Drought and Famine: Crash Course World History #208

Hi, I’m John Green. This is Crash Course World History.
Today we’re going to talk about drought and famine. Really, Stan? When are we going to talk about, like,
peace and happiness? I feel like we’ve been on kind of a sad run here at Crash Course. You know what, actually I’m gonna talk about
peace and happiness, but not until the very end. In the mean time, drought and famine. Mr. Green, Mr. Green! This is science again. Famines
are just natural disasters, they happen sometimes. Yeah, Me From the Past, no. For the most part,
famines have historically been man-made disasters. So Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen
commented that “starvation is the characteristic of some
people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being
enough to eat.” In other words, people starve it’s often because
they are unable to obtain food that might be available somewhere in their vicinity. The issue isn’t existence of resources, it’s
access to resources. And there are a lot of ways that humans can
contribute to famines. Right, like, take governments. Sometimes governments just do a bad job of
providing relief to starving people. Other times, they have deliberate policies that
lead to starvation. The most obvious example of that is Stalin’s
collectivization and subsequent terror, which killed millions of Ukrainians and Russians
between 1932 and 1933. There’s also Mao’s Great Leap Forward which caused famines that killed
up to 10 million Chinese people in the late 1950’s. And in the Capitalist world market forces
can cause famines, such as when there’s enough food to keep people from starving but they
can’t afford to buy it. Shortages or panic cause prices to go up,
then people who can afford to pay end up hoarding resources and people who can’t afford to pay
end up starving. Now, drought and other natural disasters can
create shortages but hoarding makes them much worse. Like, think about the price of bottled water
in Florida when a hurricane is about to hit. But of course, when it comes to the disaster of famine,
people can’t do it alone. We need weather’s help. Okay, so here’s a map of famines. You’ll notice
that they often occur in what historians sometimes call the global south. Good job with the naming there, historians.
I might have called it The Drought Belt. Or the, ah, Southern Hemisphere. Southern latitudes are more effected by weather
related to El Niño. El Niños affects wind and rain patterns and they’re associated with
weak monsoons and droughts is parts of Asia, Africa and north-eastern South America. By the way, the fact that north-eastern South
America is a grammatically correct phrase in English indicates that there is SOMETHING
WRONG with historians and naming! Right, but my point is that weak monsoons
can be devastating to agriculture in Asia. If the spring rains don’t come, the wheat
crop will be poor and if the summer monsoon fails the entire year’s harvest can be lost. And El Niño also contributes to famine in
East Africa where it accounts for about 50 percent of the variance in rainfall. Now,
El Niño probably contributed to recent famines like the one in China between 1957 and 1959,
that’s associated with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, but we’re going to focus on some
perhaps lesser known food disasters. Especially the ones that occurred in India, in the late
19th century. India was Britain’s most populous and most
important colony in the 19th century and also the scene of it’s greatest colonial failure,
which is really saying something. The famines that struck India in the last
quarter of the 19th century claimed millions of lives and they highlight the devastating
combination of market forces, government policy, ideology, and bad weather. Now, it’s tempting to blame those devastating
famines on the severe El Niño events that occurred in those years, but it’s important
to note that there have been El Niños that didn’t result in famine and also famines that
aren’t related to El Niño. When studying history – and also when doing
anything else – we seem to have this urge to essentialize, to find, like, the one secret
cause of terrible or great things. I understand that urge to find the one true problem, because
then maybe we could find a one true solution but it just doesn’t work that way. The truth
is always nuanced. Okay, so until about 1800, India was the world’s
leader in textile production with the industry employing millions of people at wages that,
while not extravagant, were more than enough to avoid starvation. This was largely due
to the fact that food prices were low because Indian agriculture was very productive. And then, the British happened. Let’s go to the thought bubble. As industrial manufacturing took off in Britain
the labor intensive Indian textile industry couldn’t compete. So, former Indian textile
workers turned to growing cotton for export which required land, seed and fertilizer,
which cost money. And that drove many Indian cotton farmers into debt. Government policy made things worse, especially
tax policies. Now, I like taxes, when they pay for things
like schools and infrastructure, but taxes can be bad when they fall on those least able
to pay them. In British-India colonial taxes forced peasants further into the market economy
because they had to be paid in cash. Now, to service that debt, and pay all of those
taxes with money, Indian farmers needed a cash crop which meant yet more land devoted
to cotton and less land devoted to growing food. During the 1876 to 1878 El Niño drought,
British administrators continued to collect taxes which meant that Indian peasants continued
to have to grow cotton instead of food. And when droughts struck again at the turn of
