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    Global Moderator Defense Professional JAD_333's Avatar
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    Food or Fuel

    The cost of food has been rising steadily. Experts say global biofuel production is partly to blame.

    With biofuel production on the rise, one can only wonder what the future holds in store: mass starvation, food riots, wars over corn fields, cuts in biofuel production.

    The world is gearing up for biofuel production. Can it be reversed? What is the answer? Nuke plants. Return to horse power? Are you worried what this means for the planet and its inhabitants?

    http://www.worldaffairsboard.com/new...newthread&f=22

    Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears
    Agnes Dherbeys for The New York Times

    Farmers in Thailand face a surging demand for cassava, a fairly new crop for biofuel production.
    By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
    Published: April 6, 2011


    The starchy cassava root has long been an important ingredient in everything from tapioca pudding and ice cream to paper and animal feed.

    Thailand's cassava goes mainly to China, which has sought new energy sources to power growth.
    Readers' Comments

    "People are starving around the world and we are filling our gas tanks instead. If this isn't perverse and and immoral, I don't know what is."

    But last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel. Driven by new demand, Thai exports of cassava chips have increased nearly fourfold since 2008, and the price of cassava has roughly doubled.

    Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. Cassava is a relatively new entrant in the biofuel stream.

    But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.

    This year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that its index of food prices was the highest in its more than 20 years of existence. Prices rose 15 percent from October to January alone, potentially “throwing an additional 44 million people in low- and middle-income countries into poverty,” the World Bank said.

    Soaring food prices have caused riots or contributed to political turmoil in a host of poor countries in recent months, including Algeria, Egypt and Bangladesh, where palm oil, a common biofuel ingredient, provides crucial nutrition to a desperately poor populace. During the second half of 2010, the price of corn rose steeply — 73 percent in the United States — an increase that the United Nations World Food Program attributed in part to the greater use of American corn for bioethanol.

    “The fact that cassava is being used for biofuel in China, rapeseed is being used in Europe, and sugar cane elsewhere is definitely creating a shift in demand curves,” said Timothy D. Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University who studies the topic. “Biofuels are contributing to higher prices and tighter markets.”

    In the United States, Congress has mandated that biofuel use must reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. The European Union stipulates that 10 percent of transportation fuel must come from renewable sources like biofuel or wind power by 2020. Countries like China, India, Indonesia and Thailand have adopted biofuel targets as well.

    To be sure, many factors help drive up the price of food, including bad weather that ruins crop yields and high oil prices that make transportation costly. Last year, for example, unusually severe weather destroyed wheat harvests in Russia, Australia and China, and an infestation of the mealy bug reduced Thailand’s cassava output.

    Olivier Dubois, a bioenergy expert at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, said it was hard to quantify the extent to which the diversions for biofuels had driven up food prices.

    “The problem is complex, so it is hard to come up with sweeping statements like biofuels are good or bad,” he said. “But what is certain is that biofuels are playing a role. Is it 20 or 30 or 40 percent? That depends on your modeling.”

    While no one is suggesting that countries abandon biofuels, Mr. Dubois and other food experts suggest that they should revise their policies so that rigid fuel mandates can be suspended when food stocks get low or prices become too high.

    “The policy really has to be food first,” said Hans Timmer, director of the Development Prospects Group of the World Bank. “The problems occur when you set targets for biofuels irrespective of the prices of other commodities.”

    Mr. Timmer said that the recent rise in oil prices was likely to increase the demand for biofuels.

    It can be tricky predicting how new demand from the biofuel sector will affect the supply and price of food. Sometimes, as with corn or cassava, direct competition between purchasers drives up the prices of biofuel ingredients. In other instances, shortages and price inflation occur because farmers who formerly grew crops like vegetables for consumption plant different crops that can be used for fuel.

    China learned this the hard way nearly a decade ago when it set out to make bioethanol from corn, only to discover that the plan caused alarming shortages and a rise in food prices. In 2007 the government banned the use of grains to make biofuel.

    Chinese scientists then perfected the process of making fuel from cassava, a root that yielded good energy returns, leading to the opening of the first commercial cassava ethanol plant several years ago.

    “They’re moving very aggressively in this new direction; cassava seems to be the go-to crop,” said Greg Harris, an analyst with Commodore Research and Consultancy in New York who has studied the trade.

