Famine

What Global Food Crisis?: Ronald Bailey's Wall Street Journal Review of The Reproach of Hunger

Neo-Malthusians still get it wrong: Markets and science will feed 9 billion if not blocked.

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GrainIndia
dw.com

Today, I have a review in the Wall Street Journal of journalist David Rieff's turgid new Neo-Malthusian tome, The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century. In particular, Rieff disdains those who argue that liberal capitalism and technological progress are key to ameliorating hunger around the globe. Below are a couple of excerpts from the review:

In the late 18th century, Robert Thomas Malthus argued that human population growth would always outstrip food production, thus perpetually condemning some portion of humanity to famine. His disciples today are now pointing to recent steep increases in food prices as harbingers of a new age of scarcity. Global food prices have indeed been soaring, along with other commodity prices, since 2005. In real terms, the Food and Agriculture Organization's price index crested in 2011 at 60% above its 2005 price levels. Farmers around the world predictably reacted to the higher prices by growing more food. World cereal production rose from 2,348 million tons in 2011 to 2,540 million tons today. Since the 2011 peak, food prices have been drifting downward, although they remain 18% higher than they were a decade or so ago.

ReproahofHunger
Simon&Schuster

Cue the prophets of doom. Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute has said that the world is now at "peak everything." He has further warned that humanity is "waking up to a century of declines." In 2013, Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown asserted: "The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity." Journalist Joel K. Bourne Jr. declared earlier this year, in his book "The End of Plenty," that "the world is running out of food."

Now comes the neo-Malthusian journalist David Rieff. He argues in "The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century" that "if significant changes to the global food system are not made, a crisis of absolute global food supply could occur sometime between 2030 and 2050." Mr. Rieff's argument is halfhearted in comparison to Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich's bold 1968 pronouncement, in "The Population Bomb," that "the battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now."

The chief question for Mr. Rieff is: Will it be possible to feed the nine billion people who will most likely be living on the planet by the middle of this century? He writes that, "in the main," his "own views are pessimistic." But he immediately acknowledges the possibility of predictive failure and declares: "I insist that it is entirely possible that twenty years from now, it is the optimists who will be proven right."

I conclude:

The recipe for prosperity is known: strong property rights, a free press, the rule of law, free trade, honest bureaucracies, limited government and democratic politics. In other words: liberal capitalism. If more of humanity adopts this recipe, the optimists will indeed be proved right and Mr. Rieff wrong.

Go here to read the whole review at the Journal (behind a paywall).

By the way, I have a new book out that explains the recent runup in commodity prices and how markets and the application of science, if unleashed, will be able to feed 9 to 10 billion people by the middle of this century, all the while substantially reducing the amount of land farmed around the globe.

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  1. Now I don’t feel so guilty for picking up a 16 piece KFC (just chicken) on Friday and consuming it all myself (last two pieces for lunch today).

    I am no better than Adam Lanza, am I? Or Kim Davis – same thing.

  2. IN 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus inaugurated a grand tradition of environmentalism with his best-selling pamphlet on population. Malthus argued with impeccable logic but distinctly peccable premises that since population tended to increase geometrically (1,2,4,8 ) and food supply to increase arithmetically (1,2,3,4 ), the starvation of Great Britain was inevitable and imminent. Almost everybody thought he was right. He was wrong.

    In 1865 an influential book by Stanley Jevons argued with equally good logic and equally flawed premises that Britain would run out of coal in a few short years’ time. In 1914, the United States Bureau of Mines predicted that American oil reserves would last ten years. In 1939 and again in 1951, the Department of the Interior said American oil would last 13 years. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

    “Plenty of Gloom”, The economist Dec 18th 1997

  3. OT: I just saw this on facebook:

    Michael Jordan reportedly went to the funeral of one of his deceased employees in China. I wonder how many funerals he has attended in Chicago for the kids who have been murdered for their Air Jordans

    1. I suppose the US Federal Reserve is directly responsible for all the deaths of people killed during robberies where cash was stolen.

