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Population, Food, and Knowledge

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Essay title: Population, Food, and Knowledge

Johnson, D.G. “Population, Food, and Knowledge.” American Economic Review 90 (2000): 1-14.

When judging the current state of the world, one can examine many different aspects. Some such aspects include people, agriculture, and advancement of knowledge. These areas can help one better understand where the world has been, where it is currently at, and where it will be in the future. This kind of study is necessary so as to ensure that the future of the world will be positive, and not deteriorate like it could if it went ignored. D. Johnson’s article, Population, Food, and Knowledge, takes a look at such issues, and describes the past, present and future conditions of the world.

When observing the issue of food in the world, one can see that there is not an infinite supply. The world’s population is currently at its highest point in history, and people are the most nourished as they have ever been in the past. This may not seem like that important of an issue, but at one time, it was thought that the world’s population would exceed the food supply, so that people would go hungry. In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus published a document with the view that the world’s population would one day exceed food supply. He argued that population grows exponentially, while food supply grows arithmetically. This would therefore lead to a shortage of food in the future. Malthus was not the first to state such an idea; the following was written in the Bible: “When goods increase, those who eat them increase.” (Ecclesiastes 5) Not only was Malthus relatively correct with his model population and food models, but he was also correct in that there would be an overall improvement to the lives of people in the future. The question still remains as to how mankind can escape such a food shortage as described by Malthus.

One such way to deal with a food shortage is to attain more food and, therefore, more production. In the past, there were very inefficient ways of farming. This meant that not as much food could be produced. Then came the invention of the reaper, which was followed by the binder, and the thresher. These were all just more efficient methods of harvesting grain. This would eventually lead to the combine, which is still used today. All of these inventions cause the amount of direct labor used to produce grain to go down by about seventy percent. With less people needed to produce food, more people could devote their time to other tasks.

One such task was that of advancing knowledge. This was how the new agricultural equipment came about. Logically speaking, the more people there are in the world, the more likely that knowledge will advance. Between 1869 and 1970, only one Ph.D. was given in the United States.

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