    In addition to expanding cassava cultivation at home, China is buying from Cambodia and Laos as well as Thailand.

    Although a mainstay of diets in much of Africa, cassava is not central to Asian diets, even though the Chinese once called it “the underground food store” because it provided crucial backup nutrition in lean harvest years. So the Chinese reasoned that making fuel with cassava would not directly affect food prices or create food shortages, at least at home. The proportion of Chinese cassava going to ethanol leapt to 52 percent last year from 10 percent in 2008.

    More distant or indirect impacts are considered to be likely, however. Because cassava chips have been commonly used as animal feed, new demand from the biofuels industry might affect the availability and cost of meat. In Southeast Asian countries where China is paying generously for stockpiles of cassava, farmers may be tempted to grow the crop instead of, for example, other vegetables or rice.

    And if China turned to Africa as a source, one of that continent’s staple food crops could be in jeopardy, although experts note that exporting cassava could also become a business opportunity.

    “This is becoming a more valuable cash crop,” Mr. Harris said. “The farmland is limited, so the more that is devoted to fuel, the less is devoted to food.”

    The Chinese demand for cassava could also dent planned biofuel production in poorer Asian nations: in the Philippines and Cambodia, developers were recently forced to suspend the construction of cassava bioethanol plants because the tuber had become too expensive.

    Thailand’s own nascent biofuel industry may have trouble getting the homegrown cassava it needs because it may not be able to match the prices offered by Chinese buyers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

    Biofuels development in wealthier nations has already proved to have a powerful effect on the prices and the cultivation of crops. Encouraged by national biofuel subsidies, nearly 40 percent of the corn grown in the United States now goes to make fuel, with prices of corn on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rising 73 percent from June to December 2010.

    Such price rises also have distant ripple effects, food security experts say. “How much does the price of corn in Chicago influence the price of corn in Rwanda? It turns out there is a correlation,” said Marie Brill, senior policy analyst at ActionAid, an international development group. The price of corn in Rwanda rose 19 percent last year.

    “For Americans it may mean a few extra cents for a box of cereal,” she said. “But that kind of increase puts corn out of the range of impoverished people.”

    Higher prices also mean that groups like the World Food Program can buy less food to feed the world’s hungry.

    European biofuels developers are buying large tracts of what they call “marginal land” in Africa with the aim of cultivating biofuel crops, particularly the woody bush known as jatropha. Advocates say that promoting jatropha for biofuels production has little impact on food supplies. But some of that land is used by poor people for subsistence farming or for gathering food like wild nuts.

    “We have to move away from the thinking that producing an energy crop doesn’t compete with food,” said Mr. Dubois of the Food and Agriculture Organization. “It almost inevitably does.”
    To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato

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    Battleship Enthusiast Defense Professional USSWisconsin's Avatar
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    “We have to move away from the thinking that producing an energy crop doesn’t compete with food,” said Mr. Dubois of the Food and Agriculture Organization. “It almost inevitably does.”
    I strongly agree, and besides this, it doesn't save energy either
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    Quote Originally Posted by USSWisconsin View Post
    I strongly agree, and besides this, it doesn't save energy either
    Concur in part, using cash crops competes with food, although probably less than the increasing rates of meat consumption.

    Dissent in part, biofule can be made from any biomass including staple crop wastage like rice husks, corn stalks and wheat chaff or other biowate like stray dogs killed in shelters, waste paper, sewage, construction site wood debry...
    Although staple crop growers don't like these methods since they don't add to price spikes.

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    All y'all just a bunch of global warming deniers.
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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    Concur in part, using cash crops competes with food, although probably less than the increasing rates of meat consumption.

    Dissent in part, biofule can be made from any biomass including staple crop wastage like rice husks, corn stalks and wheat chaff or other biowate like stray dogs killed in shelters, waste paper, sewage, construction site wood debry...
    Although staple crop growers don't like these methods since they don't add to price spikes.
    The article mentioned bioethanol, methanol is different, I agree, it can use actual waste effectively. Bio-diesel is only good in a few niche situations, like restaurant owners running their own cars, factories with big friers making fuel for their trucks, or Navy carriers feeding fried food to 6000 people and supplementing their fuel stocks with the waste oil produced bio-diesel. Where there is waste cooking oil, biodeisel is a good way to recycle it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    The cost of food has been rising steadily. Experts say global biofuel production is partly to blame.
    I must be an uber-expert because I said this long ago. You can't turn food to fuel because guess what happens to the cost of fuel\food? HA!

