Thursday, October 9, 2008

On scarcity versus plenty

In one of his speeches, president John F. Kennedy once said that we "now" have the technology to feed the world, as though this ability was something new and amazing. The truth of the matter is that we have always had the technology and ability to feed all the inhabitants of the world. As the world's population has grown, even so have technologies -- driven by market demand -- arisen to assure that there was sufficient food to feed everyone.

Of course, localized famines or disasters have sometimes caused reductions in the food supplies in various regions -- even to the point of starvation. But these localized incidents do not overthrow the fact that, as a general rule, there has always been a sufficient food supply to feed all of this globe's inhabitants.

Whenever and wherever scarcity of food has been an ongoing problem, the factors causing the lingering shortages have always been political -- not technological.
  • When people were starving in Bangladesh, food supplies sent by relief organizations from around the world were rotting on the docks and being eaten by rats because politics kept them from being distributed.
  • When the October Revolution led to collapse of Russia into a communist state, the politics of communism managed to take the world's largest wheat exporter and turn it into the world's largest wheat importer in the matter of a few short years.
  • On the reverse side, as the Soviet Union was emerging from the darkness of Soviet control, new glastnos policies allowed the collective farm workers to keep the profits for themselves from the produce grown on five percent of the land. Within one growing season, more than 80% of the produce reaching Soviet markets was being grown on five percent of the land -- and the produce was of higher quality.
  • When Ethiopia fell to the Communists in the late 1970s, the Workers' Party of Ethiopia excelled even the Soviets in their ability to destroy capital and markets. They managed to turn one of the wealthiest nations on the African continent into the poorest nation on the African continent in about 17 years.
  • As recently as 2009, the ruling junta in Myanmar first refused aid from the outside world, then later recanted and allowed the aid to be delivered to its shores. However, the junta reportedly relabel the aid products with the names of their military leaders before distribution in order to take credit for "saving" its people.
I use these examples of scarcity of food because that seems to be the one shortage that strikes home the strongest; however, many, many shortages of other kinds are caused by wrong-headed policies.
Take for example the current energy shortage in the United States. Why are we shipping (now) about $600 billion a year off to other nations to purchase petroleum?
The answer is simple: The wrong-headed policies of our federal government have placed most of our known oil reserves off-limits for further exploration and drilling.
Known petroleum reserves in the U.S. and Canada (our friendly neighbor to the north) could meet all of our petroleum-based energy needs (at current rates) for an estimated 160 years. If we were to adopt the plan presented by T. Boone Pickens to convert all of our truck transportation equipment to compressed natural gas, that would free up considerably more capacity. The conversion of truck transportation equipment could begin immediately and be essentially 100% complete within three years, according to Pickens' estimates.
There is no shortage of oil in North America. It's just that simple!
The scarcity of petroleum-based energy products is purely the product of politics and not based on any actual shortage of reserves. Unfortunately, Barack Obama and most of the Democrat party is sold-out to the wrong-headed policies that have led us to our current condition. Therefore, if Obama is elected, there will be no relief in site and energy costs will likely continue to rise.
After all, Obama wasn't unhappy that gasoline prices approached $4 a gallon, he just wished it wouldn't have happened "so quickly." I suppose he has "the frog in the boiling water" concept in mind: If the rise happens slowly enough, maybe Americans won't realize that their economy is being "cooked" by bad politics.
-- Richard

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