Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Malthusian Catastrophe

“What would you do differently if you learned right now that you had one thousand years to live?”

That is the question put to Michael Jeffs during his job interview at Aseso Nutraceuticals, a company whose sole product is an herbal supplement called Sinsen. That huge numbers of people across the globe believe Sinsen to be an effective anti-aging product, does not hurt the company one little bit and, in fact, Aseso’s biggest problem is one of keeping up with the enormous demand for its product. But think about that question for a minute. What would you do if you found there was a way to keep yourself from aging? Would you be willing to spend whatever it takes to get your hands on the magic pills, even at the expense of money you might have spent to the long-term benefit of your children? Or would you prefer to live a normal lifespan because you do not believe in playing God - and you simply want to grow old with your partner and children?

David Oats and Toshiro Tanaka, co-founders of Aseso, are brilliant men in more ways than one. Not only are they responsible for the discovery and production of Sinsen, they are also smart enough to avoid the attention of the FDA. By letting rumor and word-of-mouth work in their favor rather than directly claiming that Sinsen provides medical benefits for its users, the two doctors are able to market their product as just another herbal supplement, something the FDA does not regulate. Their secrets, and their monopoly, will remain safe from competitors as long as the FDA is uninterested in testing their “herbal supplement.”

The Malthusian Catastrophe, by first-timer Ernesto Robles, is a look at what might happen when limited supply meets unlimited demand on a product that could very well be the difference between living and dying. The book illustrates a world in which demand for a product, one that can only be produced in mass quantities by cutting back on food production, continues to grow beyond the planet’s ability to provide the resources necessary to create it. What will happen when the vast majority of the world’s population is priced out of the market? Do national governments have any responsibility to offer potential immortality to everyone within their borders, regardless of ability to pay?

Nineteenth-century (or is it 18th century, since he straddles both of them) economist Thomas Malthus said that when the world’s population grows to a level high enough to outstrip its food supply, catastrophes such as mass starvation, devastating disease, and major wars will occur until the food supply is once again able to sustain the surviving population. Offered the possibility of living forever, would the citizens of the world finally prove Malthus correct?

Ernesto Robles explores to good effect these and other complicated moral issues in The Malthusian Catastrophe. The real beauty of the book, however, is how successfully Robles cloaks all the social issues inside such an entertaining thriller. This is an intriguing debut novel, one that will leave the reader wondering what, given the same circumstances, his own choices would be.

Rated at: 4.0

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