The Fuzzy Ethics of “Humane Meat”

Let’s consider the nature of nonindustrial animal agriculture, bringing the same level of scrutiny to those operations that we bring to factory farms. Do this, and two damning realities begin to emerge. Together, they emphasize the consequences of the movement’s failure to follow the logic of its own findings and to promote, as it should, the end of animal agriculture as a revolutionary path to agrarian reform, one with the potential to meet the movement’s most passionately articulated goals. Continue reading

Food Prices and Food Riots: Reax

A few weeks ago, I published a post in which I announced that my paper titled “Rising Food Prices, Food Price Volatility, and Social Unrest” (click here for the version that was accepted; a version devoid of typos and which includes missing prepositions will be published) had been conditionally accepted for publication at the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the top journal in my field.

As has been the case every single time I have posted on the topic, this generated a number of tweets, retweets, direct messages, and so on. On this more than anything else I have worked and written on, it was fairly easy to tell what kinds of prior belief people were bringing to the table when they commented, and it was interesting to see confirmation bias do its thing.

The reactions I got to my core findings that “rising food price levels cause social unrest, increases in food price volatility do not appear to do so” were usually of the following varieties: Continue reading

Seven Hundred Years (Updated)

deMolay

I’d like to take a break from agriculture, development, and food policy for a second to write about something more personal.

Today marks the 700-year anniversary of an important moment of history. On this day in 1314,  Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon — the Knights Templars – was burned at the stake along with three of his lieutenants on Paris’ Île de la Cité, in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

That event has a special significance for me. I was a teenager when I first read de Molay’s story in the first volume of Maurice Druon’s excellent series of historical novels Les Rois maudits (“The Accursed Kings“), and he has been a hero of mine ever since.

The reasons for my admiration are many. First, I would say that the most important are de Molay’s adherence to both principle and the truth — he ultimately refused to confess to the heresies the members of his Order had been falsely accused of, and he stuck to his guns until the very end.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, de Molay’s story is highly symbolic of what can happen when the power of the state — which has the monopoly of violence within its borders — goes unchecked. de Molay’s only crime had been to serve as banker to a bankrupt state, ruled by a king who did not want to face his debts and who thought it would be simpler to just jail and torture the bankers into confessing to committing fictitious crimes.

I don’t want to sound like the kind of tinfoil-hatted crank who hoards guns and canned food for the coming apocalypse, but — especially in this day and age — de Molay’s story should serve as a useful reminder that individual freedoms should never, ever be taken for granted by anyone anywhere in the world and that, as Thomas Jefferson said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Update: The Telegraph has a great article titled “A Stain on History,” about the burning of Jacques de Molay (ht: Nick Johnson.)

Spring Break! (And the Oxford CSAE Conference, too…)

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It’s spring break at the University of Minnesota, which means that I have a whole week to spend at Señor Tadpole’s getting a margarita made in my mouth that I can dedicate to working on research papers. It also means that I am unlikely to post anything until the middle of next week.

I will also be going to the Centre for the Study of African Economies conference at Oxford next weekend to present my work with Tara Steinmetz and Lindsey Novak on female genital cutting. I will be presenting on March 24, from 4:30 until 6:30, in the Junior Common Room Lecture Theatre, in the “Health and Gender” session. I suspect many readers of this blog will be at the conference. If you are going to be there, please come say “Hi!”

The Fall and Rise of African Crop Yields since 1960

A new article by Tufts University’s Steven Block in Oxford Economic Papers explores why African yields have fallen from 1960 until 1980, then risen back to their initial, post-independence levels from 1980 until 2000:

In this paper new estimates are presented for the path of TFP growth in African crop agriculture. With adjustment for the quality of inputs TFP growth rates declined from a rate of 1.5% per annum in the early 1960s to less than 0.5% per annum by the late 1970s. Since then the growth rate has risen steadily so by the early 2000s it was close to the levels achieved at the beginning of the period. These results follow from using a novel semi-parametric econometric approach to estimating TFP. Recent advances in panel econometrics are used to show the heterogeneity of TFP growth rates across countries. Expenditures on agricultural R&D, along with the reform of macroeconomic and sectoral policies have played a substantial role in explaining this pattern of TFP growth.