Back in December, The Economist led with an analysis of the challenges and posibilities presented by rising global food prices. Its case was that the likely long-term rise in food prices means government support for farmers in rich countries can be drawn down without putting those farmers out of business. Developing countries and their rural poor are poised to benefit from these changes, and the prosperity that comes with increased food production will boost the import of other goods from rich countries. Everybody wins (except for the urban poor, but they are already less poor than their rural compatriots).
And now Paul Krugman is writing about the “food crisis“.
I’m glad Krugman has written about the rising cost of food. His audience is probably wider and less exclusive than The Economist’s. General knowledge of the trend and its origins is necessary for political change in a country like the US. Here, he does quite well. Krugman outlines the rapidly-developing world’s growing taste for meat, and he points out the folly of turning corn grown with oil-based machines and fertilizers into “green” ethanol.
His excellent exposition is followed by an unsatisfying conclusion:
“What should be done? The most immediate need is more aid to people in distress: the U.N.’s World Food Program put out a desperate appeal for more funds.
We also need a pushback against biofuels, which turn out to have been a terrible mistake.
But it’s not clear how much can be done. Cheap food, like cheap oil, may be a thing of the past.”
Yes, feed the starving. Yes, end the silly, counterproductive ethanol subsidies. But The Economist presented a much more complete and satisfying answer: Export value-added goods to developing countries instead of cheap grains, and let those countries grow their own food at realistic prices.