30 Apr 2008, 4:24pm
Agriculture Rural Economics
by admin
leave a comment

The Food Crisis

Dunn, J.R. 2008. The Food Crisis. The American Thinker, April 2008.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker

Full text [here] and below:

As everyone knows by this point, we are in the midst of a food crisis. Domestic prices of basic foods have risen by 46% over the past year, putting even more pressure on already stressed consumers. Overseas, food riots have occurred in Haiti, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Indonesia, Yemen, and as close to our borders as Mexico. These riots were severe enough to bring down the Haitian government of Jacques Edouard Alexis. Others may follow.

Any number of explanations have been offered. Global warming has taken its accustomed bow, only to be immediately pushed to one side by other candidates including market pressure created by higher living standards in India and China and increased fuel and fertilizer costs thanks to OPEC’s price-raising spree. Overpopulation has been dragged from the closet and dusted off one more time. The dour ghost of economist Thomas Malthus, with his lethal equation that food supply increases arithmetically while population increases geometrically, has made yet another appearance.

How will we feed the world, the cry arises. The feast is over; the era of cheap food has come to an end. The West (as ever), must mend its ways, give up its McDonald’s and KFC for the common good, learn to content itself with a bowl of cabbage soup and a handful of bamboo shoots a day. Soylent Green is just around the corner.

Within a year, the prophet of the 1200-calorie international diet will begin his campaign, in much the same way as Al Gore (perhaps it will even be Al Gore, if global warming goes south quickly enough), pursuing that Nobel aglow just over the horizon. Ecoterrorists will develop new targets to add to loggers and fur-wearers. (Has anybody ever noticed that PETA and Earth First! tend to keep their distance from leather fanciers, like those who so frightened Code Pink in Berkeley last week?) Fast-food restaurants will burst into flame in the dead of night. Famous chefs will require bodyguards. Ranchers will walk in fear of ambush, their herds poisoned or scattered.

All of which completely misses the point. Because there is one reason above all for the current crunch in basic foodstuffs, and that is: politics.
more »

23 Apr 2008, 10:40pm
Agriculture Rural Economics
by admin

Food For Thought

by Alvaro Vargas Llosa, from The New Republic [here]

Our only hope for solving the looming food crisis is to end protectionist trade policies.

WASHINGTON-In the 1830s, Richard Cobden and John Bright started a campaign against the protectionist laws that were keeping food prices high in Britain. After sustaining abuse for many years, they persuaded the government in 1846 to repeal the infamous Corn Laws, a move that helped usher in a long period of prosperity. I have been thinking intensely about these 19th-century heroes lately. The world needs a new Anti-Corn Law League, the movement they founded, if it wants to put a stop to the madness of escalating food prices and save millions of people, from Haiti to Bangladesh and from Cameroon to the Philippines, from starvation.

Prices have increased steadily in the last three years, but matters really came to a crunch this year. Since January, the price of rice has gone up by 141 percent, while the price of wheat has almost doubled in one year. In a world in which the poor spend three-quarters of their budget on food, that means potentially a life-or-death situation for the 1 billion human beings who live on the equivalent of $1 dollar a day.

When the price of something shoots up, one can infer that the supply is not keeping up with the demand. In the wake of today’s food shock, many people have focused on the causes of the rise in the demand for food. All of them-from the growing wealth of China and India to the explosion of grain-derived biofuels in rich nations-sound very plausible. Less attention has been paid to why, in the era of globalization, in which products can move quickly from manufacture to market, and with the advances in biotechnology, the supply of food is not meeting the demand.

Many governments, multilateral bodies, nongovernmental organizations and pundits are failing to answer that basic question. Instead, they postulate solutions that would either compound the problem or constitute at best a short-term palliative. The real solution will be the removal of the causes of the shortfall. Those causes have little to do with economics or demographics, and everything to do with the politics of governments and those who use governments to serve their interests-to the detriment of the general public.

Few areas of the economy are more strewn with protectionist laws than agriculture-in rich and poor countries alike. A panoply of quotas, subsidies, tariffs and prohibitions designed to win votes and, essentially, bribes has discouraged the much-needed increase in food production. In normal free-market circumstances, the slightest signal that prices were going up would have been enough to ensure that masses of capital were invested in farming for food. In the current mess, it is not surprising that investors are not pouring money into food production: Farmers in Europe are paid to keep their land fallow because of a scheme called the Common Agricultural Policy; farmers in Argentina are being asked to give up 75 percent of their earnings through various taxes; farmers in the United States are more interested in feeding SUVs than in feeding people because the U.S. Congress has mandated a fivefold increase in the use of biofuels; and farmers in Africa are not experimenting with genetically modified crops because they are banned in many of the countries to which they might be able to export them.