      1. And Apple is responsible for people being beaten/killed for their iPhones.

        Why do these monsters keep making products that people covet? We need Bernie Sanders and his one-deodorant policy more than ever!

        1. Ugh, and you just KNOW that Bernie’s preferred deodorant is some hippie crystal shit that doesn’t work.

          1. I just mix a little dried wild leeks with ground buckwheat and slap that on every morning. I’ve convinced myself that it works like a charm. But you wouldn’t believe the prices for dried wild leeks at Whole Foods…

          2. I actually thought those salt crystal deodorant things worked OK. But I hardly ever use deodorant and have a naturally delightful odor.

    2. I was unaware that Jordan had any employees in China. Nike might, though.

  4. Farmers around the world predictably reacted to the higher prices by growing more food.

    Wait a gosh darn second here! You mean to say that farmers increase food production without some prime directive from government? That prices create incentives without any government force involved? That’s ludicrous! Only force can create incentives! More libertarian dogma insisting that the economy spontaneously evolves and is not created by our god government! Stupid libertarians! And don’t get me started on those stupid Christians who believe in creationism instead of evolution!

      1. Bernie will know how to handle them

        1. I spent a weekend at his place. Had a great time.

          1. If that particular Bernie were President, we’d have a much brighter future.

            1. He’d certainly have a stiffer spine when dealing with Putin and handle China with more rigor

              1. His position on abortion is dead on.

    1. You mean to say that farmers increase food production without some prime directive from government

      It was corporate farms that increased production so they could continue to reap obscene profits from the food slavery that binds poor people.

  5. I heard something about Bailey writing a book. Anyone know if it’s out yet?

    1. I think it’s called The Independents? Haven’t read it. Probaly won’t, either.

      1. No, no, no! It’s called The United States of Paranoia!

        1. I thought it was Radicals for Capitalism?

          1. C’mon guys:

            Just buy it. The End of Doom makes a wonderful and thoughtful Christmas, birthday, anniversary, bar & bat mitzvah, Thanksgiving, Eid, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Festivus, and Flag Day gift. You simply can’t have too many copies. Just saying.

            1. From a 3 star review:

              So, I recommend the book…..although I will say that it’ll take you a good two weeks to read, and the references will drive you crazy at times, with science spilling out on every single page.

              Oh no, not science!

              1. Did someone take a vote? Was there a consensus of experts? No? Then it’s not science.

            2. Are you *fuckin’* with me Bailey? $14.99 for the Kindle version but you can get the *hardcover* for $13?

              1. A: Publishers are mysterious, almost godlike creatures whose ways and motivations are opaque to nearly everyone, most especially including journalists who write some of the books they put on the market.

                1. All right, all right, I bought it. It better be good – I really enjoyed your ‘Saying Yes’.

              2. Re: Agammamon,

                Are you *fuckin’* with me Bailey? $14.99 for the Kindle version but you can get the *hardcover* for $13?

                It is not easy to be green… if you’re cheap.

            3. You forgot Arbor Day.

            4. Is this the one where the Fantastic Four finally puts an end to their nemisis once and for all?

              1. “Is this the one where the Fantastic Four finally puts an end to their nemisis once and for all?”

                Is that in March after some playoff games?

    2. It’s off my to-read shelf and off the to-read desk pile and on my reading pile of two books, the other being a book about sextants and navigation.

      Strangely enough, End of Doom was in the to-read shelf for so long that I ordered a second copy. Gave it away to one of those free library boxes, where it has probably already been read several times, unless some eco-freak got hold of it and threw it out in outrage.

      1. I too started using my neighborhood free library boxes to spread subversive literature.

    3. I got a mysterious free copy of the book. I recommend it highly.

  6. “if not blocked.”

    What do you thing they’re trying to do right now?

