TCS Daily


The Benefits of Downsizing

By Sidney Goldberg - January 6, 2003 12:00 AM

Last May, The Wall Street Journal published a remarkable article, based on interviews in Havana, that indicates Fidel Castro came within an inch of becoming the Man of the Year - no, Man of the Century, or, mirabile dictu, Man of the Millennium. He was so close to ending the world's problems of hunger, overcrowding, pollution, lack of water.

Castro, it turns out, has been obsessed with duplicating the milk-producing capacity of a cow named Ubre Blanca, which produced more milk than any cow in the world and was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records for this accomplishment. But Ubre Blanca died in 1987 and ever since then the Cubans, on Castro's orders, have been trying to clone a new breed of super-cows from Ubre Blanca's frozen DNA.

The same year that Ubre Blanca died, according to the same Wall Street Journal article, Castro suggested to his scientists that they breed cows down to the size of dogs, so that each Cuban family could keep a cow in its home and treat it both as a pet and as a milk provider. Milk is in terrible shortage today in Cuba, and school children are given a soy substitute every day.

So how did Castro come so close to becoming the Man of the Millennium? Because if, instead of shrinking the size of cows, he had suggested shrinking the size of people he would have transformed the world and put an end to hunger and all the other evils that afflict us.

In reality, the shrinkage in cows already has taken place. The Associated Press, as published in The New York Sun of June 18, 2002, reported that Dustin Pillard in Rockwell, Iowa, has bred cows that stand no taller than three feet, and weigh little more than 300 pounds, compared to the standard cow that can reach five feet at the shoulders and weigh up to a ton. The same thing has been accomplished with horses. And of course we know that Chihuahuas weren't yapping at the feet of mastodons - they were bred down from "real dogs" within the past couple of hundred years.

So, what would it mean if we picked up on the idea that Castro overlooked but we can get started on? Let's assume that humans are bred down to one third their current height and weight. Here are the results we could depend on:

First, a quick end to food shortages. A chicken could feed a family of four for an entire week. One tomato would be enough for the whole table. One 14-ounce steak would be the centerpiece of a feast.

Second, no more desperation for a place to live. In the cities, every apartment would have the makings - at the least - of a duplex. In the suburbs and rural areas, the average home could be divided between two families, each having more space than the original occupants.

Third, full employment. For several years, entire populations would be engaged in re-sizing their environment. In addition to the reconstruction of their homes, skilled workers would have to reconfigure the railroads and the buses, at the very minimum adjusting the seating arrangements. The biggest challenge would be redesigning the automobile so that it would be compatible with the smaller people.

These are but the tangible benefits from downsizing. There would be even greater intangible benefits. There would be far less need or desire for war because in a world free of hunger and overpopulation there would be little incentive to steal land from one's neighbor.

And perhaps at the top of the list would be the restoration of adventure and excitement in a world that has become blasé and routine. Swimming the English Channel, climbing Mount Everest, running the ten-minute mile - all these would be new challenges for the small people.

Achieving this transformation of the human race, which I do not think violates any religious beliefs, would take at least a couple of generations, but the techniques of getting from here to there I leave to others. A great deal of diplomacy would be necessary, so that we're not left with a very mixed population worldwide, some of us six-footers and the others two-footers. On the other hand, a few "giants" might make the world more interesting.

It may be that if Fidel reads this he will slap his forehead and see how wrong he got it. Incidentally, his proposal for feeding the miniature cows was that each family would grow grass in drawers, under fluorescent lights. And history will absolve this loony?

Sidney Goldberg is a New York media consultant who was Senior Vice President of United Media for Syndication. United Media syndicates and licenses Peanuts, Dilbert, and many other graphic and text properties.
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