Monday, August 21, 2006

Liberty & Prosperity

Don Boudreaux comments on an often heard, but mistaken, view regarding economic prosperity:
"But the quotation that most caught my eye and made my head shake with bewilderment is this one; here Shah is quoting favorably from a book by Vandana Shiva, entitled Stolen Harvest:

The gain in 'yields' of industrially produced crops is based on a theft of food from other species and the rural poor in the Third World. That is why, as more grain is produced and traded globally, more people go hungry in the Third World. Global markets have more commodities for trading because food has been robbed from nature and the poor.

Talk about a fixed-pie view of reality. Do people such as Shiva and Shah not realize that until very recently -- roughly the past three-hundred years -- the vast majority of the people in the world, as for almost all of human history, were routinely threatened with, and often actually victimized by, starvation? Do people such as Shiva and Shah not realize that the earth's population today (at about 6.2 billion) is nearly ten times larger than it was a mere 300 years ago (at about 625 million)? Given that today at least one billion of us spend our entire lives without worrying one minute about whether or not we will have enough to eat, how can anyone seriously argue that the amount of food now available daily to each of the more than one-billion citizens of western, industrialized societies is "stolen" from people living in less-developed societies? Is it even remotely plausible that the vast increase in the amount of per-capita food consumption for the entire world -- a world today with ten times more people than were alive in 1700 -- is made possible by our stealing this food from the mouths of earthworms and other species?

Do people such as Shiva and Shah not know of the vast literature that shows a powerful and positive relationship between economic freedom and increased living standards? Are they unaware of the arguments (and, frankly, the data) that resources are augmented and largely created by human enterprise, rather than moved from point or person A to point or person B?"
I suppose the generous answer to these questions is that they must simply be ignorant, or unaware, of the relevant literature. Perhaps a less generous answer is that they are aware but choose to ignore the history of economic progress and prosperity? Or perhaps views such as these are founded instead on political motives?

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