a conversation between Baruk, master alchemist, and Kruppe, petty thief and spymaster, originally recorded in Toll the Hounds, the eighth installment in The Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Baruk’s comments are in green.

K: Kruppe asks this: witness two scenes.  In one, an angry, bitter man beats another man to death in an alley in the Gadrobi District.  In another, a man of vast wealth conspires with equally wealthy compatriots to raise yet again the price grain, making the cost of simple bread so prohibitive that families starve, are led into lives of crime, and die young.  Are both acts of violence?

B: In only one of those examples will you find blood on a man’s hands.

K: True, deplorable as such stains are.

B: There are countless constructs whereby the wealthy man might claim innocence.  Mitigating circumstances, unexpected costs of production, the law of supply and demand, and so on.

K: Indeed, a plethora of justifications, making the waters so very murky, and who then sees the blood?

B: And yet, destitution results with all its misery, its stresses and anxieties, its foul vapours of the soul.  It can be said that the wealthy grain merchant wages subtle war.

Fantasy often gets a bad rap, but I enjoy Steve Erikson’s forays into history, economics, politics and ethics, made all the more enjoyable by his highly literate style.

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Somalis Starve as Shabab Militants Bar Escape From Famine

In the midst of the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in six decades, the Somali militant group al-Shabab has kicked out all western aid agencies and embargoed all food shipments into southern Somalia.  In addition to blockading all food aid, they are also preventing civilians from seeking succour in neighboring Kenya or Ethiopia.

There must be some method in this madness, but the method has to be divorced from any ethical system.  There is no ethical system that justifies willful starvation and eventual genocide of an entire population.  At the same time, it’s a cop-out to call the perpetrators ‘monsters’ or ‘inhuman.’  As is ever the case, the situation can explained by sordid power politics, callousness and a complete abdication of responsibility by the al-Shabab leadership.

Al-Shabab’s purported aim is to create an Islamic Caliphate on the Horn of Africa.  To do so, they need to get rid of the Transitional Federal Government, the nominal, but toothless government cowering behind African Union-funded bunkers in Mogadishu.  Since the TFG is nominally supported by the West, al-Shabab prevent Western activities in areas under its remit.  Food aid, in their eyes, would legitimize their enemies, the TFG and the West.  Migration, or escape, would delegitimize their rule and so, must also be stopped.

Details on the famine at the NYT.