And Think of the Horrors Unleashed by Penicillin!

by Don Boudreaux on October 21, 2007

in Agriculture, Everyday Life, Food and Drink, Hunger

Here’s one of the most absurdly ridiculous lines that I’ve read in a long time; it was penned by Alexander Cockburn, writing in the November 5, 2007 issue of The Nation:

Line up some of the more notorious Nobel Peace Prize recipients, such
as Kissinger, and if you had to identify the biggest killer of all it was probably Norman Borlaug, one of the architects of the Green
Revolution, which unleashed displacement, malnutrition and death across
the Third World.

Shameful, on so many levels (one of which is that this sentiment drains credibility from the bulk of this article by Cockburn, which attempts to expose Al Gore’s hypocrisy).

(HT: Joe Mann)

By the way, Gregg Easterbrook, in his tribute to Norman Borlaug (from the January 1997 issue of The Atlantic) wrote that

Perhaps more
than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that throughout
the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa, global food production
has expanded
faster than the human population, averting the mass starvations that
widely predicted — for example, in the 1967 best seller Famine –
   The form
of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion

And here’s an earlier entry from here at the Cafe about Dr. Borlaug.

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RJHayden October 21, 2007 at 1:29 pm

I try to believe that we all have the same end goal in mind — that is, healthy self-deterministic people the world over leading productive lives –regardless of what we think is the way to achieve that goal.

But as I try to keep an open mind, I keep getting hit by sentiments like "The World Without Us" (a boring place if you ask me) and the desire to replace efficient farming practices in the Third World with "sustainable" (i.e. subsistence) farming that can't support the population, and I have a hard time shaking the idea that for many "happy healthy humans" is not the goal, and instead they desire a world with "no humans" (or perhaps a few scrabbling out a base back-to-the-earth existence).

If this is the case, then some of us have very different goals indeed.

jmklein October 21, 2007 at 2:36 pm

Fire up some Marley and listen to a tale…

So while the rest of the world got the great technology of the Green Revolution and stopped starving, Africa didn't, mostly because of the opposition of environmentalists (Wolf!!!!) who thought third world people are cuter starving.

So Ethiopia descends into a famine it didn't have to go through and the thousand year Solomonic kingdom is overthrown by a socialist junta.

Lesson of the day, dont ever… ever… listen to environmentalists (Wolf!!!!!)

The Albatross October 21, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Wow! Thanks Don,
To tell you the truth I am pretty much speechless that any rational person would say such a thing. I'll keep my obscenities at home and away from the Cafe. This was one of those people I really thought one could say no bad about. Oh, just to make it easier for patrons.

T L Holaday October 21, 2007 at 7:01 pm

Which is why, if you're looking for polemic personal attacks, you look to Alexander Cockburn, and if you're looking for thoughtful proposals for effective market-based solutions to anthrogenic global warming you look to Don Boudreaux – oh, wait, never mind.

Daniel Robinson October 21, 2007 at 7:46 pm

What on earth is a possible justification for this argument? Does somebody have one? The author doesn't explain.

ArtD0dger October 21, 2007 at 11:43 pm

That Nation piece is, without question, the best case I have heard in favor of Al Gore in very many months, if not years.

It's astonishing that Cockburn could accomplish this unwittingly.

John Pertz October 22, 2007 at 11:53 am

That Cockurn line on Borlaug is a text book play straight from The Nation's drive-by character assassination playbook. All of the writers over there have a rather wicked habit of referencing someone they do not like in a perverse, negative, and unreferenced way so as to severely injure the person's character without drawing too much attention to their criticism. The piece itself was not about Borlaug but those two or three sentences nailed him to the cross in a more efficient manner than a focus piece ever could have. If Cobourn had set out to write a nasty article about Borlaug, he would of drawn much more attention to himself and subsequently the onslaught of scrutiny would of been greater. However, because the slander was contained within an article about someone else Cockburn will unfortunately get off unharmed.

David Peterson October 22, 2007 at 4:44 pm

I get the impression that he is not familiar with Borlaug or the Green Revolution and assumes they're both associated with the Green Party given that his next sentence is one disparaging the Kyoto Treaty.

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