  7. His disciples today are now pointing to recent steep increases in food prices as harbingers of a new age of scarcity.

    My I direct you to today’s special which includes socialistic policies and crushing regulation?

    1. All those good intentions taste like shit.

      1. Good intentions taste good, that’s why they’re so popular. The unintended consequences come when you shit your guts out a while later.

        1. Good intentions taste good

          Like antifreeze.

        2. Like Chinese buffet that gives you atomic shits a half hour after you eat it?

          1. I thought that was Indian.

  8. Don’t these people ever get tired of being wrong?

    1. No because people never get tired of being boring pessimists. I just don’t get it, but people are simply in love with the idea that we are all doomed.

      1. Someone who I can easily ignore was telling me that once the bees are gone, we only have one harvest before there’s no more grain!
        I paid enough attention to remember that bit of happy-horseshit.

        1. I think that when bees are gone there is nothing but grain (grain is pollinated by the wind).

          There is actually a problem with bees dying. But international commerce and market price signalling seems to be maintaining an adequate supply of pollinators.

          1. “There is a problem with bees dying”

            Not according to this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/he…..different/

            1. That doesn’t quite say that. That particular pesticide isn’t the cause, and bees aren’t going to disappear because they are very useful and in demand. But colony collapse is a real thing. The problem is that as usual the alarmists imagine that everyone will just keep doing the same thing in the face of a problem, even though that never happens.

        2. Of course, bees are not going anywhere. We might have a shortage of honeybees but that isn’t really going to affect plants that depend on bees for pollination. Trying to get cheap honey, on the other hand…

          1. Actually, honey bees are extremely important to food production. Honey is largely a by-product. Bee keepers make most of their money renting out hives to farmers of things that require insect pollinators. Productivity is much higher than it would be only with natural pollinators.
            So it is a real concern. There have been a few years when it got to be a lot more expensive to get enough bees to pollinate all the crops that need them because supply was low. But the doom-sayers are as usual premature in declaring that we are totally fucked because of it. It’s not that hard to make new bee hives, even if half of them die over the winter and there are places that haven’t been affected from where you can import more bees.

            1. There have been a few years when it got to be a lot more expensive to get enough bees to pollinate all the crops that need them because supply was low.

              And then an amazing thing happens. When something becomes lucrative, more people do it, which raises supply, and then lowers the price.

            2. Nano dronebot pollinators.
              Problem solved.

              1. Someone should get on that.

                I do like honey, though.

      2. Unfortunately that describes a good number of posters here such as sarc.

    2. Do the Jehovah’s Witnesses ever get tired of canvassing your neighborhood?

  9. Cue the prophets of doom. Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute has said that the world is now at “peak everything.”

    Clearly we haven’t reached the “Peak Idiot” point yet. There will be plenty of prophets of doom in the years to come. Some humans have a morbid obsession ? call it a fetish, if you will ? with mass death and destruction.

    1. There is no Peak Derp!

    2. I think they are more obsessed with the attention and funding they get. At least, the published doomsayers are. The plebe doomsayers definitely do have a fetish, though. I think it comes from the innate human urge to be “special”. “This generation is special because it’s the last to enjoy such prosperity!”

  10. Look, here is the truth. The reason humanity has had doom-mongers since the dawn of time is that doom-mongering sells. There’s a market for it, and apparently, there always has been, since the first nutjob stood on a rock and said “the end is nigh!” The reason scum like Paul Erlich or Rachael Carson or whoever sell books and get listened to is that there are enough people who want to hear their doom-mongering, to the point that they will pay for it. Yeah, they’re con artists, but the people they are conning *really* want to be conned in this way.

    Ron, you can state the end of doom, but here’s the truth: doom is a human tendency, and it’s a big one. To those of us who don’t get into it, it seems idiotic, wrong, and destructive, but unfortunately, we might be the minority in this case. And there really isn’t anything you can do about that.

    1. The best thing about doom being around the corner is that there are always opportunistic politicians ready to “do something.”

