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The End Ain’t Nigh (for the world nor for predictions of its doom)

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Reviewing Julian Cribb’s book The Coming Famine, Mark Bittman approvingly summarizes Cribb’s thesis that “we have passed the peaks for water, fertilizer and land, and that we will all soon be made painfully aware that we have passed it for food, as wealthy nations experience shortages and rising prices, and poorer ones starve.  Much of ‘The Coming Famine’ builds an argument that we’ve jumped off a cliff and that global chaos – a tidal wave of people fleeing their own countries for wherever they can find food – is all but guaranteed” (“Seeing a Time (Soon) When We’ll All Be Dieting,” August 25).

These apocalyptic, economically uninformed predictions are growing tiresome.

I will bet Mr. Cribb (and/or Mr. Bittman) $5,000 that the percentage of the median family pre-tax income spent in a supermarket on a basket of food in the United States will be lower in 2020 than it is in 2010.  I’m happy to negotiate on which items to include in the basket as long as these items are typical foods eaten by middle-class Americans.  So the basket might include, for example, a loaf of whole-wheat bread, a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, a gallon of orange juice, a box of corn flakes, a head of iceberg lettuce, a pound of sliced turkey breast, and a liter bottle of Coca-Cola.

Whatever items are included in the basket, I’m confident enough to stake my money on the prediction that the aggregate price of these items will constitute a lower portion of Americans’ pre-tax income ten years from now than it constitutes today.  Are Mr. Cribb and Mr. Bittman as confident in their contrary prediction?

Donald J. Boudreaux