[Olpc-open] to bet, or not to bet

John Kintree jkintree at swbell.net
Tue Feb 26 12:02:01 EST 2008

In 1980, Paul Ehrlich, the author of _The Population Bomb_,
bet Julian Simon that prices of metal commodities would
increase by 1990.  Ehrlich thought that the rapidly growing
human population would soon exceed the life supporting
capacity of planet Earth.  Simon argued that improvements
in technology would increase the capacity of Earth's
resources so that shortages and higher prices would not occur.

Ehrlich lost the bet.  The prices of all five metals he picked
were lower in 1990 than they were in 1980.

In seven of the last eight years, including 2007 during which
world grain production reached an all time high, world grain
consumption has exceeded production.  World grain stocks
are falling, and grain prices are now rising rapidly.
See Chapter 2 data at: http://www.earthpolicy.org/Books/PB3/data.htm

There have recently been reports of regional shortages of
fertilizer, and of farmers hoarding fertilizer to ensure
adequate stocks for the next growing season.  There are
also reports of farmers withholding rice from the market in
order to sell at even higher prices in the future.  It is easier
to manipulate prices during times of tight supply.

All is not bleak.  One of the most encouraging things
happening in the world these days is the One Laptop
Per Child project.  Why is that encouraging?  What good
does Internet access do for a child who does not have
food to eat?

In the marketplace, a penniless child has zero demand.  It
doesn't matter how great the need might be.  In a monetary
economy, having zero money means having zero demand.

Suppose a petition was placed on the Internet to use the
world's grain to feed children instead of using it to fatten
cattle before the slaughter, and instead of using it to
produce ethanol fuel for fat SUVs.  And, suppose we let
children in developing countries use their XO laptops to
sign their names to this petition.  Would that have any
impact on the distribution of the world's grain?  Should it?
John Kintree
4043 Delor Street
St. Louis, MO  63116

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