Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Last Conquest of Ireland

For some reason, right-wingers are taking the death of Norman Borlaug, Green Revolution pioneer, badly. Or rather, they're taking it as usual -- an event which can be used to be drive home a talking point. The talking point apparently being that technology removes any obligation to think about constraints on growth. Kinda handy when the evidence on climate change gets more overwhelming by the day.

But anyway, here's the Wall Street Journal paying tribute to the Green Revolution --

Today, famines—whether in Zimbabwe, Darfur or North Korea—are politically induced events, not true natural disasters.

There's a technical issue here about whether African soil is as suited to high-yielding varieties as that of India but leave that aside. Note the implied view of the Wall Street Journal editorial page that pre-1950s famines were natural disasters.

Maybe such an outlandish claim will provoke Amartya Sen into a more authoritative rebuke, but consider that two of history's most notorious pre-Green Revolution famines, those in Bengal (1943) and Ireland (1847-49) occurred in food exporters and were characterized by an extremely sluggish policy response. Maybe market economy failures and governments asleep at the wheel are things that the Journal includes as part of the "natural disaster" definition. After all, Katrina was a "natural disaster".

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