the 20th century, the British raised taxes 24 percent and then confiscated the land of
farmers that refused to pay. Those taxes largely went pay for the British
military and only rarely did Indians see a benefit. The only area where the British did locally
invest the money they collected was in railroads, but those were a mixed blessing. The railroads
could have been used to alleviate famine by bringing much needed food, but usually they
just shipped raw materials to markets. In fact, during the 1876 to 1878 famine, to
quote one historian, “The population decreased more rapidly where the districts were served
by railways than where there were no railways.” Thanks, Thought Bubble. Oohh, it must be time for the open letter!
Bet it has something to do with railroads. Oh my gosh, it’s lions! An a open letter to
The Ghost and The Darkness. Hey there, The Ghost and The Darkness. You are
the two most famous man eating lions of all time. But the story of why you actually ate
humans turns out to be pretty fascinating. So the British also built railroads in Africa,
and in order to build them quickly, they needed lots of labor, and that labor needed lots
of food. Hunters killed almost all of the available game which deprived local lion populations
of food and then because there was lots of malaria, all the people with malaria were
together in a sick tent, and then The Ghost and The Darkness would, y’know, go to
the sick tent and eat. So, the Ghost and the Darkness, you’re part
of the reason that we see lions as these terrifying human eaters. But in fact, you were just reacting
to the lion version of a man-made famine. Best wishes, John Green. So we’ve talked about how both collectivist and
market economic policies can lead to famine, right? But I think it’s unfair to pin famine on one
ideology or another, like the disastrous consequences of the ideologically motivated policies of
Mao and Stalin are self evident. Both were totalitarian states, where collectivist policies
led millions to starve. But, liberal free trade policy can also lead
to famine. The godfather of free market capitalism, Adam
Smith, asserted that, quote, “Famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence
of government attempting by improper means to remedy the inconvenience of dearth.” Stan, how come we don’t use the word “dearth”
more often? It was such a big dearth, gotta a great sound. It’s like all the best parts
of death and all the best parts of Darth Vader. I’m sorry. We’re not talking about the dearth
of dearth, we’re talking about famine. So Smith blames famine on mother nature and
government’s efforts to alleviate suffering. But, the famines in colonial India show us
that a laissez faire approach to starvation from the government can also lead to millions
of deaths. Victorian Britons often justified their policy
of doing nothing to help starving people by referring to Thomas Malthus’s concept that
population inevitably outstrips resources, claiming that India’s population, quote, “Has
a tendency to increase more rapidly than the food it raises from the soil,” thus providing
a natural justification for the suffering. But to reiterate, famine isn’t natural! Or
at least it’s not simply natural. So, when the British did try to provide relief
for famine victims, they feared that too much help would lead Indian subjects to become
dependent on handouts. So they set up work camps. Often hundreds
of miles away from the worst areas of famine, where starving Indians could work to earn a ration
that worked out to 1627 calories per day. Now that, of course, isn’t enough fuel to
do heavy labor, so the death rates in some of these work camps reached as high as 94
percent. Meanwhile, the British clung their ideology
and their racism. Like here’s a quote from the Lieutenant Governor of the Bengal,
Sir Richard Temple. “The infatuation of these poor people in respect
to eating the bread of idleness; their dread of marching on command to any distance from
home; their preference often for extreme privation rather than the submission to even simple
and reasonable orders, can be fully believed only by those who have seen or personally
known these things.” Basically, he’s saying that people would rather
be lazy than well fed, which ignores the fact that on 1627 calories per day, no one can
work. So, I promised to talk about happiness and peace
and rainbows and puppies here at the end. Famines don’t just happen naturally. Now,
some famines may be the inevitable result of of drought but certainly we don’t have to have
as much starvation in the world as we do. In fact, with current agricultural technologies,
we don’t have to have any starvation. And here’s where the really is some happiness
and peace and puppies and rainbows: there are fewer undernourished people today than
there ever have been at any point in centuries. More people have food security and fewer people
are starving. That also isn’t the result of weather. And
yes, we will face tremendous droughts as the climate changes. But, as we face them let
us remember that there is nothing natural about some starving while others have plenty. In short, let’s remember to look for the fingerprints
of humans where we would perhaps prefer to see acts of God. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad & Stacey
Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis and it’s possible because of your support through Subbable.com.
Subbable is a voluntary subscription service that allows you to support Crash Course directly
so we can keep it free for everyone forever. We want to thank all of our Subbable subscribers, thank
you for watching, and as we say in my home town, don’t forget to be awesome.