    With biofuel production on the rise, one can only wonder what the future holds in store: mass starvation,
    Already happening.
    food riots,
    Already happening, and almost as long as the preceeding.
    wars over corn fields, cuts in biofuel production.
    Coming soon to a cornfield near you!

    The world is gearing up for biofuel production. Can it be reversed?
    Yes. When it collapses.
    What is the answer?
    Kick tree-huggers to the curb and drill right through them if they get in the way.

    Nuke plants.
    I would normally say yes, but I defer to that question to Japan.

    Return to horse power?
    I'm good and ready with that, but we won't be discussing favorite horses on the WAB if it comes to that.
    Are you worried what this means for the planet and its inhabitants?
    Nope. Not one bit. Hope it happens, right down to horses. Unlike billions of other people, I can live in that world, not survive....live.

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    re: whom is really supporting bio-fuels, most of the environmentalists out there have been against corn-based biofuels for some time now.

    but guess which state finds bio-fuel subsidies real popular....and why politicians want to support it.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."Ě- Isaac Asimov

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    I used to buy into the notion that more energy is expended to plant, grow, and harvest distillate crops, than is gained from the product itself. In many cases, it can and does, and the corn --> ethanol track is more a political creation than an essential one. But consider:

    Plants are a biological solar panel. A tree planted in an open field gathers solar energy and grows in mass. Someday, perhaps, scientists might bio-engineer a plant like cassava that is extremely efficient at this. The plant would ideally be sown by scattering seed from the air. Three passes of an ag aircraft, and the field is seeded.

    The plant would have to out-compete weeds and nuisance plants. No other plant has a chance to take root.

    The plant would also have to fix nitrogen from the air. No fertilizer, ever, and must grow well in poor soils.

    So in the end, the seeds go down, the plant grows with zero human interference, and the energy yield is much greater than the harvesting and procesing. Net energy gain. The good part of this notion is that the plant need not taste good, need not be palatable. Someday we'll see this, perhaps. But corn isn't the answer.

    And it still doesn't address the loss of ag land to energy, unless the plant can be engineered to grow in soil so poor, nothing else grows well. The other drawback is that is the plant escapes, it might ravage native vegetation. I suppose the bio-engineers could implant a "destruct" chromosome in it so that a very simple spraying of a harmless chemical might kill it, or sterilize it.

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    IIRC brazilian sugar-cane is far more effective, and the brazilians themselves have been undergoing a lot of genetic research to improve the energy ratio that can be extracted.

    but obviously it's a lot easier for us to grow corn than cane...
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."Ě- Isaac Asimov

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    They need to get back to methanol with the alcohol game, the mashing, fermentation, and distillation are way to energy intensive for the yield of fuel, methanol only requires a one step cracking into the methanol (and doesn't need sugar or carbs). Indy cars (and lots of other race cars) used to run on methanol before the corn fuel subsidies. Neither kind of alcohol has half as much energy as gas, so mileage would be low. Special high compression engines could help that some, but would limited to alcohol. LPG is another fuel that is abundant and low polluting.
    Last edited by USSWisconsin; 08 Apr 11, at 15:01.
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    While there seems to be a census on the issue here has there been any candidate that oppossed the subsidies and still got nominated?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chogy View Post
    I used to buy into the notion that more energy is expended to plant, grow, and harvest distillate crops, than is gained from the product itself. In many cases, it can and does, and the corn --> ethanol track is more a political creation than an essential one.
    Things like the Bosch-Haber ammonium fixing process require a large amount of fuel. Around 11 joules of hydrocarbons are consumed to get one joule of hydrocarbon we eat.

