Speaking of booms and busts, I wanted to point out this op-ed at Bloombergt by Amanda Little disagreeing with those who are worried about a declining U. S. birth rate:
Before clamoring for more mouths to feed, we need to recognize the dire realities of world hunger today and the gravely concerning predictions for famine and malnutrition in the decades to come. Let’s get a plan in place to ensure climate stability and greater food security going forward. Until then, a slowdown in population growth not only eases pressures on a stressed planet, it will make it possible to feed more people more intelligently and sustainably, with higher-quality food.
Let’s first establish that declining population trends are occurring well beyond the U.S. Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that as of 2017, the global fertility rate had fallen by nearly half since 1950, to 2.4 births per woman from 4.6. They expect the world to reach a peak population of 9.7 billion inhabitants around 2060 before dipping to 8.8 billion by 2100. Twenty-three nations — including Italy, South Korea and Japan — are expected to see their populations reduced by more than half within that 2017-2100 timeframe. For now, though, even feeding 9 billion people by mid-century looks like an iffy prospect.
Birthrate declines are occurring alongside a concurrent trend: hunger. After falling for decades, global food insecurity is rising again, driven by extreme weather, political conflict and economic slowdowns intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Roughly 700 million people in the world are undernourished — a surge of 60 million in five years and almost 10% of the world population, according to a new report from the United Nation’s World Food Programme.
I have mixed feelings about just how real worries about “food insecurity” are for several reasons. The first is that its definition is pretty fuzzy. It ranges from famine to unemployment depending at least in part on where you are. I think that famine is a political phenomenon as it has been throughout history.
Here in the U. S. I think that a lot of food insecurity is a consequence of preference and ignorance. When you’ll only eat McDonalds burgers, fries, and shakes it’s both expensive and unhealthful. The solution to that is not giving people enough money to afford McDonalds burgers, fries, and shakes. The primary beneficiaries of that strategy would be franchisees and McDonalds stockholders.
She then launches into a Malthusian argument that was wrong 200 years ago and is still wrong:
By mid-century, the world may reach a threshold of global warming “beyond which current agricultural practices can no longer support large human civilizations,” the International Panel of Climate Change has warned. U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Jerry Hatfield put it to me this way: “The single biggest threat of climate change is the collapse of food systems.”
While it may be true that the biggest threat presented by climate change would be collapse of food systems I don’t think that the greatest risk of collapse of food systems lies in climate change but in bad government policy. Subsidizing subsistence agriculture in places where it is marginal at best does not sound to me like a winning strategy but is extremely commonplace. The better strategy would be getting people out of subsistence agriculture and into more efficient uses of labor but that would require abandoning traditional behaviors. The greatest impediment to that strategy right now is China. Rather than importing raw materials from such countries and exporting manufactured goods to them it should be importing manufactured goods from them and boosting their own internal consumer markets and abandoning import quotas to encourage that.