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The Modern Food Miracle


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Science and commerce feed the world.

Guy Sorman

July 10, 2020

During the height of the coronavirus lockdown, with a substantial portion of the world’s population in quarantine and the global economy sliding toward a deep economic recession, most of us still ate our fill every evening. We should rejoice in this miracle. Hunger, which has accompanied humanity from our beginnings, has practically disappeared. Isolated cases of malnutrition—but not of famine—remain, due to local conflict and extreme forms of poverty, themselves on their way to remission.

Since 1970, world population has doubled—but food production has tripled. In 1970, India was known as “the famine continent,” and the economic literature was uniformly pessimist, an echo of the writings of Thomas Malthus, who proclaimed 170 years earlier an inevitable contradiction between demographic growth and agricultural growth. Humanity escapes this proclaimed fate, thanks to science and commerce—the two foundations of progress, including agricultural progress.


Progress is seldom, if ever, unanimously welcomed. Activist groups in India and the United States have blamed Borlaug and the Green Revolution for creating new inequalities. It’s true that all Indian peasants were equally poor and hungry before the Green Revolution. Those who applied Borlaug’s recommendations became more prosperous than those who stuck to the old methods. It’s easy to achieve equality when there is nothing to distribute; leftists seem to prefer scarcity to plenty if plenty implies unequal portions. The same people who condemned the Green Revolution now oppose GMOs. Their ancestors, in the early nineteenth century, justified destroying new textile machines using the same arguments. Science progresses; ideologies spin their wheels.


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