    On topic, GM modified foods can and most probably will be the solution to this problem. One area that can count (for now, if the Malthusians are proved wrong) on steady demand is the agricultural industry. Food prices will soar and make agriculture profitable. I buy into the theory of Non-Anthropogenic climate change, and as such intensive GM modification potentially has the chance to start another "green revolution" so to speak. As long as we can manage to supply food for a max. of 9 Billion people, we will be fine, because by then (2050 according to U.N projection) birth rates will slow and population will slowly decline.
    Last edited by Wayfarer; 09 Apr 11, at 08:50.

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    Global Moderator Defense Professional JAD_333's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 7thsfsniper View Post
    I must be an uber-expert because I said this long ago. You can't turn food to fuel because guess what happens to the cost of fuel\food? HA!
    7th:

    I do indeed remember you saying that.

    I had my doubts too. I had some penny shares in a biodiesel producer a long time ago and the more I studied up on it, the more it seemed the sector was limited by the price of corn. Well, bless the government for coming along and subsidizing corn for biofuel producers.

    What I don't understand is how we're better off with 10% ethanol. Price at the pump didn't change, as I recall, but MPG dropped about 15%. Pay the same, get worse mileage. How does that reduce oil imports?
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    What I don't understand is how we're better off with 10% ethanol. Price at the pump didn't change, as I recall, but MPG dropped about 15%. Pay the same, get worse mileage. How does that reduce oil imports?
    1. Price at the pump changed (up up up). Now you drive 85% of what you were used to, for a higher price, but on home made subsided corn. I guess
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wayfarer View Post
    As long as we can manage to supply food for a max. of 9 Billion people, we will be fine, because by then (2050 according to U.N projection) birth rates will slow and population will slowly decline.
    Wayfarer:

    I am on the fence about GM foods. Pure ignorance. The opposition makes some pretty damning charges against it. I need satisfy myself that the cure isn't worse than the illness.

    Of course, we know Malthus was proved wrong, but population has gotten way up there. The number has prompted humanitarians. to call for controls to save the planet from over-population. Governments have gotten worried too. China's one-child policy and forced sterilization of woman in several poorer countries are two results.

    Bu not everyone is alarmed. The author of the excellent talk I've posted below points out that economists disagree on the seriousness of the threat and believe the humanitarian approach is counterproductive.

    PDF 03/2011

    March 2011
    William McGurn
    Vice President
    News Corporation
    The Not So Dismal Science: Humanitarians v. Economists

    William McGurn is a vice president for News Corporation and writes the weekly “Main Street” column for The Wall Street Journal. From 2005 to 2008, he served as chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Prior to that he was the chief editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal and spent more than ten years in Europe and Asia for Dow Jones. He has written for a wide variety of publications, including Esquire, the Washington Post, the Spectator of London and the National Catholic Register. He holds a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in communications from Boston University, and currently serves on the boards of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the website Ricochet.com.

    The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 3, 2011, during the author's two-week teaching residency as a distinguished visiting fellow in speech and journalism.


    THIS EVENING I PROPOSE to take on one of the greatest libels in the English language: the description of economics as “the dismal science.” I hold a different view—that when it comes to seeing the potential in even the most desperate citizens of this earth, our economists, business leaders, and champions of a commercial republic are often far ahead of our progressives, artists, and humanitarians. And therein lies my tale.

    Hillsdale College is very much a part of this drama. For “dismal science” was born as an epithet meant to dismiss those arguing that slaves deserved their freedom. In fact, the first recorded mention of the phrase “dismal science” occurs in 1849—just five years after Hillsdale was founded. As the dates suggest, both Hillsdale’s founding and the caricature “dismal science” were not unrelated to a great debate in England that in our nation would be resolved by civil war.

    Tonight I hope to persuade you that to call economics the “dismal science” has it exactly backwards—that it is the economists and businessmen who hold the hopeful view of life, and that far from being fundamentally opposed, the admirers of Adam Smith have more in common with the followers of the Good Book than we might suppose.

    The Anti-Slavery Divide

    Let’s start with “dismal science” itself. Even those who know nothing about economics have heard the term. A few might even know that it was Thomas Carlyle who came up with it.

    Very few know the salient point: Carlyle deployed the term in a magazine polemic entitled “An Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.” In that essay, Carlyle savaged the two groups who were leading the British fight against slavery: economists and evangelicals. The latter were sometimes abbreviated to “Exeter Hall”—a reference to the London building that served as the center of British evangelism and philanthropy.

