Home > Corrigan, Ehrlich, Enviro Derangement Syndrome, food, Malthus, population, Ron Bailey > Food shortages: Ron Bailey takes up the cry, are Malthus and "Green fascism" on the march?

Food shortages: Ron Bailey takes up the cry, are Malthus and "Green fascism" on the march?

You have been warned: green fascism could soon be on the march. 

So does libertarian Ron Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine, take up the alarm raised by Fred Pearce of New Scientist, who believes that enviros will point to the ongoing wave of food shortages to argue that more starvation in the developing world is on the way unless a renew focus is placed on family planning.  Says Pearce:

“And now food shortages are growing and we will get more. [Paul] Ehrlich, we are bound to be told, was right after all. You have been warned: green fascism could soon be on the march.”

Well, although neither Bailey nor Pearce introduces anything in the way of current evidence for fascism among greens (but rather seem to be jumping in order to claim an “I told you so” later), both might very well be right that enviros will claim that food shortages are the result of overpopulation –  but so what?  Does concern about food shortages, or burgeoning populations in other countries and the stresses they place on natural environments and societies, make “fascists” out of “greens”?

But more importantly, why are guys like Ron in such a hurry to brandish an emotional rhetoric that diverts our attention from understanding real issues, rather than shining a spotlight on them?  Granted, the emotional tug of bashing ideological enemies is strong, and Bailey (not without reason) has long been in the enviro-bashing camp (even as he has come around to accepting that climate change is a problem), but this is disappointing.  I mean, even Sean Corrigan was able to see past his detestation of enviros to keep his primary focus on government interference in agricultural markets as the primary factor in his recent post on food supply shortfalls.

I note that I have already addressed elsewhere, both in Corrigan’s thread and in another post – Too Many or Too Few People? Does the market provide an answer? – various aspects of the interactions between markets and human population; I post here for readers’ information the comments I made to Ron on the thread to his post:

TokyoTom | April 25, 2008, 6:12am

Ron, I’m surprised that you would go to the effort of spreading rather thin hype about “Green fascism” without bothering to explore from a libertarian perspective whether the Green fascists have grounds for concern, what the institutional underpinnings of environmental and “overpopulation” problems might be, or what our own connections to those problems are.

It’s rather simple, really: we see both cleaner environments and the demographic shift in relatively wealthy nations that protect property rights, as families and other economic actors are largely forced to bear their own costs, which provide incentives to keep both pollution and families under control.

Where populations are still growing rapidly – and environmental degradation continues apace – are societies that do not protect property rights, so that economic actors do not internalize all costs, and families to a significant degree face a free-for-all over resources that are not effectively owned or protected.

“Development” thus presents many aspects of a “tragedy of the commons”, a tragedy that we feed with our own consumer, commercial and industrial demand, which is sourced from assets that are not clearly owned, but are simply up for grabs – whether we are talking about the strip-mining of the oceans, the replacement of the Amazon and SE Asian tropical forests with soybeans and palm oil/biofuel plantations, or industrial and commercial enterprises that don’t bear the costs of their pollution (or of the power plants supplying their electricity).

The “Green fascists” see the destruction at the end of the chains of demand that we in the West pull and the destruction resulting from population growth that is unchecked by the pricing signals from effective ownership, and they are rightly concerned. That they fail to understand the institutional underpinnings is of course to be regretted, but it is a failure that can be remedied by a little education.

That you chose not to use your knowledge of the dynamics of “tragedy of the commons” to educate but instead to decry “Green fascists” is a similar failure, and one that I hope you will regret and try to remedy.

As it is, it seems as if you enjoy the emotional rewards of partisan struggle more than really exercising your noggin or making a contribution to directing attention to where solutions to where real problems might lie – in improved property tights protection and governance in the developing world.

Care to contribute, or just to raise an alarum about the evil greenies?



 Just where are the libertarians who actually like to exercise their reason?

  1. TokyoTom
    April 27th, 2008 at 11:28 | #1

    Ken, thanks for your comment, but what`s unfair? I daresay that not only does Ron actually care alot about development and environmental issues, but he also has deep insights into the dynamics of the “tragedy of the commons” and of bureaucratic mismanagement and use of the state by elites as an instrument of theft that do lead to destructive development.

    But what does Ron do? Instead of seeing an opportunity to describe what might be useful steps forward in addressing what actually are shared concerns, Ron gives us blaring trumpets and ad homs about those evil greenies.

    Of course I agree with you that many environmentalists advocate counterproductive policies that greatly please insiders like ADM. But instead of trying to work through why some environmentalist policies are actually counterproductive, Ron has taken to easy – and counterproductive – path of slipping into a tribal and adversarial pattern. That he does so is not particularly surprising, but it is nonetheless disappointing.

    After all, hating enviros will not make the problems that concern them go away.



  2. April 26th, 2008 at 23:37 | #2


    I think you’re jumping on Ron unfairly. Recently, several environmental leaders have, in fact, been talking about “going beyond capitalism” whatever that means. And, the environmentalists are going to to claim that the food crisis validates their anti-capitalist views, when in fact, they were causal in the starvation: preventing the development of oil and natural gas wherever possible (raising the transport element of food prices); preventing the use and development of GMO crops where-ever they can; and most recently (as we discussed) by greasing the skids for the corn lobby to make more money selling so-called “green fuel” instead of selling their crops for use as food.

  1. No trackbacks yet.