What Is the State of the World

Once again the WorldWatch Institute has released its widely read State
of the World
report which was quickly attacked by the CATO Institute’s Jerry
Taylor. According to Taylor, “The report’s findings are, oddly enough, always
the same: the state of the world is dire and economic and environmental collapse
is inevitable unless we undertake radical social change.”

As Taylor points out, this defies the record even of the brief decade and
a half that WorldWatch has published its annual State of the World publication.
“In brief,” Taylor writes, “the WorldWatch Institute and its president, Lester
Brown, have a track-record matched only by the late Jean Dixon of National Enquirer
fame. For 15 years, the State of the World reports have predicted famine,
resource exhaustion and environmental collapse on the near horizon. But like
the horizon, the foretold apocalypse continues to recede as we advance upon

Taylor’s rhetoric is a bit heavy-handed, but his analysis is solid. Readers
skeptical of Brown’s predictions might want to remember back to August 1997.
At that time grain prices were going through the roof due to back-to-back lowered
harvests. Brown and WorldWatch released a report claiming “rising grain prices
may be the first global economic indicator to tell us that we are on an economic
and demographic path that is environmentally unsustainable.” I pointed out then
that grain prices were going through a rather predictable price cycle and as
farmers saw the higher prices they would increase production and the price would

So what happened? Well in case Brown hasn’t noticed, there’s currently a glut
of grain and every other crop in the world market at the moment. As a result
(with some help from the Asian economic crisis) the cost of food is at record
low levels for many crops. In the United States, president Bill Clinton and
members of Congress want to spend billions of dollars to bail out farmers who
can’t make a profit on such low prices.

Now here’s my prediction for the next two years. Remember — farmers react
to prices. As the world food glut continues, many farmers will leave the business
or dramatically cut back on the amount of land they put in to production.. Two
to three years down the road, once again grain prices will begin climbing and
once again Brown and WorldWatch will point to the rise and claim the sky is
falling and the end is near. The one thing everyone can count on is Brown won’t
learn a thing from his failure in 1997 to predict world grain markets. He’ll
just go on ignoring the evidence.


The State of the World: Doom or Boom? Jerry Taylor, Cato Institute Commentary,
January 26, 1999.

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