The Greatest Risks to Food Supplies Are Posed by Anti-Market Sentiments and Intrusions

by Don Boudreaux on November 5, 2013

in Environment, Myths and Fallacies, Regulation, Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living

Here’s a letter that I sent a few days ago to the New York Times:

You report that “Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades” (“Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies,” Nov. 2) – with the premise that this impending calamity requires aggressive government curtailment or modification of industrial capitalist activities.

Color me skeptical.  Wherever industrial capitalism has flourished over the past three centuries it has eliminated for the first time in human history the millennia-long curse of recurrent famines.  Today, food is in short supply only in societies without market institutions and cut off from global trade.  (The people suffering the greatest risk now of fatal shortages of food are true locavores, such as the North Koreans and the Somalis.)  Relatedly, some of the worst famines in modern times – most notably, in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China – have been caused by the hubris of government officials curtailing market forces with command-and-control regulations.

The greatest risk to the world’s food supply is not the industrial capitalist activities that environmentalists are keen to curtail.  Rather, the greatest risk is the trust that many currently well-fed westerners blithely put in government to rein in the only force in human history that has proven successful at eliminating starvation: market-driven capitalism.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

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