      And the sheeple go right along because, as we all know, no problem exists that cannot be solved with government coercion and violence.

        1. Hey Ron,

          Does your sciencey book contain a section on “resistance?” Right-wingers think that apparatchiks are killing humans to save canaries. It would help them out– a lot.

          1. ohmmmmmmmmm

            mani

            padme

            hum

          2. american socialist|10.19.15 @ 3:27PM|#
            “… It would help them out– a lot.”

            Your time would be better spent seeing if there is *anything* that would help you out.
            I have my doubts; looks like terminal stupidity from here…

      1. Tell us more about how much you like playing Angry Birds. It’s fascinating, really.

      2. The DDT example does not demonstrate what you seem to think it does.

        1. He’s working off a different set of “facts”. You probably know them as “assumptions”.

      3. +1 renewables -1 birds
        +1 anti-GMO -1 children

        1. Nicely done.

    2. Epi, I think we are the minority, but not quite the way you mean. There are three camps. A small, vocal doomsayer camp. A small, less vocal reason camp (drink). And a large camp of people who don’t care either way and just want to live their lives. This last camp will never care either way unless they actually can no longer get some food item that they think should be common.

  11. Now comes the neo-Malthusian journalist David Rieff. He argues […] that “if significant changes to the global food system are not made, a crisis of absolute global food supply could occur sometime between 2030 and 2050.”

    I don’t know if you have noticed this before, Ron, but all these prophets of doom talk about a production system as if it consisted of a machine with unfathomable inner workings that people simply switch on while they look in awe as it begins churning and puffing. They are completely unaware (or clueless, to be less polite about it) of the coordinating effect of prices in the market and how prices help people adapt better (and quicker) to either increases in demand or gluts. If it wasn’t for the fact that there are just too many persons who are equally unaware (or clueless) about how markets work, these prophets of doom would probably spend their living days carving their words on the plaster of the walls of their cells in whatever psychiatric ward they end up.

    1. all these prophets of doom talk about a production system as if it consisted of a machine with unfathomable inner workings that people simply switch on while they look in awe as it begins churning and puffing

      Well, yeah. That’s what aggregates are all about. That’s why stimulus is magical. All hail Lord Keynes!

      1. Re: sarcasmic,

        It’s even worse. Even knowing a bit about Keynesianism would mean you would have to be exposed to some basic economics. These prophets of doom are completely UNAWARE (or clueless) about the subject. It is quite pathetic. It is also quite scary precisely because there are so many humans who are just as unaware – just look at the hysterical ramblings from AS (American Stultified).

  12. Ron,

    I haven’t bought the book yet, but I’m considering it as a Kwanzaa gift, since this is the only holiday this Leftist celebrates. Can you give us a synopsis and does it contain the very brilliant idea that we should just turn the whole shebang over to Monsanto because they are awesome.

    http://cumulis.epa.gov/supercp…..id=0400123

    1. we should just turn the whole shebang over to Monsanto

      The whole idea of “market economy” is a little too complex for your brain to understand, isn’t it?

      1. Apparently, The whole idea of “mixed economy” is a little too complex for every right-wing libertarian brain to understand.

        1. It’s what we have right now. Not bad, but I think it could be better.

        2. american socialist|10.19.15 @ 3:30PM|#
          “Apparently, The whole idea of “mixed economy” is a little too complex for every right-wing libertarian brain to understand.”

          Oh, no, it’s quite easy to understand:
          “The economy shitbags like you haven’t totally screwed yet”

    2. Naw, but it does have this one part about how enemies of the State should be starved to death en masse. You’ll love it!

      1. You know who else starved enemies of the State…

        1. Every socialist ever?

          1. “Every socialist ever?”

            Yeah, but that was just by accident as they starve everyone.

    3. Re: American Stultified,

      but I’m considering it as a Kwanzaa gift,

      Your friends will like it, especially those you keep tied up in your basement.

      does it contain the very brilliant idea that we should just turn the whole shebang over to Monsanto because they are awesome.

