Acton Institute Powerblog

Feeding the World

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There’s an interesting clip on YouTube of a discussion about the world food situation between, primarily, author Michal Pollan and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant.

Pollan is a champion of the “slow food” movement, which is, to simplify, associated more generally with trends such as whole foods, farmers markets (“localvores”), organic food production, etc. (The participation of otherwise fiscal and cultural conservatives in what is often presented as a left-leaning movement is a phenomenon that gave rise to the term “crunchy cons.”)

A variety of observations might be made on the exchange, but I’ll focus on one. All the discussants underemphasize the role of free human action in the market. World hunger, they seem to assume, is a problem “we” need to solve, whether that be by research, technological dispersion, food distribution, or changing agricultural practices. Pollan’s suggestion that food production and distribution must be a “public” (i.e., government) enterprise is surely wrongheaded–the worst famines in history been the result of government interference or government failure (war, anarchy), not market failure–but Grant, too, apparently views big agricultural business as playing a kind of orchestrating role in steering food production in the right direction.

By all means, let’s continue research, let’s share knowledge with African farmers, and let’s create partnerships between corporations and non-profit entities. But the task of supplying the world’s food needs in the future will not be accomplished by the management of the economy by CEO’s, NGO directors, or heads of state. It will be accomplished if the market is permitted freely to convey information about supply and demand, if production and distribution are not thwarted by corrupt governments and military strife, and if obstacles to participation in the world market are removed.

Alarums raised about impending food shortages have been proven wrong again and again. They will this time, too, as long as the market’s incentives are not tampered with. The world can feed itself, if it is allowed to do so.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of CatholicHistory.net.

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