300 well-chosen words on food

At the NYT Room for Debate on "Can biotech cure world hunger?", this is Michael Roberts:
  • I don't think biotech crops are evil and could be a big help, especially in developing nations. But I think we'd be naive to think these will solve all the world's food problems going forward. Maybe they will but they probably won't.

  • Good development policy, whatever that may be, is surely good food policy. In many ways food is too cheap relative to income in rich countries and too expensive relative to income in poor countries. Both problems are solved if incomes are more equal. Figuring out good development policy is, err..., much harder...

  • I think a meat tax makes a lot of sense. Taxing meat would help to keep staple grains cheap and plentiful, which would help the poorest food-importing countries and probably improve health outcomes in rich countries. Some economists would probably cry foul. They might claim lump-sum transfers of cash would be a better way to deal with the underlying distributional issue. The problem is effective transfers to especially poor countries are very difficult. (Consider why those countries are poor in the first place.) Also, given our semi-public health care systems in rich countries, there could be negative externalities from meat consumption.

  • Stop ethanol subsidies. These look really silly.

  • Then there is that other externality we might want to tax or cap (CO2).

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