The 1943 Bengal famine has been cited by Amartya Sen and others as a classic example of market failure. But in his new (and excellent) book Eating Dead People is Wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, Its Past, and Its Future, Cormac Ó Gráda devotes an entire chapter to that episode and comes away with a different impression. Here is a summary sentence:
The 1943-44 famine has become paradigmatic as an “entitlements famine,” whereby speculation born of greed and panic produced an “artificial” shortage of rice, the staple food. Here I have argued that the lack of political will to divert foodstuffs from the war effort rather than speculation in the sense outlined was mainly responsible for the famine.
I will add to that price controls were imposed once the famine was underway, and campaigns were conducted against hoarders.
In the book I also very much enjoyed the discussion of the 1946-47 famine in Moldova, which apparently involved a good deal of cannibalism.