    Carlyle argued that if blacks were left to the laws of supply and demand—the way he saw a commercial society—they would be condemned to a life of misery. For their own and society’s sake, what they needed was a “beneficent whip.” We might not take this argument seriously today. But it was taken very seriously in 19th century Britain.

    Carlyle’s friend and later bÍte-noire was John Stuart Mill. When Carlyle attacked “the laws of supply and demand,” he had in mind the views of the man who would become famous for his essay “On Liberty.”

    Nothing better illustrates the divide between these two men than their different reactions toward the brutal suppression of a rebellion in colonial Jamaica in 1865. The British governor, Edward Eye, had hundreds of Jamaicans killed or executed, hundreds more flogged, and even more homes and huts burnt down. Among those Governor Eye had executed was George Gordon, a mixed-race member of the Jamaican House of Assembly.

    When the news reached Britain, prominent citizens organized a Jamaica Committee demanding that the governor be recalled and prosecuted for murder. The committee was an odd assortment of Christians and agnostics—with John Stuart Mill at the head. Other prominent members included Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin, free-market champion John Bright, and Henry Fawcett, a professor of political economy at Cambridge.

    On the opposing side defending the governor was another committee. This one was headed by Carlyle. On this committee were men who by any definition would be recognized as some of the leading humanitarians and literary figures of the day: Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Alfred Tennyson, and Charles Kingsley.

    The clash between these opposing forces—and the alliance between evangelicals and economists—is laid out in fascinating detail in a remarkable book by David Levy called How the Dismal Science Got Its Name. Those who saw freedom as the answer to slavery—people like Mill, John Bright, and Archbishop Richard Whately—generally believed that it was law and custom and not nature keeping black men and women in a degraded state.

    Mill and Carlyle were squaring off in England after a similar debate here in America had been resolved by a war—a war whose dividing lines represented a similar alignment of forces.

    As in England, many of the foot soldiers here in the fight against slavery were drawn from the ranks of Christians. These included men like Edmund Fairfield, who helped found both Hillsdale College and the Republican Party. These Christians were joined in the Republican Party by remnants of the old Whig party. These were men who might be described as Chamber of Commerce types. They were people who shared Lincoln’s vision of a modern commercial republic. In such an economy, ordinary men and women could—as Lincoln did—rise in society with hard work and enterprise. They were generally neither as philosophical nor as pure on free trade as their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. Still, they appreciated that an economy based on slave labor was fundamentally incompatible with the kind of opportunity society encouraged by commercial exchange.

    Eventually this coalition would propel a one-term member of the House of Representatives, Abraham Lincoln, to the White House. Theirs was not, however, an easy alliance. They had their differences, occupied different places in American society, and as a result spoke somewhat different languages.

    Yet on the issue of the time, they were allied. They were the American version of the same alliance that Carlyle dismissed in his essay. He called it, “Exeter Hall Philanthropy and the Dismal Science, led by the sacred cause of Black Emancipation.” And precisely because their triumph was so sweeping and so complete, today we find it hard to imagine just how brave and eccentric their stand made them in their own day.

    The Divide Over Babies

    Slavery is not the only human issue where the economists have shown themselves to advantage. Throughout the 20th century and now into our own, we see a similar dynamic on another issue that pits the humanitarians and artists against the economists and the Christians. This is the call for population control.

    Once again, the progressive argument is that human beings are by their nature a liability to poor societies. Once again, when people resist the obvious prescription—in this case, having fewer children—the so-called humanitarian solution turns out to require more and more government coercion. Once again, the economists offer a more hopeful way forward.

    The idea that a growing population is bad for a nation has its roots in the writings of a British clergyman named Thomas Malthus. In 1798 Malthus wrote a now-famous essay contending that, left to our own devices, human beings will increase our numbers beyond the earth’s ability to sustain us. In one way or another, all arguments for population control boil down to this proposition.

    In the immediate years following World War II, population control was tainted by its association with Nazi eugenics. In the 1960s, however, it came back with a vengeance. By the end of that decade, among our enlightened class it had become a cherished orthodoxy that the greatest threat poor nations faced came from their own babies.

