The Enemy?

Be careful how you plan.

Photo: Laitche. Source: Wikimedia

Sixty years ago, Mao Zedong introduced the “Four Pests” campaign in China, a hygiene crusade designed to eradicate the pests that made daily life so difficult: mosquitos which transmitted malaria, rats that spread the plague, biting black flies, and sparrows. Sparrows? Yes, each sparrow, the government determined, could eat four pounds of grain per year. Birds were the public animals of capitalism.

In Beijing, millions of citizens took to the streets or took up station on rooftops or at windows. Children carried pots, pans, and spoons to bang upon. Large groups roamed the streets carrying sticks with brightly colored rags to frighten the birds and keep them flying. Soon, exhausted birds started dropping from the air. Foreign embassies denied the Chinese request to enter their grounds and scare away the birds. As a result, the legations soon needed shovels to clear the dead and dying sparrows from their compounds.

But rather than improve the harvest, the “war on sparrows” created an ecological disaster. Without sparrows to prey on them, locust and grasshopper populations ballooned. Locusts swarmed across the country, eating everything in sight. Ecological imbalances contributed to the Great Chinese Famine a few years later, a mass starvation event that killed 30 to 60 million people. Books and references to this famine are still officially banned in China, where it is officially known as the “Three Years of Difficult Period.”

Famine relief in China. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia

Nature is more powerful than we imagine. Decades of antiseptic hospitals have bred pathogens resistant to antiseptics that live mainly in hospitals. Pesticides used on farms breed bugs resistant to pesticides. The most persistent law of nature and economics seems to be the law of unintended consequences.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Charter Trust Company

“The Best Trust Company in New England”

By |2019-02-11T07:00:43+00:00February 11th, 2019|Global Market Update|0 Comments

About the Author:

Mr. Tengdin is the Chief Investment Officer at Charter Trust Company and author of “The Global Market Update”. The audio version of each post can be heard on radio stations throughout New England every weekday. Mr. Tengdin graduated from Dartmouth College, Magna Cum Laude. He received his Master of Arts from Trinity Divinity School, Magna Cum Laude and received his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation in 1992. Mr. Tengdin has been managing investment portfolios for over 30 years, working for Bank of Boston, State Street Global Advisors, Citibank – Tunisia, and Banknorth Group. Throughout his career, Mr. Tengdin has emphasized helping clients manage their financial risks in difficult environments where they can profit from investing in diverse assets in diverse settings. - Leave a comment if you have any questions—I read them all! - And Follow me on Twitter @GlobalMarketUpd

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