British economist and African expert Paul Collier wrote recently that “the most realistic way is to replicate the Brazilian model of large, technologically sophisticated agrocompanies that supply the world market. … To contain the rise in food prices we need more globalization, not less.”

I would add that small farmers in developing countries would also team up and create economies of scale if they were not hampered by domestic laws designed to protect consumers and by international commercial laws designed to protect producers-or if peasants in, say, China were allowed to fully own their land.

According to The Economist magazine, of the 58 countries whose reaction to the crisis has been researched by the World Bank, 48 have imposed price controls, consumer subsidies and export restrictions. A problem that was originated by protectionism has elicited a protectionist response from most countries. A century and a half after Cobden and Bright defeated protectionism in Britain, their ideas are more powerfully relevant than ever.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, author of Liberty for Latin America, is the director of the Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute.

8 Apr 2008, 11:19pm
Agriculture Rural Economics
by admin
leave a comment

Still Feeding the World

Driessen, Paul. 2008. Still Feeding the World: a Tribute to Norman Borlaug.

Full text [here]

Selected Excerpts:

Norman Borlaug just turned 94 - and is still going strong. He’s the father of the Green Revolution. Penn and Teller call him the greatest person in history. When the Nobel committee awarded him the 1970 Peace Prize, it said his work had saved a billion lives. Norman Borlaug turned 94 on March 25 and, despite cancer that had him sick and hospitalized a couple months ago, just attended a conference in Mexico on new rust-resistant wheat varieties and modern agricultural methods. …

He is still “an Energizer Bunny,” his daughter Jeanie says. Decades ago, while neo-Malthusians were predicting mass famine, Borlaug used Rockefeller Foundation grants to unlock hidden (recessive) genes and crossbreed different wheat strains, to create new “dwarf” varieties that were resistant to destructive “rust” fungi. The shorter plants were also sturdier, put less energy into growing leaves and stalks, and thus had higher yields. …

In 1985, he began working with former President Jimmy Carter to bring a Green Revolution to Sub-Saharan Africa, emphasizing intensive modern farming methods with new hybrid and biotech seeds on existing fields, to reduce the need to slash and burn wildlife habitat, as soil nutrients are exhausted. Unfortunately, their progress may be undermined by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his misleadingly named Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Annan says biotech crops are unsafe, untested, and likely to enslave poor farmers to mega-corporations and expensive seeds. He wants to battle Africa’s chronic poverty and malnutrition with “traditional seeds” and methods. …

Dr. Borlaug fears that would be a devastating failure. As he said during a 2005 biotechnology conference, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality at the United Nations, he sees no way the world can feed its hungry population without genetically engineered (GE) crops, especially if it relies more on biofuels. He has little patience for “well-fed utopians who live on Cloud Nine but come into the Third World to cause all kinds of negative impacts,” by scaring people and blocking the use of biotechnology. These callous activists even persuaded Zambia to let people starve, rather than let them eat biotech corn donated by the USA. They also oppose insecticides to combat malaria - and fossil fuels, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power to generate abundant, reliable, affordable electricity for poor nations. …

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power. Black death.

14 Mar 2008, 8:47pm
Rural Economics Rural Life
by admin
Comments Off

From Climate Alarmism to Climate Realism

By Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic. Remarks delivered at the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change, New York, March 4, 2008 [here].

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like first of all to thank the organizers of this important conference for making it possible and also for inviting one politically incorrect politician from Central Europe to come and speak here. This meeting will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to the moving away from the irrational climate alarmism to the much needed climate realism.

I know it is difficult to say anything interesting after two days of speeches and discussions here. If I am not wrong, I am the only speaker from a former communist country and I have to use this as a comparative — paradoxically — advantage. Each one of us has his or her experiences, prejudices and preferences. The ones that I have are — quite inevitably — connected with the fact that I have spent most of my life under the communist regime. A week ago, I gave a speech at an official gathering at the Prague Castle commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1948 communist putsch in the former Czechoslovakia. One of the arguments of my speech there, quoted in all the leading newspapers in the country the next morning, went as follows: “Future dangers will not come from the same source. The ideology will be different. Its essence will, nevertheless, be identical — the attractive, pathetic, at first sight noble idea that transcends the individual in the name of the common good, and the enormous self-confidence on the side of its proponents about their right to sacrifice the man and his freedom in order to make this idea reality.” What I had in mind was, of course, environmentalism and its currently strongest version, climate alarmism.

This fear of mine is the driving force behind my active involvement in the Climate Change Debate and behind my being the only head of state who in September 2007 at the UN Climate Change Conference, only a few blocks away from here, openly and explicitly challenged the current global warming hysteria. My central argument was — in a condensed form — formulated in the subtitle of my recently published book devoted to this topic which asks: “What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?” My answer is clear and resolute: “it is our freedom.” I may also add “and our prosperity.”

