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Ending world hunger: Freedom, families important for progress

A woman attending the  World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 walk past an exhibit in Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, June 3, 2015. The World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 opened Wednesday and will take place over three days with discussions on agricultu
A woman attending the World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 walk past an exhibit in Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, June 3, 2015. The World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 opened Wednesday and will take place over three days with discussions on agriculture and food security in Africa, and investment opportunities across the continent.
Schalk van Zuydam, Associated Press

When it comes to worldwide hunger, the news is surprisingly good. The U.N.’s annual “State of Food Insecurity in the World” report for 2015 is out, and it shows the number of undernourished has dropped by 167 million over the past decade, despite a significant increase in population.

Measuring over an even greater period of time, the United Nations report said the decline in hunger represents a 21.4 percent decline since the early 1990s, despite the world growing by 1.9 billion people.

The goal of cutting global hunger in half, set in 1990, has been attained. But all is not well.

A few lessons come to mind. One is that the figures prove, once again, that fears about over-population are unfounded. Hunger and want can be solved with the efficient distribution that comes through political stability and free markets.

The report concludes, “A key factor of success in reducing undernourishment is economic growth. …” This growth, it says, must be inclusive, providing opportunities to people of all economic levels. It also must include social protections, which include basic human rights and a safety net providing basic needs. Political stability also is a key.

We would add to this the need for an independent judiciary that protects all citizens from abuses, an effective education system and policies that promote traditional families.

Another lesson concerns the value of trade. The report attempts to explain this effect with a chart that lists positive and negative effects of trade and food security, with a rather naive analysis of the dangers of being a net importer or exporter. But it correctly notes that imports typically reduce food prices. “The macroeconomic benefits of trade openness, such as export growth and the inflow of foreign direct investment, support growth and employment, which in turn boosts income,” it says.

Free trade unleashes market forces. By contrast, centrally controlled, protectionist economies lead to shortages and high prices. That has direct application to President Barack Obama’s efforts to enact free-trade agreements worldwide.

The U.N.’s report is in sharp contrast to a report to Congress from the U.S. Department of Education last week that noted a 6 percent increase in childhood poverty in the United States since 2000. That report said 10.9 children lived below the poverty line in 2013, which is defined as a household of four earning no more than $23,550 per year.

It would be wrong to draw correlations between the two reports, as they measure different things. In most developing countries, an income equal to even half the U.S. poverty rate would be considered enough to avoid food insecurity.

But the U.S. report is clear that kids from two-parent homes fared better than those from other household types. Other strong research, most notably a paper titled, “For Richer, For Poorer,” by sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the American Enterprise Institute and economist Robert I. Lerman of the Urban Institute, shows that the nation’s falling marriage rate correlates to an increase in poverty.

That lesson surely has application in all situations as far as hunger and poverty are concerned.

The increase in food security in developing nations is wonderful news. China and India, in particular, have made rapid progress over the past two decades, due in large part to policy changes. Political upheaval, however, will make it continue that progress in the world’s most impoverished areas.

But the United States, with its strong guarantees of basic rights and its political stability, must maintain a leadership position in food security, with its wealth driving global trade and its tradition of liberty and opportunity setting the example for prosperity. The strength of two-parent families, it is clear, is an important factor in that success, just as it is for success worldwide.