Maybe I’m over-simplifying this, but here’s how I understand Malthus: he predicted that man’s ability to produce food would be outstripped by the speed of population growth, eventually resulting in everyone being reduced to a subsistence existence.
In August last year, the New York times loudly trumpeted the debunking of Malthus by saying that the Industrial Revolution had boosted humanity’s ability to produce food (by industrializing agriculture), allowing it to keep pace with the growth of population. Locally, Solita Monsod (in an article I can no longer find) agreed and dismissed Malthus by adopting pretty much the same line of reasoning.
Another favorite of Malthus’ critics is the idea that, even in the absence of technological advancement or increased capital expenditure, the very growth of labor would overcome the imbalance. Basically, the thinking goes that food production increases (enough to meet relentlessly growing demand) because there are more people to make food.
And so, most everyone comfortably thinks that Malthus got it wrong. Recent events seem to me to prove otherwise. Either that, or we’re such a fucked-up country that even with what we needed to escape the Malthusian trap, we still ended up neck-deep in it.
First of all, we were in fact benefited by the fruits of the industrial revolution. Back in the day – circa 60s and 70s – everyone hailed Philippine agriculture as one of the most advanced in South East Asia, maybe even the world. But, having reached that peak, we’ve gone pretty much downhill since then. Where once our farmers had tractors and such, now too many of our farmers have gone back to using wooden plows. Wooden plows, man! That’s screwed up.
I blame government for not having a rational agriculture policy. I blame government for letting corruption take its toll on this, one of the most vital parts of a country’s life. But mostly, I blame government for perpetuating the insanity that is comprehensive agrarian reform.
Second, we have labor in spades. But with our bullheaded adherence to the concept of agrarian reform, we’ve gamed our system so that we can’t even maximize use of that labor force. I mean, think of it:
With land in the hands of big farmers, there is enough capital for modernization. Modernization means increasing agricultural efficiency and productivity. With productive farms, labor becomes a much needed resource and farms become major employers. Thus, with both modernized agriculture and the labor force to work the tractors and things, food production would have been boosted in a major way.
But with land reform, we carved up otherwise productive lands, took them away from the people with the capital to maximize the potential of the land, and gave them to individuals who did not have the technology or the capital to make their lands as productive as it used to be. Today, many of those who didn’t sell their lands the minute they got their titles, engage only in subsistence agriculture, making enough food only to feed their families.
And so we end up smack dab in the middle of a Malthusian crisis. While it is true that we had in our grasp everything we needed to escape that trap, we foolishly let it all slip away.So where does that leave that country?
In a rice crisis.