Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Famine, 1975!

I've recently been rereading Famine, 1975!: America's decision: Who will survive? by William and Paul Paddock. Let's look at a characteristic (and appalling) quote:

A friend of mine, a charming lady in her fifties who had never traveled in the undeveloped world, happened to do an important favor for a member of the family of a ruling potentate of one of the semi-backward nations (whom I would like to name but it probably would not be of benefit to him). She was invited to visit the royal family and gladly accepted. her plane arrived at evening and the ride to the palace through the capital city, pleasantly exotic in the half-light, was a delight despite the clouds of dust swirling everywhere. At dinner with the highly cultured ruler and his wife and children she was told the rainy season was long overdue, and the next morning the first rains did burst forth. Afterwards, she took a walk outside the palace gate and along the rutted main street and saw people eagerly scooping the water out of the puddles along with the horse manure and anything else that had happened to accumulate during the dry season. They used the water for cooking, for drinking, for, in a word, normal living. Sickened, my friend asked the ruler why he allowed this, why he did not provide sanitation facilities and clean water at least in his capital city. After all, this was not a destitute country; compared to many it was recognized as prosperous. The ruler replied, “I know it is not pleasant to see people drinking from ruts in the road, and we do have enough money at least to change things here in the city. But the problem is not that simple. Rather, I have not been sure in my own mind how to handle this problem. So I have visited other countries, especially India, to see what happens when a city gets pure drinking water. My decision was that when India learns how to feed all of the people who have been kept alive because of the good water, then I shall order a modern water system here.” My friend was not convinced this was right but she was intelligent enough to accept it as a thought-out policy

My opinion is that this ruler is an exceedingly wise man. Although he could never announce such a policy publicly, he has in various ways, held back spending tax moneys on public health. Some hospitals and clinics have been built and staffed by aid-giving countries and the aura of progress is believed in by the local people. Yet there has been no all-out effort by the government along these lines; this must be a major factor why the population increase rate is not out of hand and why the nation, compared to its neighbors, is relatively prosperous.

Before I make any other comments, I'll have to deal with the complaint that spending tax moneys on public health is not fiscally conservative. Control of contagious disease was a traditional activity of classical liberal governments. (There have been complaints that such governments were more concerned about contagious disease than malnutrition.) I also have to point out that if you try citing Dubya as an example of fiscal conservatism, you are not only ignorant of the past but also of the present.

That out of the way, I have to say … AAAAIIIIEEEE!!!!

The passage brings up several questions: What nation was it? Is it now a Third-World hellhole? (It might be North Korea.) Was the regime in question overthrown a few years later? (It might be Iran or Vietnam.) If the ruler is still alive, what is his opinion of the lack of famines in India? On the cheap-shot level, what was the “important favor”?

If you look elsewhere in the same book, you'll see a complaint about the horrible effect of DDT (it lowers death rates), a table putting India and Egypt in the “Can't-be-saved” category, praise for Japan's high abortion rate, and, to show their well-rounded wrong-headedness, a complaint about the Malaysia–Singapore split (a split that kept Malaysia from getting a free ride on Singapore).

If DDT bans (which killed millions in the Third World) were due to this type of reasoning, will there someday be a Black Book of Environmentalism?


Blogger Vader said...

I'll have to deal with the complaint that spending tax moneys on public health is not fiscally conservative.Someone would have to be ignorant to make this complaint. Public health measures that reduce communicable disease often display the characteristics of a public good, and folks who object to taxpayer funding of public goods are usually radical libertarians.

1:11 AM  

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