      Collectivizing the farms was just what the doctor ordered, am I right, Stultified?

      1. What I found out yesterday is that if you think 6 million people died in the Ukraine in the Holomodor you’re ok. If you think 4 million died, you’re a scum-sucking weasel apologist for Stalin. I’ve revised my estimate up so we’re cool, right?

        1. Re: American Stultified,

          What I found out yesterday is that if you think 6 million people died in the Ukraine in the Holomodor you’re ok. If you think 4 million died, you’re a scum-sucking weasel apologist for Stalin.

          I may not be the most proficient person when it comes to the English language but I do understand enough to know that what you put up there is just pure and unadulterated nonsense. It isn’t relevant to the point; it does nothing to your case (whatever may be, which I think is against Monsanto or something) and it seems like an attempt at playing the victim which falls flat.

          You’re as boring as most Marxians I’ve met or had the displeasure of meeting.

        2. american socialist|10.19.15 @ 1:25PM|#
          “What I found out yesterday is that if you think 6 million people died in the Ukraine in the Holomodor you’re ok. If you think 4 million died, you’re a scum-sucking weasel apologist for Stalin. I’ve revised my estimate up so we’re cool, right?

          Actually, no. You found out once more that you’re going to be called on your lies here, scum-bag.

        3. No, what makes you a scum-sucking weasel apologist for Stalin is that you thing *4 million is acceptable at all*.

          1. “No, what makes you a scum-sucking weasel apologist for Stalin is that you thing *4 million is acceptable at all*.”

            Hey, omelets and eggs; gotta have the camp-dust to get that nuke plant built!
            Commies care about *some* people.

    4. The Monsanto boogey-man is an odd one. I’m not a big fan of the degree of IP protection that crop cultivars get. And that seems to be a big part of the complaints about Monsanto. But that has nothing to do with Monsanto in particular or with genetic engineering. You can patent seeds bred in more conventional ways too.
      Monsanto only has the power it does because it produces products that people want to buy.

      1. Re: Zeb,

        The Monsanto boogey-man is an odd one.

        It sounds odd to you because you’re using your head. You give AS too much credit if you assume he is using his, too.

      2. Monsanto only has the power it does because it produces products that people want to buy

        Not to idiots likes this. According to progtards, people aren’t capable of making any rational decisions on their own. That’s why you have to have an authoritarian government made up of supremely wise beings of a supernatural intelligence. Otherwise, you just end up with ordinary schmucks in government who call themselves Top. Men. and really fuck things up.

        1. I’m still waiting (eagerly!) to learn where this class of supermen to rule us will come from. The “best” mechanism I’ve seen proposed is “democracy”, which is hilarious to me because of how much contempt so-called proponents of democracy have for anyone that disagrees with them. Somehow, we’ll elect into power the supremely wise beings who will rule over us with benevolence and competence, despite this never having happened in the history of the world.

        2. Re: Restoras,

          According to progtards, people aren’t capable of making any rational decisions on their own.

          At least not the decisions the little tyrants would prefer. They were perfectly characterized by Lord Business, the maniacal dictator in the LEGO Movie who found it unpalatable that everybody was doing things the way he didn’t want.

    5. AmSoc bitches about big government protected institutions fucking shit up for everybody. His citation? The EPA.

      1. That’s different, the EPA meant well.

        1. Just a few short weeks ago they irrigated portions of Colorado and NM. They give.

          1. And the people of Colorado are thankful!
            http://media.cagle.com/77/2015…..79_600.jpg

  13. When you aren’t content with mere survival, scarcity of something is ever-present. It’s part of being human, as opposed to being an animal. A post-scarcity world will never exist because we will always want more of something (Power, most likely, because you can turn power into anything… and no, I don’t mean coercive force. I mean the physics/engineering definition of power).

