FOR THE LAST FEW YEARS AN INFLUENTIAL GROUP OF social reformers has been energetically propagating a dangerous myth. This is that the accelerating pace of population growth is overtaking the rate at which the world can produce food, and that disastrous famines are almost inevitable unless the growth of population can be throttled.
In October, 1966, a study by Prof. Karl Brandt, one of the world’s great agricultural authorities, retired director of Stanford University’s Food Research Institute and a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, exploded this myth. But his analysis did not receive anything like the attention it deserved.
Governments’ first priorities, Brandt declared, should not be to effect “planned parenthood crash programs,” but to adopt policies that give farmers the freedom and incentive to expand food production.
Brandt has no quarrel with “planned parenthood by voluntary individual decision.” But it would necessarily take years before even successful government birth control propaganda could appreciably affect the total size of the population. Moreover, the emphasis on birth control to counteract famine diverts attention from the enormous potential increase in food production that has now been made technically possible.
Science and technology have now developed overabundant sources of energy, which have opened the gates to replace human and animal power by mechanical power in food production.
The most crucial of all fertilizers, nitrogen, has now been made potentially abundant everywhere in the world at declining costs. One ton of pure nitrogen can yield from 15 to 20 tons of grain equivalent. Technology has developed new methods of irrigation, highly effective weed killers and pesticides, better means of storing and preserving perishables.
Why, then, has the world still been having famines? Brandt replies that in the last generation most of these famines have been primarily government-made. He cites the collectivist policies in Soviet Russia that initially resulted in the starvation of five million people and have continued to prevent any proper expansion of food output there for nearly forty years. Similar and worse policies have cost uncounted millions of lives in Red China.
Famine has been produced by similar policies in India. In its socialist mania for “industrialization,” the Indian government has squeezed the major part of the capital for that industrialization out of farm income. It has arbitrarily set high prices for all manufactured goods and low prices for food and other farm products.
On top of this crushing discouragement to food production, mismanagement and neglect have led to a situation in which mice, rats, birds, and locusts are permitted to devour India’s homegrown food faster than American Food for Peace can be shipped in at very high expense.
On top of all this, some 200 million government-protected sacred cows are allowed to roam around eating food while people are dying of hunger.
Our government has not insisted on any adequate conditions in return for our enormous gifts of food to India. So, Brandt concluded, our generosity has been contributing unwittingly to the prospect of real famine there, while weakening the United States dollar.
Such gifts allow the Indian government further leeway to continue ill-advised policies which suffocate the initiative of their farmers. The magnitude of food deficits these policies continue to create is so enormous that with all charity and foreign aid, we and the other industrial nations cannot possibly compensate for them.