    In good part this was the result of one man: Robert McNamara. In his maiden speeches as World Bank president in 1968 and 1969—including, I am sad to say, at Notre Dame—McNamara spoke in language soaked in the imagery of nuclear holocaust. Mankind, he said, was doomed if we didn’t do everything we could to address what he called the “mushrooming cloud of the population explosion.”

    McNamara would later go on to suggest that population growth represented a graver threat than thermonuclear war. The reason? Because the decisions that led to growing populations—that is, to have babies or not—were “not in the exclusive control of a few governments but rather in the hands of literally hundreds of millions of individual parents.”

    He was not alone. Around the same time, Paul Ehrlich released his book The Population Bomb. It opened with this sunny sentence: “The battle to feed all humanity is over.” Mr. Ehrlich, a biologist, was even less bashful about the logic than Mr. McNamara. “We must,” he said, “have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail.”

    Anyone recall how popular the book was at the time? It sold three million copies, got Ehrlich on the Tonight Show, and won him a MacArthur Genius Award.

    A few years later, an international group of experts meeting at David Rockefeller’s estate in Italy came together to form the Club of Rome—and then issued a famous report called “Limits to Growth.” Like Malthus and McNamara, this group argued that we live in a world of diminishing resources. This report also sold millions of copies in many different languages. And in much the same way that fears about global warming have inspired alarmist headlines in our day, the Club of Rome’s predictions fed our press a sensationalist diet of doom and gloom.

    So here’s a question. What happens when you think that the cause of a nation’s poverty is not too much government in the market but not enough government control over how many children a couple will have?

    In China it led to forced abortions and a birth rate wildly skewed against baby girls.

    In India in the mid-1970s, it led to a mass campaign of assembly-line sterilizations. So brutal was the policy, it provoked a backlash that brought down Indira Gandhi’s government the following year.

    In South Africa and Namibia, it led to policies that appeared to target the part of the population least able to defend itself. Young black women were given contraceptive injections without their consent—not infrequently right after the birth of their first child.

    In short, from Peru to the Philippines, innocent men and women were subjected to outrages all based on the assumption that our new humanitarians shared with Mr. Carlyle: the need for a beneficent whip.

    And who were the voices of protest? Who reminded the experts and self-styled humanitarians that human beings flourish in liberty and languish when they are treated like chattel? Who argued that the way to help the world’s poor was not to tell them that their babies are a burden, but to tear down government barriers preventing them from taking their rightful place in the global economy?

    The answer is: the economists.

    Lord Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics was among the first. Early in the 1970s, he pointed to the absurdity behind the notion that the instant a calf is born in a country, national wealth is said to rise, while the instant a child is born, it is said to drop.

    Likewise, Julian Simon would write a famous book called The Ultimate Resource. In that book, he demonstrated that most of the arguments pointing to catastrophe were based on faulty evidence—starting with the reigning assumption. As he put it, “the source of improvements in productivity is the human mind, and a human mind is seldom found unaccompanied by the human body.”

    Gary Becker would take this argument even further. Indeed, he would win a Nobel Prize for his work arguing that the most important resource for economic advancement is “human capital”—the knowledge, skills, and habits that make people productive.

    Fellow Nobel winner Amartya Sen once described the opposing view this way: “The tendency to see in population growth an explanation for every calamity that afflicts poor people is now fairly well established in some circles, and the message that gets transmitted constantly is the opposite of the old picture postcard: ‘Wish you weren’t here.’”

    And so on. Like the John Stuart Mills and the John Brights who sided with the evangelicals fighting slavery in the 19th century, the economists who today take issue with population control are not necessarily personally religious. Yet in their fundamental insistence that a nation’s people are its most precious resource, they offer a far more promising foundation for the humane society than those who continue to see men and women as rutting animals breeding to their own destruction.

    They also have history on their side:

    In the two centuries since Malthus first predicted the apocalypse, the world population has risen sixfold—from one billion to more than six billion. Over the same time, average life expectancy has more than doubled—and average real income has risen ninefold.

    In the four decades since Paul Ehrlich declared the battle to feed humanity over, a Chinese people who saw millions of their fellow citizens perish from famine as recently as the early 1960s are now better fed than ever in memory.

