Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mixed Feelings About a Great Man: Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, who passed away recently, was the father of the green revolution. His work to create and make available crops with insanely high yield and great resistance to disease is credited with saving a billion lives and a billion hectares of forest.

He was a great man and a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, but not just because he came up with the method to develop these crops. He was so worthy because he made it his life's work to encourage the use of the technology he developed. He didn't patent it and make a billion dollars off of it.

You might be thinking about the title of this post and wonder "How could anyone have mixed feelings about such an amazing man?" My mixed feelings stem from my concerns about overpopulation. It is great that we can feed so many people, but should we? I know it's easy for me to wonder about this. I have plenty of food. Still, overpopulation is something I think about. Here are some interesting reads about Borlaug:
He was a great and noble man, but I think it is reasonable to think about the ethical ramifications of our technological advancements.

1 comment:

Pete Murphy said...

Rampant population growth threatens our economy and quality of life. I'm not talking about the obvious environmental and resource issues. I'm talking about the effect upon rising unemployment and poverty in America.

I should introduce myself. I am the author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don’t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

This theory has huge implications for U.S. policy toward population management. Our policies that encourage high rates of population growth are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy.

But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.

The U.N. ranks the U.S. with eight third world countries - India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia and China - as accounting for fully half of the world’s population growth by 2050.

If you’re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, I invite you to visit my web site at

Pete Murphy
Author, "Five Short Blasts"