Are the experts ever right? Do you remember the “Club of Rome” forecasts in 1973-74? The intellectually fashionable Rome “experts” and many other specialists predicted permanent food shortages. Anticipations of worldwide famine swept them and the media men off their feet. When the soybean price reached $12 per bushel, even the American President pushed the panic button and embargoed the export of precious soybeans to the Japanese who had always relied on them as their largest source of protein. Cassandras all over the world bewailed the unhappy end of agricultural abundance in America. Indeed, it was only two years ago that wheat sold for $6 a bushel at the grain elevator. Even feed corn sold as high as $4.50 per bushel in the cash market. Because of these record prices and scarcities, foreign policy wags everywhere waxed eloquent about the coming era of an American food monopoly. It was argued by these neo-Malthusians that U.S. agricultural hegemony had been ushered in by those same economic forces of “permanent scarcities” which gave rise to the oil shortage and the OPEC monopoly. The people of the world had consumed too much of their scarce resources like oil and food. Population had outrun production the experts moaned. Citizens of the world had but two choices: (1) face up to the shortages and potential famine by reducing population to zero-growth while conserving food, or (2) perish.
We identify civilization by its etymology: -- From the Latin "civis", or "civitas", meaning citizen or city. That is to say, civilization is characterized by the economy of city life. By this definition hunting and gathering cultures are, in the most fundamental sense of the word, not civilized. Indeed, the emergence of early urban cultures, over four thousand years ago, occurred coterminously with the intensification of agricultural and commercial exchange in the village markets of the Near and Middle East. In a word, the city and commerce are one.
Not until several weeks ago did I realize that the arcane subject of Federal government debt had become a subject of cocktail party debate. I suppose that the cause of the heated debate was a discussion of the “de facto” bankruptcy of New York City. (For two years New Yorkers have been helpless observers of one of the most remarkable economic spectacles of our time – the financial immobilization of the richest city on earth.)