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Unnatural Oblivion

Posted By Don Boudreaux On August 18, 2006 @ 4:21 pm In Environment,Food and Drink,Hunger,Myths and Fallacies | Comments Disabled

Someone forwarded this article [1] to me yesterday.  Its title is “Poverty and the Environment.”  Its author is Anup Shah [2].

When I read such stuff, I don’t know if I should chuckle or weep.  This article is so unscientific, so unhinged from fact, so devoid of serious argument, so unaware of the real case for global capitalism, that it is a comic spoof of itself.  But it also seems to be written by a serious, concerned person — and to reflect the opinion of many serious and concerned (if intellectually lazy) people.

The most glaring problem with this article is its unquestioned acceptance of the notion that the earth’s resources are fixed in quantity — so the more resources used by rich people, the fewer are the resources available for poor people.  It also assumes, in the spirit of a cartoon aimed at six-year-old children, that global outcomes are the planned results of masterminds — if the outcomes are good, the good masterminds (the superheroes) are ascendant; if the outcomes are bad, the bad masterminds are ascendant.

But the quotation that most caught my eye and made my head shake with bewilderment is this one; here Shah is quoting favorably from a book by Vandana Shiva, entitled Stolen Harvest [3]:

The gain in “yields” of industrially produced crops is based on a theft of food from other species and the rural poor in the Third World.  That is why, as more grain is produced and traded globally, more people go hungry in the Third World. Global markets have more commodities for trading because food has been robbed from nature and the poor.

Talk about a fixed-pie view of reality.  Do people such as Shiva and Shah not realize that until very recently — roughly the past three-hundred years — the vast majority of the people in the world, as for almost all of human history, were routinely threatened with, and often actually victimized by, starvation?  Do people such as Shiva and Shah not realize that the earth’s population today (at about 6.2 billion) is nearly ten times larger than it was a mere 300 years ago (at about 625 million [4])?  Given that today at least one billion of us spend our entire lives without worrying one minute about whether or not we will have enough to eat, how can anyone seriously argue that the amount of food now available daily to each of the more than one-billion citizens of western, industrialized societies is “stolen” from people living in less-developed societies?  Is it even remotely plausible that the vast increase in the amount of per-capita food consumption for the entire world — a world today with ten times more people than were alive in 1700 — is made possible by our stealing this food from the mouths of earthworms and other species?

Do people such as Shiva and Shah not know of the vast literature [5] that shows a powerful and positive relationship between economic freedom and increased living standards?  Are they unaware of the arguments (and, frankly, the data [6]) that resources are augmented and largely created by human enterprise, rather than moved from point or person A to point or person B?

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URL to article: http://cafehayek.com/2006/08/unnatural_obliv.html

URLs in this post:

[1] this article: http://www.globalenvision.org/library/1/1153/

[2] Anup Shah: http://www.globalissues.org/about/

[3] Stolen Harvest: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0896086070/sr=1-2/qid=1155932130/ref=pd_bbs_2/104-0243664-2175140?ie=UTF8&s=books

[4] about 625 million: http://www.neo-tech.com/businessmen/part6.html

[5] literature: http://www.catostore.org/index.asp?fa=ProductDetails&method=cats&scid=20&pid=1441274

[6] the data: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691003815/sr=1-1/qid=1155931929/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-0243664-2175140?ie=UTF8&s=books

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