16 May, 2008

Food for Thought

Raj Patel, who has the most delightful British accent, and Megan McArdle, who is an annoying libertarian, discuss the global food trade in this fascinating diavlog.It's particularly poignant and informative, given the current food crisis. Patel points out that we have vast numbers of starving people coexisting on this planet with vast numbers of overweight people. Why? A small number of corporations are a bottleneck in the production of many foods. There are lots of farmers, lots of consumers, but very few middlemen. Moreover, developed world farm policies heavily subsidize certain foods (corn, sugar) and distort prices. The solution? Land reform, changes in our agricultural policies, debt relief, taxes on meat and sugar.

Anyway, I don't mean to endorse his policy prescriptions. Honestly I don't have well-formed opinions on food policy. But that's sort of the point. Like a lot of things that affect our daily live--transportation, water, housing--we don't often think about the systems that create the way we actually live. Foreign policy is fascinating and can capture the imagination like nothing else, but what we eat and drink, how we get from place to place, where and how we live, are determined by equally complex systems of incentives.


Elliot said...

Re the shot at those of us who may be consumed by foreign policy debates, point taken - although things such as World Bank conditionality, trade policy, and negotiations such as Doha are really at the center of foreign policy decisions. Or, more precisely, trade policy inhabits the nexus where foreign and domestic policy meet, making its system of incentives very complex indeed.

Anyway, watched the whole thing, very interesting discussion. And weirdly, its a topic that has come up very often recently in my various private discussions - food policy and public health, particularly. I will definitely be reading Patel's blog.

spencer said...

Certainly, I was talking more about the kind of foreign policy that focuses on conflicts like Iraq. Although you could argue that those conflicts are also about these very mundane things..."where does our energy come from?" in that case.