Markets: The Fuel of Life

 

shutterstock_70226983I’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.

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  1. Michael Sanregret Inactive
    Michael Sanregret
    @TheQuestion

    I think that’s a great title for the post.

    I can remember being left-wing, but religious, and arguing with an atheist left-winger about whether it was government programs or religious based charity that helped the poor.  Of course, we were both wrong.  It’s the free market that provides food and housing.  Even when charity is employed, it is funded by wealth created in the free market.

    I’ve been listening to Kevin Williamson’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism.  The free market provides information on prices, and socialists just throw out that information.  Socialism is, among other things, incredibly wasteful.

    I’m sorry if I’m saying things you all already know.  I spent so many years as an economically semi-literate progressive that discovering these things is like discovering what DNA is, or what oxygen is.

    The free market view is so much more optimistic than the socialist view.  The only reason I can think of that socialism has the appeal it has is that it has a specific design for feeding the poor.  With free markets, feeding the poor is not an intentional feature of the system, but it happens nevertheless, while socialism leads to starvation and death.

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  2. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    When the progressives try to undue Borlaug’s revolution, or at the very least to discredit him by reference to the diabetes epidemic in the first world, we should make sure that we don’t allow our overindulgence to overshadow the world-historical prevention of starvation for billions of the world’s poor.

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  3. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Like.

    • #3
  4. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Man With the Axe:When the progressives try to undue Borlaug’s revolution, or at the very least to discredit him by reference to the diabetes epidemic in the first world, we should make sure that we don’t allow our overindulgence to overshadow the world-historical prevention of starvation for billions of the world’s poor.

    I think the Progressives get credit for this one.  Borlaug’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

    “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind.”

    The Rockefeller Foundation (which partly funded his research, to correct the OP) was and remains one of the leading Progressive forces in America.  Progressive Republicans were known as Rockefeller Republicans for a reason.

    And yes, those Progressives were the leading advocates for free trade.

    Not everything the Progressives did was bad.

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  5. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Progressives, like all human beings, are not all bad.

    But I believe there are a fair number of them today who are so progressive that they would rather see people starve in their billions than accept GMO foods, irradiation of foods, DDT, or even Borlaug-style use of fertilizers.

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  6. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Someone should forward this to Pope Francis.

    • #6
  7. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Man With the Axe:Progressives, like all human beings, are not all bad.

    But I believe there are a fair number of them today who are so progressive that they would rather see people starve in their billions than accept GMO foods, irradiation of foods, DDT, or even Borlaug-style use of fertilizers.

    I’ve looked into it.  That’s a fringe position, even on the Left, although it does exist.  The more widespread view is achieving sustainability through a subsistence-agriculture model based on the traditional life of Chinese peasants.

    One merely needs to look at China to see how appealing that life is even to Chinese peasants.

    • #7
  8. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    I feel that those who want to live a subsistence-agriculture life are welcome to do so! (imagine the appropriate emoticon, here)

    • #8
  9. Buckeye Inactive
    Buckeye
    @Buckeye

    Not to demean a man held in such high regard by millions,  but:  — Any evidence that the Holy Father can read ( ? )– anything but Progressive misinformation, I mean.  I suspect that he, like news media types and Hollywood celebrities, is shielded from ‘the rest of the story.’

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  10. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Tuck:I think the Progressives get credit for this one. Borlaug’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

    “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind.”

    I’m trying to figure out what in that passage could be considered “progressive.”  Yeah, he used the word “progressive,” but not to mean anything that the socialist political movement that calls itself by that name would ever mean.  They pursue policies that will result in as many starving people as possible.

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  11. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    It’s always gratifying to see people laud the work of Norman Borlaug, who’s in the running for the greatest human being to ever live. If you discount religious figures he’s inarguably the greatest.

    The stories of his struggles in the late 70’s as a result of the environmentalists desperately trying to prevent him from spreading the Green Revolution to Africa is as infuriating as it is predictable.

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  12. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Larry3435:

    I’m trying to figure out what in that passage could be considered “progressive.” Yeah, he used the word “progressive,” but not to mean anything that the socialist political movement that calls itself by that name would ever mean. They pursue policies that will result in as many starving people as possible.

    Progressive means a lot, but I’m not aware of any country that called itself progressive that created starving people.  That’s the province of the Communists and non-Democratic Socialists, basically.

    Yes, there’s a bit of an overlap in modern America, but it’s helpful to keep the terminology clean.

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  13. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Austin Murrey: If you discount religious figures he’s inarguably the greatest.

    I’ll take that challenge.

    I’d say Borlaug has to take second fiddle to Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic.

    While it’s impossible to know how many people were saved by that discovery, it’s surely a large, large, portion of those now alive and their ancestors since antibiotics became widespread.

    And the large increase in population Borlaug’s revolution led to would have led to far higher levels of disease had Fleming not made his discovery.

    • #13
  14. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Tuck: I’d say Borlaug has to take second fiddle to Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic.

    He was an okay doctor.

    • #14

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