Invented for war and having the effect of preventing it

Abstract: This paper provides evidence of the long-run effects of
a permanent increase in agricultural productivity on conflict. We
construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in
Europe, the Near East, and North Africa from 1400–1900 ce and
examine variation in agricultural productivity due to the introduction
of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian
Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes led to a sizeable
and permanent reduction in conflict.

As with a long uttered view of both myself and Tim Almond.

Going to war to gain land is only necessary when land is the limitation upon food supply. Thus the Haber Process led to may folks being blown up by making nitrogen fixing to make armaments possible. But longer term nitrogen fixing makes war less likely as land is no longer the limitation upon food supply.

It also makes Hitler’s concerns over lebensraum 40 years out of date. As well as the obvious corollary, that organic farming will make war more likely.

27 thoughts on “Invented for war and having the effect of preventing it”

  1. Well yes Tim. This is one of the reasons why I really hate Biden’s restrictions on fracking.
    (Ok I agree that the Brits have done this as well.)

    Technical progress means I’ve no reason, like my noble ancestors, to go out and plunder the Spaniards (or others), or seek new lands to conquer. One just improves the efficiency of the process under consideration, and one is drowned in wealth.

    Even the dread climate change can be handled by this method. You just turn up the air conditioning.

  2. Technical progress means I’ve no reason, like my noble ancestors, to go out and plunder the Spaniards (or others), or seek new lands to conquer.

    Problem is that nations with limited tech progress tend to have large numbers of invaders who like the idea of leaching off better-managed societies (although hard to argue that a society which bends over for invaders is better managed). Europe has been invaded by a Spain’s worth of Muslim & African peasants over the past couple of decades.

    Although I am coming round to the idea that the Build Back Better mob, if successful, are going to make the West no better than your bog-standard 3rd world dump, which should be a natural cap on immigration.

  3. Idk, this is a cool theory, but… was WW2 “about” lebensraum? Was Stalin motivated by a desire to control more agricultural produce?

    Note that mass conscription only became possible because of improvements in farming. By 1794 the French could raise an army of 1.5 million men – a staggering number at the time (and today). Not 50 years before, the Jacobite Rebellion – like all previous wars – was moderated by the necessity of peasant soldiers returning home at planting or harvest.

    The paper covers a period of time up till 1900, but we know about quite a few bloody subsequent events which call into doubt the idea that the reduction in conflict was permanent. Fewer small wars, perhaps, but the big ones of the 20th century put all previous death tolls to shame.

  4. Might be a theory if nothing at all else happened around the time of potato introduction. But if other things DID happen it’s just a temporal correlation.

  5. The same war-stopping logic as the Haber Process applies to ICBM and H-Bombs, in spades.

    Once the Kings, Presidents and their chattering-class flunkies realised they were in the front line too….
    Being killed yourself takes all the fun out of it.

    I nominate J Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller for the Nobel Peace Prize 🙂

  6. Bloke in North Dorset

    The 30 years war, one of the bloodiest in European history didn’t have a lot to do with needing access to agriculture. Ditto the Franco-Prussian war, another bloody conflict.

    Steve, didn’t Napoleon’s armies operate on the basis that “the war shall feed itself” because France couldn’t feed them and therefore they were to some extent about access to agriculture?

  7. Frederick the Great forced spuds on the peasantry in the 1740s after a famine in Pomerania. He still fought the war of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War over Silesia. The fact that this area produced coal was only important a bit later.

  8. BiND – Idk enough about Napoleonic agriculture, but I believe what you’re describing is just the age-old tactic of plunder.

  9. I also think this is about tractors and trucks to distribute food, both of which reduced costs. Food becomes cheaper and it’s not worth the blood and treasure to steal land.

  10. But isn’t inter-government conflict now about taxing rights over businesses, rather than agricultural land? OK, not war at the moment, but still the potential cause of war has shifted, not gone away.

  11. Bloke in North Dorset,

    “The 30 years war, one of the bloodiest in European history didn’t have a lot to do with needing access to agriculture. Ditto the Franco-Prussian war, another bloody conflict.”

    OK, so what was it about? France trying to stop Germany getting together. And why is that important? Because then, Germany could invade as one and take bits of France and all the landowners would lose their lands and be poor.

    Doesn’t happen in Europe today because land is cheap compared to other things. It is why there’s always fighting in the Middle East, because stealing land with oil under it is how you get rich.

  12. @Grikath
    My hero: “When the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? ‘That’s not my department!’ says Doctor Werner von Braun”.

    An engineer’s engineer.
    And someone who not only survived riding the tiger, he turned it into a 5 star meal ticket for himself and his team.
    But best not look in the suit wardrobe.

  13. From Defra in Jan 2021:
    “Total factor productivity of the agriculture industry in the United Kingdom is estimated to
    have increased by 4.0% between 2018 and 2019.” The new figure being an all time high
    and
    “Since 1973, total factor productivity has increased by nearly 60%, driven by a 39%
    increase in the volume of outputs and a 13% fall in the volume of inputs”
    Groovy but UK could probably do even better. I’m sure many trad industries have advanced by more than this. At least it indicates there isn’t a real and present climate crisis. Might be one coming, who knows, but not here yet.

  14. Spuds make you docile. Hmmm
    The Italian landowners tried to force potato cultivation on the peasantry, who strongly resisted. Even today they only eat them if they’re dressed up to look like pasta (gnocchi).
    Yet I don’t remember Italy being an international aggressor in the time frame allowed.
    Sicily is incredibly rich agricultural land. Yet Sicily isn’t rich.

  15. Philip, there wasn’t an “Italy” until 1870 and it depends on whether you define his war of unification against the Austrians and Naples as aggression. The Italian states had no opportunity to be aggressors because they were fighting each other or fending off the Habsburgs, French, Spanish…

    To a North Italian, Sicily is Africa.

  16. Frederick the Great forced spuds on the peasantry in the 1740s after a famine in Pomerania.

    They place spuds on his grave (in Sanssouci) to this day. I wonder what the Germans ate before 1740? Bread, I suppose (and pickled cabbage).

  17. Bloke in North Dorset

    BoM4,

    Franco Prussian war was about Bismarck de living his aim of uniting Germany, without Austria, and getting revenge for Napoleon’s invasions. He wasn’t even bothered about an empire, that came later and from other sources.

  18. Sadly some wars are caused by other things – for example the wars in the middle east which are caused by Islam. No change in technology is going to solve that.

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