Comments 100

  • The Great Leap Forward killed 10 million? Try 40-60 million

  • idk but i feel like i didn't understand the roots of famine very well

  • The Southern Hemisphere

  • Poisen the mangoes which we send to Britain…just kidding …only a horrible psychopath will do it to another human being.

  • 10 million starved in Moe’s China, 10 million really, up that by about 30 mil

  • Can you talk about the Irish Potato Famine??

  • Like Somaliland? ❤️

  • What about the Irish famine

  • Racism doesn't exist, liberal snowflake.
    Now I'm gonna go cry in a corner because black people make me sad.

  • "And then…the British happened" such soothing words from a white guy. Love this guy. Most of my white friends have his viewpoints about colonialism. Wish more did, then the world would be a better place.

  • That last line at the end sounds like a historical quote

  • Well, Adam Smith is more nuanced than many (liberalized markets) thinks thought.
    His "invisible hand" is more of a critique of the notions of laissez-faire and trickle down, which his hatred of government control had more to do with mercantilism connected to military-industrial complex that he thought that should focus on living standards.

  • I like that this video takes a moment to shed light on a lesser known famine in the non-white part of the world and 90% of the comments are "but what about the IRISH???"

  • "Let's remember to look for the fingerprints of humans where we would perhaps prefer to see acts of god." New favorite quote.

  • Now people in my country Venezuela is eating out of the trash.

  • How is the famine in India caused by capitalism?

    By your own accord, and a quote by Adam Smith, "Famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of governments attempting, by improper means, to remedy the inconvenience of death."

    Were the taxes imposed by the British Colonial GOVERNMENT not violent? If the Indians did not pay the tax, they would have faced violence at the hands of the British.

    That being said, if they didn't have to pay taxes, wouldn't they have grown substance crops to ensure they were fed?

    It sounds life the true struggle is between statism and anarchy, not capitalism and government….

  • Where's Ireland?

  • Bruh I swear to god if America did this there'd be a witch hunt on social media for every damn argument that has Americans in it.

  • Ireland had a fammine provoked by the british

  • work camps of britishers were limited to a marginal number of already destitutes , rest were killed by their greed .And the worst part is most of them are still celebrated .

  • John, you really don't know economics. Truly, open a book or something before you fail to understand market forces.

  • HE DIDN'T SAY IT WAS "LAISSEZ-FAIRE CAPITALISM" for crying out loud, he said it was a "laissez-faire approach to starvation, from the government" – "laissez-faire" means leave it alone and let things take their natural course without government interference, which is exactly what the British tried to do. Laissez-faire is a French phrase, not just an economics term.

    The fact that laissez-faire capitalism is how we got robber barons and "The Jungle" the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and snake oil, and the world has been better and shopping (and food and medicine especially) has been safer since we chipped away at it with government-enforced consumer protections, IS NOT MENTIONED IN THIS VIDEO AT ALL.

  • Hey John green u should've talked about the manmade Bengal famine which was architected by Wintston Churchill

  • fre market in India? With taxes?? come on ..

  • Unless of course you are wait for it. The Mongols.

  • Have as many babies as you want. If it results in starvation it is not because of more people than the land can support. It is because the government won't give you enough food.

  • Hi john, can you please make some more videos on british colonialisation ?

  • Not mentioned Churchill ??

  • Great examples of famine caused by capitalism: food deserts in the US. When It's not profitable to have a grocery store in a poor neighborhood or poor town you close it. I remember reading about a walmart closing in a west virginia mining town and it was the only store for fresh food for miles.

  • Other people have posted this comment, but I will echo them.
    “Let’s remember to look for the fingerprints of humans where we would perhaps prefer to see acts of God.” This is one of my very favorite lines from John Green in any of his works, video or otherwise.

  • my Indian neighbors and friends hate the British too. Imagine foreigners coming to your country to exploit your people for 300 plus years.

  • Doesn't El nino mean the boy

  • Britain killed our 4.3 million people in 1943 famine

  • their map isn’t accurate 🙁 in the 19th century (4:20) all of ireland was still owned by Britain 🙁

  • this creep is saying that famines in india was also caused because ideology and not because british looted all the grains out of india and sold it on international market…. i see propaganda and bias

  • 3:50 or, in other words, "truth resists simplicity"

  • omh welcome to nightvale cameo

  • Tax reform and revising the system of institution are the solution for modern drought and famines towards something good

  • The kulaks deserved it tho

  • I just watch crash course for fun 😂

  • "Work camp". Time and time again humans continue to be the most horrendous animals on the planet, regardless of what point in history we live in.

