Give Thanks to the Green Revolution

It’s well known that the Green Revolution dramatically increased crop yields. In a new paper, Gollin, Hansen and Wingender use a general equilibrium model to show that the effects were even more far reaching. For a given acre, the Green Revolution raised the yields of some crops by 44% between 1965 and 2010. But the total effect was even larger because higher yields incentivized farmers to substitute away from lower-yield crops into higher yield crops. Moreover, higher yields meant that less farm labor was required which shifted populations into manufacturing. When one takes into account all of these knock-on effects the authors find substantial effects on GDP. Indeed, the authors estimate that if the Green Revolution had never happened GDP per capita in the developing world would be half of its current level.

More realistically, if the Green Revolution had been delayed by ten years incomes in the developing world would be 17% lower today. In terms of cumulative GDP what this means is that the investments which made the Green Revolution possible were responsible for some US $83 trillion in benefits.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Green Revolution simultaneously prevented many people from starving but also reduced total population because of reduced fertility. The Green Revolution also meant that less land was used for farming not more.

As Tyler argues in Stubborn Attachments (see also this video) growth is a moral imperative. A ten year delay in the Green Revolution could easily have happened. Indeed, it is happening now.

Photo Credit: Norman Borlaug. 1960s. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

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