What frustrates me is the feeling that everything has already been said and published, that all rational arguments have been used, yet it still does not help. Global warming alarmism is marching on. We have to therefore concentrate (here and elsewhere) not only on adding new arguments to the already existing ones, but also on the winning of additional supporters of our views. The insurmountable problem as I see it lies in the political populism of its exponents and in their unwillingness to listen to arguments. They — in spite of their public roles — maximize their own private utility function where utility is not any public good but their own private good — power, prestige, carrier, income, etc. It is difficult to motivate them differently. The only way out is to make the domain of their power over our lives much more limited. But this will be a different discussion.

We have to repeatedly deal with the simple questions that have been many times discussed here and elsewhere:

1) Is there a statistically significant global warming?

2) If so, is it man-made?

3) If we decide to stop it, is there anything a man can do about it?

4) Should an eventual moderate temperature increase bother us?

We have our answers to these questions and are fortunate to have many well-known and respected experts here who have made important contributions in answering them. Yet, I am not sure this is enough. People tend to blindly believe in the IPCC’s conclusions (especially in the easier to understand formulations presented in the “Summaries for Policymakers”) despite the fact that from the very beginning, the IPCC has been a political rather than a scientific undertaking.

Many politicians, media commentators, public intellectuals, bureaucrats in more and more influential international organizations not only accept them but use them without qualifications which exist even in the IPCC documents. There are sometimes unexpected and for me unexplainable believers in these views. Few days ago, I have come across a lecture given by a very respected German economist (H. W. Sinn, “Global Warming: The Neglected Supply Side, in: The EEAG Report, CESifo, Munich, 2008) who is in his other writings very critical of the German interventionist economic policies and statist institutions. His acceptance of the “conventional IPCC wisdom” (perhaps unwisdom) is striking. His words:

“the scientific evidence is overwhelming”;

“the facts are undeniable”;

“the temperature is extremely sensitive to even small variations in greenhouse gas concentration”;

“if greenhouse gases were absent from the atmosphere, average temperature of the Earth’s surface would be -6°C. With the greenhouse gases, the present average temperature is +15°C. Therefore, the impact of CO2 is enormous”;

he was even surprised that “in spite of all the measures taken, emissions have accelerated in recent years. This poses a puzzle for economic theory!” he said.

To make it less of a puzzle, let me make two brief comments.

As an economist, I have to start by stressing the obvious. Carbon dioxide emissions do not fall from heaven. Their volume (ECO2) is a function of GDP per capita (which means of the size of economic activity, SEA), of the number of people (POP) and of the emissions intensity (EI), which is the amount of CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP. This is usually expressed in a simple relationship which is, of course, a tautological identity:


but with some assumption about causality it can be turned into a structural equation. What this relationship tells is simple: If we really want to decrease ECO2 (which most of us assembled here today probably do not consider necessary), we have to either stop the economic growth and thus block further rise in the standard of living, or stop the population growth, or make miracles with the emissions intensity.

I am afraid there are people who want to stop the economic growth, the rise in the standard of living (though not their own) and the ability of man to use the expanding wealth, science and technology for solving the actual pressing problems of mankind, especially of the developing countries. This ambition goes very much against the past human experience which has always been connected with a strong motivation to go ahead and to better human conditions. There is no reason to make the, from above orchestrated, change just now — especially with arguments based on such an incomplete and faulty science as is demonstrated by the IPCC. Human wants are unlimited and should stay so. Asceticism is a respectable individual attitude but should not be forcefully imposed upon the rest of us.

I am also afraid that the same people, imprisoned in the Malthusian tenets and in their own megalomaniac ambitions, want to regulate and constrain the demographic development, which is something only the totalitarian regimes have until now dared to think about or experiment with. Without resisting it we would find ourselves on the slippery “road to serfdom.” The freedom to have children without regulation and control is one of the undisputable human rights and we have to say very loudly that we do respect it and will do so in the future as well.

There are people among the global warming alarmists who would protest against being included in any of these categories, but who do call for a radical decrease in carbon dioxide emissions. It can be achieved only by means of a radical decline in the emissions intensity. This is surprising because we probably believe in technical progress more than our opponents. We know, however, that such revolutions in economic efficiency (and emissions intensity is part of it) have never been realized in the past and will not happen in the future either. To expect anything like that is a non-serious speculation.