  • The British claiming that Indians shouldn't outbreed their food supply is hilarious considering that one of the reasons the British stayed out of the American Civil War was because they needed American grain imports.

  • One possible solution is moltable huge tower farms 12+story acer square that work like a piston on a reservoir 12 stories deep pushing warter through water Purifying systems that distribute clean water through pipes and back in to the tower and sarounding area now the fans cooling the in grow opp will intern fill big air bags lifting the tower back up out of the reservoir as gravity feed water under th he bag and starting the prosses all over again not the rise and fall of the tower can make electricity and the heat difrence in the tower and out the tower can make power to modified external heat engines cuz they work of temperature difrence alowing makeing food and water and wether proof Just in time for climate change I'll have your patri on money soon I'm just kind of broke

  • That thought-bubble about the Indian famines is sad.

  • I came here after watching the live aid concert

  • But what about the hunger of American Indians in the mind of killing bison by foreigners?
    And hunger during the bourgeois great revolution in France?

    No, no, the Communists are bad, and the English are still racists.

    These videos do not talk about all the dirt of the American system.

  • 1:12 The author is lying!!! Проверяй факты. Коллективизация в СССР не привела к голоду. К голоду привели погодные условия тех, и наплевательское отношение руководителей УСФСР. Сталин тут не причем.

  • Everything is cool, but I began to doubt everything I said when I heard a lie about Stalin and the Holodomor

  • Цікаво де цей піндос взяв інформацію про голод на Україні а то в нього немає ніяких лінків крім патреона

  • North Eastern South America = Wrong-Way Concurrency

  • 🙊🤭🤭🤭🤭 no no no but that’s sad 😢 😞 😔

  • You said this video would end on a happy note, but I felt a darkness in those closing words

  • Can more people please read the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling?

  • During the Great Irish Famine and the Soviet famines in 1932-1933 both the British and the Soviet government had more than enough foodstuffs to feed the starving population. In fact, the Soviet Union sent 170 thousand to 310 thousand tons of grain into Ukraine, after 4.5 million Ukranians, Russians, Tatars, Cossacks and Jews starved to death. The British managed to stave off the Bihar famine before large-scale deaths.

  • Winston Churchill caused the 2nd great famine of Bengal.

  • For people complaining about Not including The Great Irish Potato Famine…

    People died in all Irish famine included = 4.30-4.48 million

    People who died in Just two Bengal famine included (excluding other region famines of India)
    = 12.4-13.8 million

  • Government run work camps + extremely high taxes=not free market/Lassie fair economics. This isn't that hard to understand.

  • Notatki:
    Przyczyną głodu niekoniecznie jest brak żywnosci a raczej brak dostepu do niej.
    Na przykładzie głodu w Indiach za czasów gdy były one kolonia brytyjską widzimy ze przyczyną bły wysokie podatki nałozone przez wielka brytanie na Indusów, zamiast siać więc przenicy itd siali oni bawełnę i nic z tego nie mieli. Nie mieli też więc jedzenia.

  • And a century later, India has made it to the obese nations list !!

  • Thank you very much for the Video

  • That one problem that causes all of the bad events in history: COLONIZATION. colonization has been responsible for the majority of the worst events in history as well as lasting negative effects such as poverty, disease and racism . ex. the colonization of North American and the famine in India- colonization

  • Famine is basicaly caused by climate change like El Nino and poor administration.Then,Bengal Famine is caused by then British rules' laissez faire approach and loved this line …..we have tendency to find a root cause so that we can one true solution…but truth is nuanced…

  • Thumbs down for PC use of "humaneaters" instead of the correct traditional "maneaters."

  • I like hank, I like crash course that said, the problem was and always is GOVERNMENT, if it weren't for the TAXES. What happened in India was the same problem that happened to all the communist countries GOVERNMENT.

  • British india is not free markets lol. The british came and killed all indian textiles makers. They then killed all the men with individual initiatives who revolted. They then told the indian exacted what to do based on their own racism and not market prices.

    The problem with world history is that its a narrative dominated by white left types. Despite of how much this guy tries to be none western centric, his thinking is entirely western.

  • So, Communism causes famines.
    Also, Capitalism causes famines.
    Well, that's kind of discouraging.

  • The statement "the truth is always nuanced" isn't nuanced enough to be true.

