Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book Review: 'Famine 1975 !' by William and Paul Paddock

3 /5 Stars

In 1964 the Paddock brothers – William, an agronomist, and Paul, a diplomat – published ‘The Hungry Nations’, their neo-Malthusian analysis of the world population expansion and the ability – or inability- of grain-producing nations to meet the challenges of more mouths to feed. By writing ‘The Hungry Nations’, the Paddocks were clearly trying to site themselves as the newest and most attention-worthy of the ‘futurologists’ (the term was really not in use in ’64 but seems apt) who previously had mined neo-Malthusianism for fame and fortune: William Vogt in 1948 with ‘The Road to Survival’, and Harrison Brown with his ‘Challenge of Man’s Future’ (1954).

I haven’t read ‘The Hungry Nations’ and I haven’t been able to determine what sort of reception it got, but evidently the Paddocks felt it didn't get the readership that it deserved. Just three years later, in 1967, they published the provocatively titled ‘Famine 1975 ! America’s Decision: Who Will Survive ?’ (Little, Brown, & Co., 276 pp).

Perhaps it was the unapologetically neo-Malthusian tenor of the title, or the social mood of the day was more receptive to the Paddock’s entreaties, but ‘Famine’ definitely created a stir and along with Vogt’s book influenced Paul R. Ehrlich to write ‘The Population Bomb’, which was a best-seller and a very influential book when it was published in 1968.

‘Famine’ is organized into three parts, each part having several chapters. Part One, “Inevitability of Famine in the Hungry Nations’, is a fast-moving overview of the world population situation ca. 1966, and sets the tone for the rest of the book’s main arguments: namely, the world’s grain-producing nations will be unable to meet the demand occasioned by the Third World’s burgeoning hordes. All efforts to improve crop yield in developing countries – be they scientific, economic, cultural, or demographic – are destined to fail , and by the mid-70s catastrophic famines will take place in many of these nations.

Part Two, ‘Nor Can the Resources and Talents of the Developed World Avert Famine from the Hungry Nations’ argues that despite impressive advances in crop yields, the developed world will be incapable of providing sufficient emergency grain relief to the starving countries. There is a cogent overview of the US PL 480 program (renamed ‘Food for Peace’ in 1966) which throughout the late 50s and early 60s shipped substantial amounts of donated grain to 111 countries and essentially kept millions of people in Pakistan and India from starving. Most Americans were, and are, ignorant of the scale and scope of the PL 480 program, but it was responsible for the enormous growth in what is the present-day Foreign Aid Industry.

The Paddocks were aware of Norman Borlaug’s efforts to breed high-yield wheat varieties at the time they wrote ‘Famine’, but in their estimation the ‘Green Revolution’ would be inadequate to save countries like India, the Philippines, Egypt, or Haiti from forthcoming disaster.

The final Part, ‘Potential Role of the United States During the Time of Famines’ is the most overtly Malthusian portion of the book. The Paddocks define the term ‘triage’ and propose to apply it to the hungry nations ca. 1975. Egypt, India, and Haiti will be declared ‘can’t be saved’ and left to starve, since the amount of aid necessary to bail out their malnourished millions will be so great as to leave little for anyone else. The Gambia and Libya are ‘walking wounded’ who can survive without immediate aid. Pakistan and Tunisia will be the beneficiaries of US food aid, if only because they have made some effort to implement population control campaigns and have a sufficiently robust political structure to make them worth saving.

Needless to say, the concept of letting millions of brown, black, and yellow-skinned people starve to death in order to save a select fraction deemed most Worthy was, and is, controversial and to modern-day observers the Paddocks are nothing less than bigoted and racist white men playing at God.

But it should be noted that in 1967 the Paddocks were by no means alone in forecasting dreadful times for the world’s poor. A sizeable number of their contemporary statesmen, agricultural scientists, social scientists, and demographers shared – if more demurely than the Paddocks – the idea that eventually the US would have to play God and provide food aid only to those nations with the best chance of surviving a famine.

As we know, the predicted 'Famine 1975 !' never took place, due in part to the advent of Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution, and some adroit, last-minute changes to their agricultural economies by the Pakistanis and Indians. William Paddock produced another book in 1976, titled 'Time of Famines: America and the World Food Crisis', which I have not read. Presumably, Paddock addressed his failed prediction in the pages of 'Time' without necessarily abandoning his dedication to forecasting dire consequences for the undeveloped countries that were 'prospering' as of 1975.

It’s particularly interesting to look back at ‘Famine 1975 !’ and other neo-Malthusian manifestos of the 60s and 70s, now that food availability and world hunger are going hand-in-hand with the concern over global warming. As I write this review in early March 2009 there are severe- some are even using the term ‘unprecedented’ – droughts in Australia, China, Argentina, and portions of Africa. A February 28, 2009 headline in the New York Times by Jeffrey Gettleman reads ‘Starvation and Strife Menace Torn Kenya’; on March 12, 2009 the Times has an article by Somini Sengupta titled ‘As Indian Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists’.

Maybe the Paddocks weren’t so wrong after all …. ?!

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