    And in the years since Mr. McNamara predicted we could not sustain existing population levels, we have seen the greatest economic takeoff in East Asia—among nations with almost no natural resources and some of the largest and most crowded populations in the world.

    Not that the record counts for much. Time and again Malthus has been disproved—and Malthus himself seems to have revised his own thinking in later years. Advanced and comfortable societies, however, seem to have an appetite for the prophets of apocalypse. The jargon may change—Mr. McNamara’s warnings about thermonuclear war have given way to ominous talk of carbon footprints, unsustainable growth, ‘Humanpox,’ and the like. Yet at the bottom of it all remains the same zero-sum approach that sees the human being as the enemy rather than the solution.

    And the greatest irony of all? Many of the same nations that once tried so hard to push their birth rates down—Japan and Singapore, for example—are now frantically trying to encourage their people to have more children as they see the costs of a rapidly aging population. My own prediction is that within a few years China will join them, replacing its one-child policy with inducements to Chinese women to have more babies.

    Am I suggesting, then, that we trade the Sermon on the Mount for The Wealth of Nations? Hardly. I do say that when it comes to the banquet of life, our economists have proved themselves more gracious hosts than our humanitarians; that a businessman who travels to a poor country and envisions a thriving factory has a more realistic assessment of human possibility than the U.N. aid worker who believes the answer is reducing the birth rate; and that the champions of liberty tend to do better by humanity than the champions of humanity do by either.

    Morality and Markets

    If I am right, there are promising implications for those of us who share a trust in what free men and free women can accomplish for themselves. In one of the profiles on your college website, I came across a student who said that while on most campuses the debate is between Democrats and Republicans, here at Hillsdale political arguments usually occur between libertarians and conservatives.

    That is a healthy debate. Each side has something vital to contribute. The free market cannot long survive without an appreciation that many of the virtues required for its successful operation are things that the market cannot itself produce. At the same time, a conservatism that lacks an appreciation for the dynamics of a free market—and its confidence in the ability of free men and free women to build a better future—can easily trend toward the brittle and resentful. We all know, for example, the wartime speeches of Winston Churchill. But his 1904 speech to the Free Trade League is worth reading for a reminder of the confidence in human potential that helped inject his conservatism with vigor and confidence.

    On specific issues, of course—whether to legalize drugs, whether marriage should be extended to same-sex couples, what limits there ought to be on abortion, how far our security agencies might go in protecting us from threats—we will always have disagreements. The disagreements are real, serious, and can be contentious. Still, we ought not let these disagreements blind us to the larger sympathy between the conservative and libertarian schools of thought when it comes to the fulcrum of a free society: the unalienable dignity and matchless potential of every human life.

    The book of Genesis tells us we possess this dignity because we have been fashioned in the image and likeness of our Creator. Adam Smith told us that we are equal because we share the same human nature. At a time when some races of men were thought inherently inferior, he put it this way: “The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of.’ In this age, the libertarian and conservative are different sides of the same coin—much as Smith himself was both a political economist and a distinguished professor of moral philosophy.

    Let me close with a story. Nearly a decade ago, I attended a conference on globalization at the Vatican that brought together economists and leaders from various religious faiths. From the first, it was clear that each profession found the other’s approach different from its own—and fascinating. As the conference developed, it became even clearer that while the language and approach of religion and economics differed, each was ultimately grounded in the same appreciation of individual human worth.

    Gary Becker put it this way: “I am struck by the similarity between the church’s view of the relationship between the family and the economy and the view of economists—arrived at by totally independent means. Economic science and spiritual concerns appear to point in the same direction.”

    So let others speak of a dismal science. We—the champions of human dignity and possibility—need to cheer and celebrate.

    One does not have to be an economist to recognize that societies that open their markets are better fed, better housed, and offer better opportunities for upward mobility than societies that remain closed and bureaucratic. Nor does one have to be a religious believer to recognize that the source of all man’s wealth has been just this: that he does not take the world as given, but uses his mind to find new and creative ways to take from the earth and add to its bounty.

    If, however, we do believe, can we really be surprised that the Almighty who created us in His image also bequeathed to us a world where we are most prosperous when we are most free?
    Hillsdale College - By Date
    Last edited by JAD_333; 10 Apr 11, at 03:30.
    To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato

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