800 Posts! Open Thread + a graph on farming around the world

HT Pseudoerasmus

Hello and welcome! Today I realized that the blog has just reached 800 posts (slightly more than 800 by the time you read this.

Here’s the full article the graph to the right hails from–Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture Shifting to Developing Countries. (PDF). The right-hand axis shows agricultural output per worker–most countries in most parts of the world have seen gains in output per worker over the past almost-60 years. The left-hand axis shows output per hectare of land–the sort of improvements you get by adding fertilizer.

If one farmer on one hectare doubled his output, (again, suppose fertilizer) he and his land would move up at a 45 degree angle. If one farmer doubled his output by using a tractor to farm twice as much land, he would move directly to the right on this graph. If the land became twice as productive, and so each individual farmer cut back and farmed half as much land, then you’d see a line heading straight up.

So what do we see? North America and Oceana are producing the most food per farmer. Oceana gets very little food per hectare, though (“Oceana” here means New Zealand and Australia, which has some rather large sheep ranches.)

Northeast Asia–that is, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, even though Taiwan isn’t really in the north–gets the most food per acre. These are very densely populated countries. Europe hovers in the middle, perhaps having already achieved rather good productivity per acre before the study began and having recently improved more in productivity per farmer.

Africa and South Asia (India and Pakistan?) are notable for trending upward more than rightward–in these areas, improved agricultural production has allowed existing fields to be sub-divided. This suggests that, while population growth is being accommodated, farmers lack the ability to benefit from selling excess produce (hence why they do not bother to farm more than their own families eat) and people are not moving into other, non-subsistence occupations.

Anyway, how are you, my faithful readers? As we celebrate 800 posts, what would you like to see more of in the future? Less of? Any books you’d like to see reviewed or blog features expanded (or contracted)?

I am thinking of collecting and editing some of my best posts into a book; which posts have you enjoyed?

I’d like to thank you all for all of the great and interesting comments over the years; after all, if it weren’t for readers, this blog would just be me shouting into the void. Readers make all of this effort fun.

Have a wonderful day.

14 thoughts on “800 Posts! Open Thread + a graph on farming around the world

  1. As others (like Emil Kirkegaard) have observed, it’s remarkable how little play the fact that things are getting dramatically better in what we used to call the “Third World” gets in the American and European media. There are lots of reasons for this, but one of them is obvious – if things are improving rapidly in the developing world, there’s no reason for them to come here, as immigrants or “refugees”. This just goes to show that most of the pro-immigration push has very, very little to do with improving the lives of third-world people, and everything to do with societal teansformation, bought votes, and cheap labor.

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    • If anything, I think things getting better are part of why the immigration is happening. People now have money for tickets, cellphones to coordinate with relatives, TVs that show them what life is like in other places, etc., not to mention a ton of population growth, and all of those young people are naturally going to want to spread out and go places.

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      • Probably lots of truth to this – but “Give me your young, your bored, your newly prosperous yearning to date a blonde chick” just doesn’t work for our media as open borders propaganda.

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  2. Just wanted to say thank you for keeping it up. I greatly enjoy your blog – your book reviews, anthropology posts and most everything else are very informative and enlightening. I also like that you keep the politics on the low side and information on the high. – there is enough echo chambers out there reverberating the same old tropes without any actual information

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  3. So, I don’t like getting upset about news stories, since I think it’s generally overdone these days, but reading about the fire at the National Museum in Brazil just really has me bummed. I hadn’t really known it existed before tonight, but Brazil was one of those places that I wanted to go to eventually, and the museum sounds like exactly the sort of place I like to see when I visit places, and now I can’t. Anyhow, it had a whole lot of artifacts, including the 12,000 year old Luzia skull.

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    • Oh no! That was a really interesting skull.

      Generally speaking, I think artifacts–especially really interesting ones–should be 3D scanned and then people with 3D printers can make copies of them all around the world.

