Should-Read: Actually, I do not believe that the work of wizards like Norman Borlaug “encouraged [the] complacency about environmental problems that threaten us today”. That is a fake rap, Bill—the complacency has other, much more self-interested and selfish roots than the writings or deeds of those working to raise productivity: William Easterly: Review: Going Beyond the Limits of the Earth With ‘The Wizard and the Prophet’: “Even though the explosion of population and living standards that Vogt feared did occur, the famines he expected never did…

…Global population is three times higher than when Vogt was writing, while global living standards (per capita GDP) are about four times higher…. What happened? Part of the answer is that Norman Borlaug happened….Like many breakthrough innovations, those of the Green Revolution were in part the result of serendipity. The Rockefeller project in Mexico sought to boost maize production—and failed…. But one small and obscure part of the project worked: a program to control a destructive fungus on wheat called stem rust… develop[ment of] wheat varieties that were not only resistant to stem rust but could (along with fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation) dramatically raise yields. Borlaug’s initial success in Mexico led to later triumphs in India and Pakistan, where there were some similarities in climate….

The author’s portrayals of Vogt and Borlaug make the former much harder to love. Vogt sometimes seemed to care more about cormorant babies than human ones. He criticized “unchecked spawning” and “untrammeled copulation” of “backward populations.” He wrote that people in India breed with “the irresponsibility of codfish.” He suggested in 1952 that “industrial development should be withheld” from poor countries as a form of birth control. Population scares led to programs in which, Mr. Mann says, “millions of women were sterilized, often coercively, sometimes illegally, frequently in unsafe conditions, in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and, especially India.” India sterilized 8 million men and women in 1975 alone….

To Mr. Mann, Vogt’s major contribution was to sound the needed warning about environmental problems that today include “over-fishing, deforestation, soil degradation, contaminated groundwater, declining populations of mammals and birds, and, most alarming, the possibility of very rapid climate change.” But the author notes Vogt’s big mistake: He blamed all this on growth. In fact, Mr. Mann writes, “the contribution of population growth to [these environmental problems] is secondary, and the relationship to economic growth is equivocal.” The author notes that Vogt “denounced social scientists as fools,” but Mr. Mann concludes “he should have listened to them.”… You can… simply tax polluters or regulate the pollution…. As finite resources get scarcer… their price will increase… people will economize…. It is not that hard, in the arid American Southwest, to replace water-thirsty grass lawns with dryland plantings….

The author [also] suggests that Borlaug and the Wizards should also have listened to social scientists more. A political system that has been captured by the elites may let those elites get away with land and sea degradation… as happened in India and Pakistan after the Green Revolution….The excessive alarmism of Prophets helped inspire the modern environmental movement, but implicitly opposed the rise in living standards of billions of poor people. Wizards, by contrast, helped defy the limits to growth to make the escape from poverty possible, but they may have encouraged complacency about environmental problems that threaten us today…

January 27, 2018


Brad DeLong
Review: Going Beyond the Limits of the Earth With ‘The Wizard and the Prophet’&via=equitablegrowth" title="Share on Twitter" onclick=",'targetWindow', 'toolbar=no, location=no, status=no, menubar=no, scrollbars=yes, resizable=yes, width=800px, height=600px'); return false;" class="e-share-link e-share-link__twitter">
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