Valentine's Day Is a Triumph of Abundant Capitalist Production

Valentine's Day Is a Triumph of Abundant Capitalist Production
Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review via AP
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Valentine’s Day is the third biggest sales day for the U.S.’s $22 billion chocolate candy industry. Readers might think about that for a moment. It’s a boisterously positive statement about modern living standards.

While many might jokingly claim an inability to live without the wonderful delicacies that spring from the cacao tree, the reality is that they’re a luxury item. Chocolate is what we consume after we’ve theoretically met all manner of other needs like clothing, nutrition and shelter. In a very real sense, abundant chocolate consumption is a signal of how far we’ve come.

Lest readers forget, in the early part of the 20th century less than 1% of the world’s inhabitants could claim consistent access to food and other basic comforts. Chocolate of any kind was very much a rare treat, whereas nowadays Americans are so prosperous as to enjoy whole holidays dedicated to its consumption.

Thinking yet again about how desperate was life for most a little over a century ago, it’s exciting to contemplate how much humanity has progressed. Having more and more taken care of life’s necessities, we have the capacity to splurge.

And a major reason we can splurge is that food has become quite a bit cheaper. Whereas the term “mouths to feed” used to be very pregnant with meaning in consideration of how much of our earnings were directed toward groceries, food’s declining cost as a percentage of total income has proved transformative in terms of how we live. Evidence supporting the previous claim is the prodigious amounts Americans will spend on chocolate on the most romantic of holidays. Thanks to impressive innovation in the creation of food, we now have the means to enjoy life’s finer things.

A major reason food items consume less and less of our budget has to do with relentless technological advance in the farming sector. Stated more simply, technology has made it quite a bit easier for farmers to produce a great deal more food with a great deal less in the way of human labor. No doubt the invention of fertilizer played a crucial role here, and then the tractor itself can’t be minimized. Better yet, what moves and tills earth is becoming more and more effective by the day. Just last week USA Today reported on farmers operating modified tractors that quite literally do the work that not too long ago would have required 30 laborers. Every advance like this means that we’re able to eat more, and better quality food, for less and less.

About these advances of the mind that result in plenty, it’s time to give GMO farming its due as an integral driver of dinner table abundance. While major media (cheered on by truth-challenged organic industry funded groups like the Non-GMO Project) have attached pejoratives like “contamination” to food that is genetically enhanced, the bountiful reality of scientifically-improved food is something else entirely.

In truth, genetically modified food is the happy marriage of technology with production as crops with desirable traits are multiplied on the way to more, and much healthier eating options. And precisely because the most desirable qualities of plants are magnified, potential crop killers of the insect and drought variety become much less of a factor. To offer up a few modern examples of GMO’s import to production, genetic modification saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from the ring spot virus, GMO-farming is enabling the production of apples not so prone to browning (thus cutting back on waste), plus researchers are helping Florida orange growers avert the citrus greening that threatens a major industry within the Sunshine State.

All this, plus GMO technology is presently being developed to protect the cacao tree in the Dominican Republic from the ravages of insects and occasional water-supply difficulties. Yes, the chocolate that causes your mouth to water is being made more plentiful through genetic modifications to the cacao tree that have historically limited cocoa production.

Laudable here is that farmers who utilize GMO technology have in some instances banded together in order to fight insincere attempts by anti-GMO groups to essentially yell "Halt" to progress. Notable since it’s Valentine’s Day is that 1,600 farmers helped fund Ethos Chocolate, which has rolled out candy bars made with genetically modified cacao plants. Their efforts are part of any ongoing process to correct the backwards-looking narrative that says farmers should remain stuck in the past. Ethos Chocolate proudly touting its use of GMO technology is a welcome difference from other food makers feeling coerced into using a stigmatizing “non-GMO” label on their products—something that FDA claims to be against, yet under Commissioner Scott Gottlieb continues to ignore.

Somewhere along the way the improvement in the production of food has been sidetracked by individuals and groups scarily eager to demonize what makes food healthier, more plentiful and cheaper all at once. Such a blast to a more austere past rates rebuke from free-market types, but also from humanitarians who understand how brutal life was before technological advance found its way to food production.

To be clear, life 100 years ago was much more than trying for all but the richest of the rich. Hard as it is to imagine now, the act of eating which we now take for granted was quite a bit less than a certainty thanks to a lack of technology of the type that enabled copious production. GMO-farming has helped deliver us from a brutal past in favor of one defined by plenty that gives people a raise every single day, and that makes Valentine’s Day a celebration of much more than romance.

John Tamny is a speechwriter and writer of opinion pieces for clients, he's editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His new book is The End of Work, about the exciting explosion of remunerative jobs that don't feel at all like work.  He's also the author of Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at jtamny@realclearmarkets.com.  

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