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Reports of the Earth’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

Here’s a letter to the New York Times Book Review:

Reviewing Andrew Beahrs’s book about Mark Twain’s culinary tastes, William Grimes remarks that the author of Huckleberry Finn lived in “a country soon to be overwhelmed by industrialized agriculture and ecological catastrophe” (“Your Tired, Your Poor and Their Food,” August 8).

“Ecological catastrophe?!”  Mr. Grimes confuses his fashionable suppositions with actual history.  A genuine ecological catastrophe would have made human existence a nightmare in the 100 years since Mr. Twain’s death.  Instead, the past century has witnessed unprecedented improvements in living standards.

Agricultural output is several times higher today, both in absolute amount and in yield-per-acre.  Available supplies of nearly all minerals continue to increase.  Americans of all income levels are much better fed, much better clothed, much better housed, and much better cared for medically.  The automobile cleaned America’s streets of the dung and flies that once cursed denizens of cities and towns.  Electricity and petroleum have replaced far-filthier coal and wood as major sources of household energy.  Perhaps most significantly, life expectancy in 2010 is 30 years longer than it was in 1910.

Let’s hope that this “catastrophe” continues.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics