Monday, May 21, 2012

Utopians and murder

Matt Ridley wrote how "Red Tape Hobbles a Harvest of Life-Saving Rice" in this weekend's WSJ.  This is how he finishes:
"Golden rice"—with two extra genes to make beta-carotene, the raw material for vitamin A—was a technical triumph, identical to ordinary rice except in color. Painstaking negotiations led to companies waiving their patent rights so the plant could be grown and regrown free by anybody.

Yet today, 14 years later, it still has not been licensed to growers anywhere in the world. The reason is regulatory red tape deliberately imposed to appease the opponents of genetic modification, which Adrian Dubock, head of the golden rice project, describes as "a witch-hunt for suspected theoretical environmental problems...[because] many activist NGOs thought that genetically engineered crops should be opposed as part of their anti-globalization agenda."

It is surprising to find that an effective solution to the problem consistently rated by experts as the poor world's highest priority has been stubbornly opposed by so many pressure groups supposedly acting on behalf of the poor.
Utopians with an earth-bound agenda can be murderous.  This is an old story.

It is, of course, ironic that libertarians are routinely described as utopian.  But they are little more than Smithians, who want to take humans as they are, and who seek institutions (property rights and competition) that channel the impulses of humans as they are.

This means fewer laws, less politics, fewer visionaries, less coercion by majorities.  That's far less likely to be murderous.

Strong words, but take it from Ridley:
Vitamin A deficiency affects the immune system, leading to illness and frequently to blindness. It probably causes more deaths than malaria, HIV or tuberculosis, killing as many people every single day as the Fukushima tsunami. It can be solved by eating green vegetables and meat, but for many poor Asians, who can afford only rice, that remains an impossible dream. To deal with the problem, "biofortification" with genetically modified food plants is 1/10th as costly as dietary supplements.