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 in canneries and as a migrant laborer, 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– a 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.
He went to graduate school at Wayne State University and then at the University of Michigan. In 1968, Vanderslice was part of a group of graduate students in economics who, dissatisfied with the state of academic economics, issued a call to other economics departments for a conference in Ann Arbor, This conference led to the founding of the Union for Radical Political Economics. Vanderslice received his PhD from the University of Michigan in economics and, during the 1970s, taught at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the University of San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. He spent three years at the University of San Andres where he had a very valuable opportunity to try to understand the politics and economics of Bolivia. One 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, and that this differed substantially from orthodox economic analysis. He was not successful in getting these articles published. (See Exploitative Economic Systems, the principal paper from this time.)
Bread for the World. After failing to make a dent in the economics profession’s view of economics, in 1980 he took a position with Bread for the World, a Christian citizens’ 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, which seemed possible during the Carter administration. The war(s) in Central America, fomented by the new Reagan administration, made this difficult, or impossible, 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 controlled by the elite and the military. The wars in Central America, a central foreign policy issue in the 1980s, made it impossible to implement a broader plan for land reform.
Vanderslice participated 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, (also 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. 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 billions of dollars of debt forgiveness by the U.S. to the poorest developing countries. Debt forgiveness for U.S. development and economic support fund assistance was authorized in the 1989 Foreign Operations Appropriation Act and PL480 debt forgiveness was authorized in the 1990 farm bill. By 1991 this had resulted in $2.71 billion in debt forgiveness. See Proclaiming the Jubilee: the Debt and Structural Adjustment Network by Elizabeth A. Donnelly (pp. 7, 25, and 43). Also important was establishing 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 suggestions 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 lay this unreligious 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.
Academy for Educational Development 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. One publication from this time is The Governance Dimensions of Food Security in Nicaragua.
World Hunger Education Service. Lane Vanderslice was editor of Hunger Notes from 1996 to 2016. He started with editing one issue in 1995, and then, when the founder of the World Hunger Education Service (WHES), Pat Kutzner retired in 1996, became editor. It was very gratifying to bring information about people who are hungry and poor to interested readers, to better understand the situation of hungry people and take steps to help them.
—Articles on the role that conflict plays in creating hunger, why governments have done relatively little about hunger, the human right to food, and on sustaining commitment to acting against world hunger, are just a few of articles that have raised important questions and been widely read.
—The fact sheet on world hunger, begun in 2002 and updated every year since, has become the most popular page. Hunger Notes now has fact sheets on hunger in the United States, hunger in Africa, and other topics.
—Hunger quizzes help readers, especially students, understand more about hunger. In response, a small contribution to an anti-hunger organization for each quiz taken, which adds up, as many people take a quiz each month.
—Hunger Notes has been published continuously since 1974. It started as a a mimeographed monthly newsletter to keep the newly formed Episcopal Hunger Network updated on relevant resources and events. It evolved to a print publication sent out to many. In the late 1990s it was published in both print and on-line and then began web-only publication in 2001. Its readership has increased substantially over the period.
Union for Radical Political Economics From 2012-2018, he was on the Steering Committee of URPE.