An unfair, although useful, piece of advice is never to believe anything at all concerning economics which comes from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
For, sadly, this is the part of the University of London where all those who still believe in state-planning as a form of development fled when the real world disproved the idea.
With this in mind we can approach this complaint in this newspaper: “Although agricultural productivity increased in the country, the new generation was reluctant to take up farming, said experts.”
This comes from Shapan Adnan, a professorial research associate at SOAS.
The correct response to this is: Good. Great and yippee, even!
Because the way that economic development happens is that we all stop standing around in muddy fields and go do indoor work with no heavy lifting.
This is not just the way, this is pretty much what economic development actually is.
Many fewer of us are farming, near all of us are doing something other than farming.
We want the younger generation to be reluctant to take up farming.
We positively desire that they lust for that job in an office or factory somewhere.
For this is what development means, this is also how it happens.
One way to approach the logic here is simply that a country which only farms is an undeveloped country.
Another way to make the same statement is that there’s not much money to be made out of a hectare or two of paddy.
So, if everyone is farming a hectare or two then their incomes can only be, are wholly limited by, how much can be made out of a small rice farm.
An undeveloped country of poor people that is.
The third way is to look at history.
Near everywhere for nearly all of time, some 80 to 90% of the country grew the basic and simple crops of that region: Rice, wheat, potatoes, the basic foodstuff.
Just because farming was inefficient and that’s how much labour we needed to feed 100% of the people.
Productivity is, by definition, gaining more output from the same human labour — this is also the same thing as getting the same output from less human labour.
Increased agricultural productivity means that we either have more food from the same number of farmers or we need fewer farmers to feed ourselves.
Given that there’s a maximum anyone can eat before they explode this happens, one way or another.
First we all get more to eat, then we start to have fewer farmers.
This is true development.
For if we need fewer farmers then we have the labour to build steel works, brick factories, run sewing machines, write code, and so on.
We now produce more than just food — we’re more developed.
We’re also richer as we now have steel, bricks, clothes, and code as well as food — and we’re all also doing indoor work with no heavy-lifting.
This is, as I say, simply the definition of development.
There is one little horror in this happy story. Which is that we don’t, in fact, want to throw farmers off land into these factories and offices.
All of these different things — farming itself, as well — are things that are learned.
It’s not really usual, or likely to be useful, if someone does one of them for 20 years then tries to do something else all of a sudden.
So we tend not to want to move actual farmers off the land — we want to move farm labour off the land.
Do it over time, that is.
Like, say, the farmers’ children go off into the offices and factories.
Make this change on a generational basis, not one disruptive — not so much of course — of individual lives.
There is another way we can describe such a process.
It’s that “the new generation is reluctant to take up farming.”
So our professorial type is complaining about the very thing that makes us all richer with the least disruption in personal life.
Labour moves off the farms and into the more productive indoor jobs, the very definition of economic development.
Well, I did say we shouldn’t believe anything from SOAS on the subject of economic development, didn’t I?
Tim Worstall is a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London