The U.S. is resource-rich, self-sufficient in food and most raw materials, and large in area

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Jared Diamond argues (in Upheaval) that the US is facing its own crisis — but first a geography lesson:

The reason for the U.S.’s large population is its large area of fertile land. The only two larger countries, Russia and Canada, have much lower populations, because a large fraction of their area is Arctic, suitable only for sparse habitation and no agriculture.


The reason for this apparent contradiction is that the U.S. is resource-rich, self-sufficient in food and most raw materials, and large in area, and has a population density less than 1/10th of Japan’s.


The only countries in the world with per-capita GDPs or incomes higher than the U.S.’s are either small (populations of just 2–9 million: Kuwait, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates) or tiny (populations of 30,000–500,000: Brunei, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and San Marino).


Their wealth comes mainly from oil or finance, whose earnings are spread over few people, resulting in high GDP or income per person but a low rank in total national economic output (which equals output per person times population).


As regards geography, we are fortunate to be endowed with excellent real estate. The U.S.’s lower 48 states lie entirely within the temperate zones, which are the world’s most productive zone for agriculture, and the safest from the perspective of public health.


Thus, North America’s wedge shape and history of repeated past glaciations, combined with the moderate rainfall prevailing over most of the continent today, are the underlying reasons why the U.S. has high agricultural productivity and is the world’s largest exporter of food.


The other major geographic advantage of the U.S. is our waterways, both coastal and interior. They constitute a big money-saver, because transport by sea is 10–30 times cheaper than transport overland by road or by rail.


Once barriers to navigation on those rivers had been engineered out of existence by construction of canals and locks, ships could sail 1,200 miles into the interior of the central U.S. from the Gulf Coast (Plate 9.4).


When one adds the intra-coastal waterway to the Mississippi / Great Lakes system, the U.S. ends up with more navigable internal waterways than all the rest of the world combined.


The other advantage of our sea-coasts is as protection against invasion.


  1. L. C. Rees says:

    It has often given me pleasure to observe that independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty. Providence has in a particular manner blessed it with a variety of soils and productions, and watered it with innumerable streams, for the delight and accommodation of its inhabitants. A succession of navigable waters forms a kind of chain round its borders, as if to bind it together; while the most noble rivers in the world, running at convenient distances, present them with highways for the easy communication of friendly aids, and the mutual transportation and exchange of their various commodities.

    With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

    This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.

    John Jay Publius
    Federalist No. 2
    October 31, 1787
    New York, New York, New York, United States of America

  2. Kirk says:

    Most of the “crisis” faced by the US is internally created by the leftists we’ve allowed to exist and have power. They’re our avowed enemies, and intend the destruction of the nation.

    I’m not sure what you do about that, short of a reign of terror visited upon them, followed by a carefully conducted cull of the population, but the fact is, we’re where we are because of them, and their inimical plans for the rest of us.

    Rule of thumb: Idealists are deadly, and should pragmatically be culled from the population whenever they are identified. I don’t care whether or not they’re left-wing, right-wing, religious, or humanist; if they’re “idealistic” enough to think that they have the right to force their views on others, to any degree…? They need to be put down, and put down quickly, because like rabid dogs, their madness will spread and fester in the body politic. Quite often, it’s not so much the original idealist that’s the problem, but the reaction to their efforts. Witness how much damage the good dames of the Christian Temperance Union visited upon the US; would our criminals be as wealthy, as embedded into the society as they are now, absent Prohibition? Would we have more respect for the law, absent that hypocrisy?

    Consider the current drug prohibition. Were marijuana legal, and had it always been so, would we have had the dopers and head cases take it up with such frenzy as they did? Would we have varietals with so much THC, or would marijuana still be the relatively harmless byproduct of industrial hemp growers?

    Idealism and idealists are deadly to nations; they lead to bad policies, divisiveness, and growing distrust of the system. Whether it’s the AGW fanatics, the pro-abortion types, or whoever, they all should be eliminated from the body politic. Anyone who describes themselves as “passionate about ideas” is a bloody risk, and should just be put down before those passions spread. Passionate about a person, sure… That’s normal. Passionate about an abstract idea, like “justice”? Sign of a deranged mind, and like people with frenzied belief in conspiracy theories or madnesses like anti-Semitism, they need to be carefully excised from the body politic. Leave them alone, and they’re like little cancer cells, spreading the madness from one weak mind to the next.

  3. Graham says:

    LC Rees,

    That lovely selection from Publius reminds me of Lincoln’s first inaugural:

    The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

    I find the passage even today one of the most impressive blendings of the idealist and the historical. I gather Mystic Chords of Memory is also the name of a rock band, which should at least please Dave Barry.

  4. CVLR says:

    With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors

    How very quaint.

  5. D. John1 says:

    Diamond has noticed the Zeihan Analysis.

  6. Adar says:

    “the U.S. has high agricultural productivity and is the world’s largest exporter of food.”

    Say what you will as to what happened to the American Indian but within a thirty year period about 1 million square miles of the just about the best crop land in the world and laying fallow brought under cultivation. One of the most remarkable achievements in the history of all mankind.

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