The missing price of food

According to this story on Stuff, the people of the world are simultaneously threatening to eat all the worlds resources – while being obese.

If that sounds non-nonsensical to you then you would be right – this is the nature of discussing the allocation of resources without taking account of prices.

Here is their “scientific” money quote:

If populations in other countries began to take after the United States, where 36 per cent of the population is obese, the amount of energy required to support all that extra weight would increase by 481 per cent.

Now it is true, the world has finite resources, and our ability to utilise them is constrained by the set of technology available.  If everyone tries to consume lots and lots of food, it will push up the price of food – in essence we can only consume the stock of food we are able to produce, and we will produce food (instead of other goods and services) on the basis of the relative value placed on food … which is shown by the price of food relative to other goods and services.

Merely assuming that everyone will start noming the same amount of food as in the US, and then complaining that we will have obesity and be destroying the world is both unscientific and patently ridiculous.  Essentially, the argument here is that food is “too cheap” for some reason (government subsidies provides the only legitimate driver I can think of here) – if this is the issue, then we should focus on that, instead of arbitrarily attacking obesity.  Furthermore, if we don’t believe food is too cheap then we should just genuinely stop complaining.

Sidenote:  Not to be too cynical, but in what discipline does it take SIX authors to look at the distribution and averages of different populations, multiple to make all the averages equal to the highest one, and write down what the result is?  With six authours you think they could have looked at issues of allocation a bit more intelligently, no?

5 replies
  1. Eric Crampton
    Eric Crampton says:

    Yogi Berra: We ate so much, we starved to death.

    After the low-hanging fruit like public sanitation and vaccinations were gone, public health went mildly insane as a field. 

  2. fibby
    fibby says:

    I guess harmful addiction might be another reason why food is “too cheap”.

    • Eric Crampton
      Eric Crampton says:

      I’m addicted to food. I go without eating for 8 hours, I feel like crap. I’ve not even been able to go a whole day without it.

      Really, it’s my mom’s fault. She ate while I was in the freaking womb. IN THE FREAKING WOMB!!! So I was born addicted to food. Even breastmilk isn’t safe so long as the mother’s eating food, and breastmilk is really a gateway drug to mush, which is a gateway drug to real food anyway.

      Won’t Doug Sellman help me? 

  3. James K
    James K says:

    And food’s nothing compared to oxygen.  It’s a toxic gas, and everyone I know collapses if they go without a fix for more than a minute or two.

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