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I’m still working my way through Ron Bailey’s The End of Doom, but wanted to share a passage from a few chapters back. Bailey devotes a few pages to botanist Norman Borlaug. I knew Borlaug’s new wheat strains were responsible for launching the Green Revolution — and put him at the top of the short list for individuals who’ve saved the most lives in human history — but I had no idea of the free market angle on his work:
Borlaug’s achievements were not confined to the laboratory and fields. He insisted that governments pay poor farmers world prices for their grain. At the time, many developing nations—eager to supply cheap food to their urban citizens, who might otherwise rebel—required their farmers to sell into a government concession that paid them less than half of the world market price for their agricultural products. The result, predictably, was hoarding and underproduction. Using his hard-won prestige as a kind of platform, Borlaug persuaded the governments of Pakistan and India to drop such self-defeating policies. Fair prices and high doses of fertilizer combined with new grains changed everything. By 1968 Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat, and by 1974 India was self-sufficient in all cereals.
Charity played an important part in the Green Revolution, as Borlaug’s research was funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Its wealth, of course, would never have existed had its founder not created one of the greatest industrial empires of all time by providing people with affordable energy and lighting. Charity can catalyze change for the better and provide a vital alternative when need arises — but the ability to meet the necessities of life is fueled by markets.