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  4. 800 posts! Wow that’s a lot. Congratulations. And thanks for putting up with my Cro-Magnom comments, [most would use the phrase Neanderthal but I’m not one of them and I hate them.]

    I’ve been carrying on about the threat of AI. People don’t seem to believe that computers can exhibit any in any sort of intelligence in any time frame that matters. Well there’s been a big break through. What they’ve done is to get rid of complicated rules and move everything to a YES-NO binary type computing decision for neural networks. Not that I understand all of this but I do understand that they are generally moving an algorithm to be more suited for computers. I get the general idea but the implementation somewhat defeats me. They are doing amazing things with computers are low powered as smart phones. Sometimes things like this have BIG effects. Someone finds a way to do things that others just missed. I believe it will ramp up AI to be in all sorts of products. One of the disadvantages of this that it’s not as precise. The advantage being it’s stunningly fast. I’ll bet they could use the fast techniques to generalize then use more precise and accurate to nail down things.

    https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2018/08/algorithms-provide-more-performance-gain-than-hardware-in-many-cases.html

    Look at this video. It’s astounding what they are doing with extremely low power devices and cell phones. I have no idea how they do this with a raspberry Pi. It doesn’t seem possible.

    I’m with Musk on this. People think these smart computers will just do our bidding but I think there’s a very high probability that something smarter than us will NOT do our bidding but it’s own. The propensity for abuse by governments and other people is very large. Think about a drone with a raspberry Pi driving it locked to a persons image. Yikes. Of course when this happens they will not just blame the person that did this they will go after all of our rights. Sigh…

    Paper

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1603.05279.pdf

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    • I think of AI as kind of like… a bureaucracy. Or capitalism. Now, we only use the word “bureaucracy” when we’re unhappy with it, but bureaucracies do many things that we appreciate, like build water treatment plants that deliver fresh, drinkable water to our houses. That’s bureaucracies working right. And bureaucracies also do things like drop off a million bottles of water on a tarmac in Puerto Rico and not bother to tell anyone they’re there while people die from drinking tainted water.

      Hospitals are amazing systems, because they incorporate so many people, many of whom are deathly ill, many of whom show up with no food or ability to cook and have to stay there for weeks, and somehow most people in them don’t die. And yet experience at hospitals varies so much. Some people get the best treatment and it works, and some people, things just go terribly wrong and it fails. I read an account the other day from a fellow who was given antibiotics upon arriving at the hospital, which started working immediate, so since he was getting better, they took him off the antibiotics, whereupon he got worse. He wanted back on the antibiotics but by that time he’d been officially transferred to a different hospital even though he was still physically in the first hospital, so no one would prescribe him anything, and long story short he thinks if he’d just had those antibiotics he wouldn’t have degenerated to the point where he had to have his colon taken out.

      This disaster wasn’t really due to people not knowing how to do their jobs or not wanting him to get well; it was just bureaucratic.

      So AI done right could be amazing. And done wrong, we could all lose our colons.

      There are probably two sensible things people can do to keep AI beneficial and not awful: 1. Be competent. 2. Care about each other. Unfortunately, society is often run by incompetents who don’t care.

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  5. I think all farming will eventually be bacteria and yeast that are flavored with genetically engineered snips of good tasting food. They are doing this with fake meat now. It’s supposed to be good tasting and nutritious. It’s expensive now but the cost can only go down as fermenting yeast can be done at low cost. This stuff will be super healthy and since it will have no viruses or other contaminants I suspect people will find products farmed “in the wild” to to be repulsive in the future.

    I also suspect that at some point the yeast will be grown by electricity. I saw, somewhere, where they were stimulating plants with electricity[high voltage-low current wires overhead] and getting high yields. I’ve heard this several times. We know photosynthesis is really crappy for energy to yield. 2%???? It’s low. If you could directly drive the process with electricity and get it up to say 40% the increase would be astounding. Surely there’s some way to do this. a 2000% increase in anything is a strong technology driver.

    Soylent Green

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