Let Them Eat Organic Cake!

Despite the opposition of President Bush to federal subsidies for embryonic stem cell research, the United States isn’t the only jurisdiction that has had problems coming to terms with the implications of the genetic revolution. Ronald Bailey reports on EU intransigence on genetically modified (GM) crops, and how these EU regulations are having dire consequences for the livelihoods of the world’s poor people:

[T]he constituency of anti-biotech environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth is not poor African and Asian farmers and their families, but affluent and easily frightened European consumers. In response to ferocious pressure ginned up by the misleading campaigns of ideological environmentalists, EU politicians and bureaucrats have built an all but impenetrable wall of anti-biotech regulations around themselves. Wielding these onerous crop biotechnology regulations, the EU, on specious safety grounds, has essentially banned the importation of most biotech crops and foods. But these regulations do not only have consequences for European farmer and consumers.

The EU wants to export its regulatory system to the world, and it is offering “capacity building” foreign aid to persuade developing countries to adopt its no-go or go-slow approach to crop biotechnology regulations. Even more tragically, some developing countries are so afraid of the EU’s anti-biotech wrath that they are willing to risk the lives of millions of their hungry by rejecting food aid that contains genetically enhanced crops.

Activists usually blame the inaction of rich countries for killing people in poor countries. However, instead of outrage here, we get Greenpeace geneticist Doreen Stabinsky primly quipping in the Post-Dispatch, “Hunger is not solved by producing more food. We’re the breadbasket of the world, and we have hungry people in the U.S.”

Hunger may not be solved by producing more food, but it sure couldn’t hurt.

There’s a saying, that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a life time. What the anti-biotech groups’ approach boils down to is a refusal to teach their poorer neighbors to fish. This is unsurprising, as such groups are generally anti-liberal (in that they expect government to provide), and dispensing immediate aid doesn’t require teaching anyone how to be self-sufficient. This is of a piece with the anti-liberal hostility toward individual responsibility. (Do not confuse this with the liberal sympathy for the plight of the poor, as true liberals advocate both giving the man a fish and teaching him to fish.)

Rather odd, given the chidings that Americans are usually subjected to from Europeans dismissing our supposedly parochial attitudes toward technology. You’d think they’d know better. Then again, if their own farmers were at least marginally more efficient, they wouldn’t have to import food and thus run the risk of importing GM foods. Try telling that to someone in Brussels.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

Europe’s Population Implosion

Much has been said and written about Europe’s fertility rate, the white portion of which is below replacement levels. Here are some clues why this is happening. Compare those stories with an American one, and you can begin to get a sense of the differing values.

James Taranto addressed this in a way in January:

Medical statistics can be tricky: An excellent hospital may have a higher death rate than a mediocre one because of differences in the patient population, with the former treating much harder cases than the latter. That is what seems to have happened here: Kristof has alighted on a statistical artifact of American excellence and misconstrued it as a sign of America’s shortcomings.

Perhaps America’s much-ballyhooed religiosity is also her saving grace in this context, as, despite Roe v. Wade, we are more likely to try to save perinatal infants instead of dumping the baby in the rubbish. Or, as James Taranto points out in “The Roe Effect“, perhaps our religiosity remains because of Roe v. Wade. Who knows?

It is entirely possible, of course, that the European women who discarded those babies did, in fact, endure much emotional anguish. But in the end, their decision was indubitably made easier by the more cavalier attitudes of their postmodern upbringing. I hope it wasn’t quite so easy, of course. I’d hate to think that some woman decided, after carrying a baby nearly to term, that she’d rather not give up the single life, that she’d rather not give up being able to afford items of haute couture or dinners of haute cuisine. In short, I’d hate to think that women who want to live like the girls of Sex and the City would make a decision to bring a baby to term, then give it up all at the last minute just because it’s “inconvenient”. I’d also hate for Europeans to have to resort to the excuse that these women didn’t know any better; wouldn’t that take away their ability to mock the United States for our (admitted) lack of good sex education?

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]


Joseph Carroll:

“Memes,” for example, spread or “reproduce” in a way that has some parallels with the spread of genes, but no meme—no idea or cultural image–contains a molecular mechanism adapted by natural selection to replicate itself. Ideas and cultural images are themselves inert. They are “replicated” only by serving as stimuli for psychological processes eventuating in symbolic activity that stimulates other psychological processes. The differences in causal mechanisms between molecular replication and this “memetic” process are subtle but fundamental.

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A Reply to Ken

The readers of Reason, Ken, Megan McArdle are asked to ponder the importance of their votes, to argue convincingly. Ken’s stance was the least cynical, the most objective. It seemed a grown up complaint. Still, I was heartened by his comment, which led me to think that his stance was rhetorically effective but, fortunately, a bit empty. (And I do mean that in the best of all possible ways – interesting to read, eye-catching, but, in the end, reaching a complex resolution himself.) Still, here is a response.

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