  • So many colonialism apologists in the comments. Tsk tsk.

  • Excuse me, may l ask why on your map Crimea is part of Russia? 4:15. Doesn't your channel adhere to an international position on this?


  • "Then, the British happened" is a pretty succinct way of describing most of the Modern Era.

  • John Green is what happens when Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes grows up.

  • As an Indian, my hatred for British Raj multiplied by 100 while watching this. And they pulled the exact same thing in Ireland! Indians and Irish should have a joint holiday where we eat lots of food and trash talk England.

  • The truth is always nuanced!


  • Butterfly effect in action

  • There is always a plausible excuse. It indicates a dearth of humanity.

  • Here is a correction wheat and cotton produce in different seasons

  • R.I.P Ghost&Darkness 🙁

  • Amartya Sen is a very biased person he blames the brits, but then claims they didnt really have control of the whole of India. Also there were regular famines throughout indian history most caused by the aquiescence or ignorance of the Mughal Muslims! Funny he didnt mention that! almost like he is a stereotypical leftist ideologue.. but then a 10 min video for history ?! Most of his videos are very simplistic and come from a certain angle! Cliche course world history! 🙂

  • Also the Indian population doubled overall in the British period whereas it fell for hundreds of years before that… Hindu history!

  • Food crops from India were also diverted to British soldiers and exported to Britain. The statistics show that most of the famine stricken states had surplus produce of food crops yet they suffered and to that, Churchill said “it's their fault for breeding like rats”.

  • I expected there to more about the role that supply opium to China so as to control world trade contributed to the under production of food in India. The Anglophone worlds are so ignorant to the misery their culture has foisted on others.

  • There was Mogli! 🙂

  • "I feel like we've been on a kind of a sad run here on Crash Course," says the author of The Fault in Our Stars

  • 9:49 actually one of the most influential things I've heard all day.

  • the british reduced rebellions in india by providing funding and support to the local nobility. that's why the majority of the locals are dirt poor and the nobility is about as rich as they were when they were removed from power. also the princes of indian states had a good while before independence to empty out their treasury.

  • For your ghost and the darkness remark, it should be noted that yours is only one of many presented theories and not a fact, many people believe that it could have been due to a broken tooth or rotten tooth making it hard for one of the lions to hunt normal prey. Some suggest that the lack of normal game was due to the rinderpest disease in 1898 which you left out. Others think they came into dead humans often due to the Arab slave trade caravans and the Hindu railroad workers who couldn't cremate their dead properly.

  • Such a powerful video. Nuanced and well researched. "Let us remember to look for the finger prints of humans where we would perhaps prefer to look for an act of God."
    Such a well-crafted and meaningful line! John green is bae. 🙂

  • This video is not politically correct by today's standards. Two times during this video it was mentioned that Communist leaders Mao and Stalin purposely starved their own people. I'm reporting John Green to Bernie Sanders. He'll get to the bottom of this. LOL

  • 2:12 el nino also fernando torres, so its his fault that famines occur XD

  • like, just pretend that you're asleep when the tax collecters come wtf

  • Absolutely well done and definitely keep it up! 👍👍👍👍👍

  • "The truth is always nuanced" This has to be one of the most unerrated points ever made. It is often too easy to describe one extreme or the other in an appealing manner but the real truth of any matter nearly always lies in the indescribable grey area in the middle.

  • 55 million Indians died due to the 31 famines that occurred during the 120 years of British Occupation
    By the 18th century India accounted for 22.6% of the world's income, but by the end of the British rule in 1947, it was reduced to a mere 3.8%. At the beginning of the 20th century, "the brightest jewel in the British Crown" was the poorest country in the world in terms of per capita income. That's how India, which was once one of the richest countries of the world, has now been reduced to the poster boy for third world poverty.

  • Not sure you did as good a job as you normally do in covering these topics in a 10 minute video. Your observations about the role of government, specifically, really could use one more edit, in my opinion. You showed excellent examples of how the government policies exacerbated the problem. But you seem to suggest that the answer is for the government to act more compassionately and “connect” people with the food that exists but that they can not access for various reasons. There are several problems with that way of simplifying the matter. The most basic is that governments do not have a magic wand to make food just appear. That food has to be produced by someone else. What, exactly, does a government “connecting” those people in need with available food look like? Any honest assessment would have to conclude that a free market does a much better job than governments do. There’s a lot more to be said on both sides of that, but my point is that it’s more than just a hole in your analysis, it’s a potentially very problematic conclusion stated as fact.

  • RIP kobe

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