Lane Vanderslice was editor of Hunger Notes from 1996-2016.
Vanderslice became interested in poverty and hunger issues after graduating from the University of Michigan in philosophy in 1959. Taking some time off after graduation, he hitchhiked around the country, working in various places. While in California, he worked as a migrant laborer and in canneries, and began to think about why he was making so little money (e.g.. three cents a pound for ”second picking” cotton– cotton that had already been picked by a mechanical cotton harvester). He met organizers for the AFL-CIO Agriculture Workers Organizing Committee– the precursor to the United Farm Workers of America– and volunteered to try to obtain union members in Fresno, California, where he picked cotton for the most part. As a result of this experience, he decided to go to graduate school in economics to try to understand why people are poor.
Vanderslice received his PhD from the University of Michigan in economics and, during the 1960s and 1970s taught at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Dearborn, the University of San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. He spent three years at the University of San Andres where he had a very valuable opportunity to try to understand why Bolivia was a poor country. His basic conclusion was that the political and economic system in Bolivia was not designed to help poor people there, but rather to help a small minority. Returning to the United States he tried to describe this political-economic system in general terms as he believed that other countries in the world and other times (e.g. slavery in the United States) fit the basic model. (See harmful economic systems.) After failing to make much and really no dent in the economics profession’s view of economics, in 1980 he took a position with Bread for the World, a Christian citizen’s organization, which wishes to reduce hunger and poverty in the world and in the United States principally through influencing U.S. government policies and funding.
Vanderslice was hired to develop and help Bread for the World execute a plan to increase U.S. support for land reform in developing countries. The war(s) in Central America made this difficult, if not impossible, as the Reagan administration supported land reform in El Salvador, while many others thought that this was an effort to prop up a government which was strongly influenced and possibly controlled by the military and the economic elite. This situation, a central foreign policy issue in the 1980s, made it impossible to implement a broader plan for land reform.
Vanderslice did participate with Bread for the World members and staff in a number of worthwhile legislative accomplishments including:
The Human Needs and World Security Act H.R. 4440. This bill, introduced by Congressman Tony Hall, and the past U.S. representative to FAO and the World Food Program, proposed a significant increase in United States development assistance funding, to be financed by reducing (the proposed increase in U.S. military assistance to foreign countries. It was introduced in 1983, legislative action was taken on the bill in 1984 and the funding for development accounts resulting from the bill appeared in FY 1985 (and subsequent years. See the basic bill information on our web site. This bill eventually gathered 110 cosponsors.) It was significant for number of reasons. It established the Child Survival Fund, a legislative funding category, to help poor children receive basic health care. This, over the years, has provided a way for Congress to substantially increase funding for children’s and women’s health. The bill provided an indication that political support for military assistance was not necessarily as strong as had been thought (the Reagan administration had secured large increases in the previous three years), as a House floor vote on a provision of the bill to provide no increase in military assistance failed by only one vote. Finally, it provided the first attempt to obtain additional microenterprise financing. The resulting increase in funding for health was described in an American Journal of Public Health article by John Quinley and Timothy Baker “Lobbying for International Health: the Link between Good Ideas and Funded Programs: Bread for the World and the Agency for International Development.” See also testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee advocating the establishment of the Child Survival Fund.
Another key accomplishment was legislative action permitting several billion dollars of debt forgiveness by the U.S. to the poorest developing countries. This is briefly described as part of a larger review of non-governmental organization efforts to affect U.S., other developed nations, and international financial institution policy on debt and structural adjustment. Proclaiming the Jubilee: the Debt and Structural Adjustment Network by Elizabeth A. Donnelly (see page 7 and 25). Also important was establishing, perhaps for the first time, an international debt crisis network to coordinate work internationally on debt forgiveness.
A third key accomplishment was influencing legislation concerning the World Bank. Every five years there is an authorization bill for the International Development Association, the “soft-loan” funding mechanism of the Bank. Vanderslice and others were able to persuade Congress to incorporate suggestion for improving the Bank’s poverty focus in the 1980s. See the bill HR 3750 whose poverty provisions were incorporated into law.
A “bright idea” of the Reagan Administration, at least at the beginning, was to use “food as a weapon,” going against a long U.S. tradition of humanitarian use of food assistance. Vanderslice’s op-ed in the New York Times, “The Good Samaritan Was Not Using Food As a Weapon.” possibly helped to lay this un-Christian and un-religious idea to rest.
Another important issue was reform of the U.S. food aid program, PL480 or Food for Peace, where feeding hungry people had become a secondary part of the program. One aspect was creating public and political support for a renewed food security emphasis in the program. Vanderslice’s op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor “Improving U.S. Food Aid,” was one part of the campaign. Vanderslice was at this point the public policy analyst for the National Council for International Health, now the Global Health Council.
From 1992 to 2006, Vanderslice worked for the Academy for Educational Development, doing health, nutrition and food security research for the United States Agency for International Development. Since 2012, he has been on the Steering Committee of the Union for Radical Political Economics.