    1. It is an interesting thought. What would the world, or any society for that matter, look like if all scarcity could be removed? I’m guessing most everyone would look like the Earth refugees in Wall-E.

      1. It would be a world without imagination. Because as long as there is imagination, then there will be unsatisfied desires, and a scarcity of means to fulfill them.

        1. Sounds awful.

      2. If you think about it, you could almost say that we in the USofA live in a post-scarcity society. No one is really hungry in The States. At least unless it is by choice. Between churches, charities and government programs, no one goes without food unless they are forced or too proud. Same with housing and clothing, as well as emergency medical care. So in a survival sense, we are post-scarcity. Think about it.

        1. The funny thing about Star Trek (well, one of the funny things, anyway) is how much they drastically underestimate the level of malcontentment likely to arise in “post-scarcity” societies. Even the US in the 1960s, while hardly egalitarian, still had largely eradicated common diseases and other causes of death widely known and feared just a generation or two before.

          1. As we have gotten further into a post-scarcity world for the basics of survival, we now have more people with more energy to focus on all manner of things to scold, nag, SJW, etc. etc. ad infinitum…

          2. I just assume that in Star Trek either all of the malcontentment is off screen with all the people not involved in Star Fleet. Or they’ve invented some really good drugs that make it all good.

        2. I don’t disagree. From a very basics of survival standpoint – food, shelter, clothing, warmth – are more abundant now than ever before and require the smallest portion of income to supply someone than ever before.

          Of course, that’s just created demand for other things – fast cars, 60″ ultra HD televisions, second homes, exotic vacations, more avenues for entertainment than imaginable, etc. It’s that stuff that keeps people working beyond what is necessary for survival, and that’s more about status than it is about anything else.

          Which is why we need a classless society, so we can focus our collective energy on improving mankind and not just chasing after something we don’t really need, something that some corporation invented that never existed before, and then told us we had to have it and tricked us into wanting it with some slick marketing and advertising…

          1. The irony is that any attempt to create a classless society will create scarcity.

            1. Depends on what you mean by class. Real class-based societies were artificial constructions. A functioning society can’t exist without people of different purely economic classes. But I don’t like to think of that as class distinction. I’m the same class as any wealthy person. I just don’t have as much money/wealth for various reasons.

              1. Of course it can. You and I both farm 5 acres. I grow corn and you grow wheat. We trade for the other’s goods and both end up better off. Neither of us is poorer than the other.

                Now if you want to say that unequal outcomes are inevitable because we have unequal abilities or work unequally hard, then I agree.

                1. Yes, of course I understand how market transactions are usually beneficial to all involved parties. But I think that the economic inequality is necessary, or at least inevitable, when you get to a more developed capitalistic economy. And not just because some people have different abilities and motivations. Some people are just going to control more of the capital. It doesn’t mean that the people on the poorer end of society are losing anything.
                  Dumb people seem to think that some people controlling a lot of wealth means that that wealth is somehow removed from the economy and withheld from people who need it. Which is just nonsense. The wealth of rich people is out there in the world making things happen and employing people.

        3. So in a survival sense, we are post-scarcity.

          But only in a survival sense. We’ve found plenty of other things that we want, but can’t get enough of at prices we can afford. In fact, I find that time is the main thing that is scarce for me. There’s just too many entertainment options that I would like to pursue. I have enough money to pursue many more of them, but no time. I have to triage my entertainment.

          /First-world problems

          1. Exactly right. I can’t afford a Ferrari, at least not yet…this is a little more attainable though… http://blog.caranddriver.com/f…..th-750-hp/

    2. Every satisfied want creates a host of new wants to satisfy.

      1. It took millennia for us to get to a point where most people didn’t have to spend all their time at back-breaking labor just to survive. It then took all of 3 generations for us to invent the internet. The desire for an occupied mind might actually be stronger than the desire for a full belly.

      2. Just note that stupidity is a luxury good and you’ll realize that we can never live is a post-scarcity world.

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