I recently looked at the European CO2 emissions data covering the period 1990-2005, which means the Kyoto Protocol era. My conclusion is that in spite of many opposite statements the very robust relationship between CO2 emissions and the rate of economic growth can’t be disputed, at least in a relevant and meaningful time horizon. You don’t need huge computer models to very easily distinguish three different types of countries in Europe:

the EU less developed countries — Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain — which during this very period tried to catch up with the economic performance of the more developed EU countries. Their rapid economic growth led to the increase of their CO2 emissions in 15 years (in which they signed Kyoto) by 53 percent;

the European post-communist countries which after the fall of communism went through a fundamental, voluntarily unorganizable transformation shake-out and an inevitable radical economic restructuring with the heavy industry disappearing (not stagnating or retreating) practically over night. Their GDP drastically declined. These countries decreased their CO2 emissions in the same period by 32 percent;

the “normal” EU, slow-growing if not stagnating countries (excluding Germany where it’s difficult to eliminate the impact of the fact that the East German economy almost ceased to exist in that period) increased their CO2 emissions by 4 percent.

The huge differences in these three figures — +53 percent, -32 percent and +4 percent — are almost fascinating. And yet, there is a dream among European politicians to reduce CO2 emissions for the entire EU by 30 per cent in the next 13 years (compared to the 1990 level). What does it mean? Do they assume that all countries would undergo a similar economic shock as was experienced by the Central and Eastern European countries after the fall of communism? Now in the whole of Europe? Do they assume that European economically weaker countries would stop their catching-up process? Or do they intend to organize a decrease in the number of people living in Europe? Or do they expect a miracle in the development of the emissions/GDP ratio, which would require a technological revolution of unheard-of proportions? With the help of a — from Brussels organized — scientific and technological revolution?

What I see in Europe (and in the U.S. and other countries as well) is a powerful combination of irresponsibility, of wishful thinking, of implicit believing in some form of Malthusianism, of cynical approach of those who themselves are sufficiently well-off, together with the strong belief in the possibility of changing the economic nature of things through a radical political project.

This brings me to politics. As a politician who personally experienced communist central planning of all kinds of human activities, I feel obliged to bring back the already almost forgotten arguments used in the famous plan-versus-market debate in the 1930s in economic theory (between Mises and Hayek on the one side and Lange and Lerner on the other), the arguments we had been using for decades — till the moment of the fall of communism. Then they were quickly forgotten. The innocence with which climate alarmists and their fellow-travelers in politics and media now present and justify their ambitions to mastermind human society belongs to the same “fatal conceit.” To my great despair, this is not sufficiently challenged neither in the field of social sciences, nor in the field of climatology. Especially the social sciences are suspiciously silent.

The climate alarmists believe in their own omnipotency, in knowing better than millions of rationally behaving men and women what is right or wrong, in their own ability to assembly all relevant data into their Central Climate Change Regulatory Office (CCCRO) equipped with huge supercomputers, in the possibility to give adequate instructions to hundreds of millions of individuals and institutions and in the non-existence of an incentive problem (and the resulting compliance or non-compliance of those who are supposed to follow these instructions).

We have to restart the discussion about the very nature of government and about the relationship between the individual and society. Now it concerns the whole mankind, not just the citizens of one particular country. To discuss this means to look at the canonically structured theoretical discussion about socialism (or communism) and to learn the uncompromising lesson from the inevitable collapse of communism 18 years ago. It is not about climatology. It is about freedom. This should be the main message of our conference.


Petersen, James D. Imagine. Speech to the 65th Annual TLA Convention, Vancouver B.C. Wednesday, January 16, 2008

James D. Petersen is Executive Director, The Evergreen Foundation [here] and 2007 President, Pacific Logging Congress

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

I have been asked to compare the timber industry/government relationship in the United States with the timber industry/government relationship in Canada, with the caveat that I can make this call as I see it, which very likely will not be how you see it.

But as they say, anyone who has traveled more than 50 miles from home is considered an expert, to be accorded all the rights, privileges and courtesies of such experts.

So imagine with me while I walk you through a comparison of the government and industry relationships in our two countries.

Imagine that you no longer have a voice in provincial forestry decision-making, none. Say what you will, but it carries no weight.

Imagine that any citizen living in British Columbia can oppose your harvest plan – and that person’s voice suddenly has more power than all of provincial voices that might be raised in support of your harvest plan.

Imagine living in a country with a “Sue the bastards” mentality. That’s the United States today. Any malcontent, any social misfit, any anarchist can go to court and stop a harvest plan in its tracks. There are environmental litigators standing on every street corner in the land who will gladly take the case for nothing. Why would a lawyer take a case for no money: because under our federal Equal Access to Justice Act, our taxpayers are forced to reimburse the lawyers for their court costs. This is how several of our most radical environmental groups fund their work. Creating and exploiting conflict has become a billion dollar industry in our country.

Imagine that your provincial government has surrendered your citizen voice to the most radical environmentalists living among you – and now says openly that those radical voices have constitutionally guaranteed rights that you don’t hold.
more »

  • Colloquia

  • Commentary and News

  • Contact

  • Topics

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta