This is not a time when mere tinkering will do. The world is very near the brink, in part by virtue of the political-economic “equilibrium” we have made for ourselves in the last 400 years. We are in an interregnum, between the ages of affluence and scarcity; confused and uncertain about the past, we have hardly begun the attempt to grasp the future. Our political and economic institutions have lost the confidence of the people, and for good reason.
As Wendell Berry has put it, “as a nation we no longer have a future that we can imagine and desire ... We have become the worshippers and evangelists of a technology and wealth and power which surpass the comprehension of most of us, and for which the wisest of us have failed to conceive an aim. And we have become, as a consequence, more dangerous to ourselves and to the world than we are yet able to know.”
“Is there an economics to sustain humanity?” I have just returned from the World Food Conference and am convinced that there can be no new “equilibrium,” no political and economic meaning for the '70s, if we are not able to solve the intricate problems of world food. I want to speak of those problems, suggest some solutions and discard others, and finally issue a challenge to “re-vision” our culture.
The present world food crisis emerged suddenly in 1972 with global bad weather, the disappearance of the unassuming Peruvian anchovy, and a variety of other factors that caused the first decline in world food production in 20 years as the demands of population and affluence continued unabated. The result: Import demand climbed steeply, reserve stocks evaporated, and prices soared.