My last post dealt with the global efforts of the FAO to address the global challenge of world hunger and malnutrition. I took my usual public policy wonk approach that the organizational infrastructure and business-like strategy were as important as social relevancy and moral inspiration. The ability of the FAO to conduct evaluations of past activities at an in depth level was as important as its laudable intention to be more proactive in its future endeavors.
There is another level of discussion that goes beyond the efforts of the FAO and United Nation's efforts to the basic philosophy behind the best means of addressing these problems. My inspiration once again comes from the End POVERTY / Fim POBREZA group forums. How we see the problem will influence how we see any potential solutions. One of group's members used a famous bet to frame the debate.
The ongoing debate centers around a bet between Noble Prize winning scientist Paul Ehrlich and the famous American economist Julian Simon. The metric of the bet was the price that five metals reached on the Chicago Stock Exchange in the following decade. Ehrlich claimed that population growth would raise the demand and the price of metals. The metal lost value, and Ehrlich lost that particular bet.Paul Ehrlich wrote the controversial best-seller the Population Bomb in 1968 which made projections about the catastrophic consequences of population explosion. Ehrlich was trained as an entomologist and has an affinity for systems and seeing the big picture. Ehrlich follows in the tradition of English philosopher Thomas Malthus, who in the eighteenth century posited "his hypothesis that (unchecked) population growth always exceeds the growth of means of subsistence" creating a Maltusian catastrophe. His "Essay on the Principle of Population" also influenced Darwin's theories.
Losing that particular wager did not stop the debate, the question is whether Ehrilich's work on population is still relevant. Taking the affirmative, the blog Yale Environment 360 discusses the matter in The Population Bomb: Has It Been Defused?
The Ehrlichs are sometimes ridiculed because Paul’s original book predicted hundreds of millions of deaths from famine in the 1980s, when we were bailed out by the Green Revolution. But they are right to question the new orthodoxy that technological fixes will always save the day. For myself, I fear that when the Wall Street Journal talks about a revival of Malthusian fears, it reflects a tendency to excuse those guilty of overconsumption, while instead blaming the poor for their poverty and our planetary predicament.
Environment consultant for New Scientist magazine
Ehrlich is now leading the Center for Conservation Biology research at Stanford University in California, and still holds to his central thesis: the earth is nearing its limit of sustainability of human life. Ehrlich's current work was featured in Wired Magazine back in March of this year, Population Bomb Author Tackles Cultural Evolution.
My own personal view is an attempt to find a middle path that incorporates both perspectives. Defining the problem as Ehrlich does, but recognizing the viability of Simon's arguments. This blog continues to be against an unfettered free market approach to economics and at the same time support social entrepreneurial efforts incorporating effective business discipline. Ehrlich proposes a Fix For Next Extinction: Educate Women. Where I come somewhat closer to siding with Simon is in applying the solutions. Finding that middle path, however, continues to be an ongoing debate with myself.
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