Monday, October 13, 2008

Food policy, energy policy

Over the weekend, the Times magazine ran a long article that read like an op-ed on food policy. It is clear that efficiency and energy-consciousness in agriculture is on people's minds given the recent run-ups in food prices and energy.

A New Yorker article earlier this year revealed how difficult it is to embrace a particular food policy as being relatively more environmentally friendly. Sometimes growing stuff in one corner of the earth that is best suited to do so, and then shipping some elsewhere in the world, could actually be the "greenest" thing to do, in the sense of minimizing the sum total of costs. Growing locally is not necessarily the most earth-friendly option if the costs or doing so are high. The difficulty arrives in trying to measure the costs.

Market solutions are by no means guaranteed to minimize costs when prices of some things, like environmental quality, are unclear, and when there is significant government involvement in the promotion of certain activities and the impeding of others. Indeed, with as much government interference in agriculture as there is, is there any hope a market-based solution could work?