Malthus the Canary

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

Malthus the Canary


Byline: Arnaud de Borchgrave, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lentil soup and a crust of bread as the first, second and third course at a recent G8 summit in Japan might at least have conveyed the impression the leaders of the world's principal industrialized nations were focused on a fast-unfolding food shortage engulfing the entire planet.

Instead, the convivial summiteers feasted on a six-course lunch at a five-star lakeside hotel on the island of Hokkaido, followed that evening by an eight-course heartburning dinner, from Kyoto beef shabu-shabu, to dicey fatty tuna, to clams floating in Shiso, to broiled prawns in Tosazu, to salt-grilled rockfish, to milk-fed baby lamb to G8 Fantasy Desert, all washed down by wine and champagne vintages from all over the world. To then make global food security a top priority was a tad Pecksniffian.

Year in and year out, the G8 meet in a bucolic setting pleasing on the eyes that tends to act as a soporific on the part of the brain that allows summiteers to anticipate global crises. Last year they met at the Heiligendamm spa resort on the Baltic where not one of the major crises that occurred since was on the agenda. From the subprime mortgage debacle to a global credit crisis, to a declining dollar and rising euro, and the catastrophe of soaring oil and food prices, nothing was anticipated by the men and women who seem to believe they control the global economy. Giants like India, China and Brazil are not even members of the G8 club, whose last German summit was held behind a multimillion-dollar, 7.2-mile fence designed to keep 80,000 protesters out of sight.

In Geneva last week, India and China flexed their global muscles to demonstrate America's waning ability to impose global trade rules. They pulled the plug on the much-heralded Doha round of trade talks under way the last seven years, abandoned Tom Friedman's doctrine of globalization for the illusory shield of protectionism.

In Japan last month, the Eight Big Ones agreed to reconvene in 2009 on the Mediterranean island La Maddalena, nestled in the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Northern Sardinia, one of the last untouched beautiful spots in the world. But they could save their taxpayers a bundle by canceling their reservations now and videoconferencing instead - twice a year.

This will be needed to avoid the nightmare of Parson Thomas Malthus, the English economist who predicted two centuries ago population would outrun man's capacity to produce food. A new generation of Western leaders has presumably forgotten that Malthus ranks as one of the 100 most influential persons in history and that an early convert to Malthusianism was William Pitt the Younger who became Britain's prime minister at 24 in 1783.

Nearly half a billion people are suffering from hunger. Its pangs - and some 10,000 deaths from starvation each week in Africa, Asia, Latin America - have triggered food riots in Mexico, Haiti, El Salvador, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Madagascar, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Hungry people get angry and start revolutions. And revolutions in the developing world breed failing and failed states. …

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