Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Food Value

The world seriously seems to be going a little haywire. I have been reading all about the food riots. Well, maybe not all about them – but I am certainly aware that they are happening. That prices have gone up and that this of course hurts the poor first and foremost. If you barely have any money to eat and prices outstrip any wage increases, with no room for cutting discretionary spending then you are certainly in a shitty position.

I came across a blog that was talking about this – it is in great part an anti-capitalist blog post but that is not really the point (here is a link to it: http://www.empirenotes.org/). The most relevant part of the blog post to me was the raising of the issue of having global markets for food and as a secondary note the fact that the US food aid has to all be produced in the USA.
The first issue; that having global food markets can of course be argued as both a good thing and a bad thing. Lets look at the good thing – effectively you as a farmer are able to produce your product and sell it at the highest price, therefore making a profit and being able to continue to be a farmer. In fact it is supposed to act as an incentive. It also should mean that when one region of the world is lacking in food it can go into the global commodities market and purchase the necessary food to feed its people. Also, you would think that this setup would incentivize increased production – because with global futures markets farmers can often hedge their bets and know, to a degree, what price their grain will fetch on the market come harvest time. So therefore I will produce X because price is Y.

This has held relatively true. And in fact we are producing massive amounts of food. More then we need to feed everyone. However, and this is where the bad comes in, food is now treated purely as a commodity. Not a necessity, not something that holds a value far above a pure dollar figure. It after all is needed to sustain life – no food no life. No life no food. Okay, well, my point is – and maybe you can guess this by now – is that this is something that on a certain level holds an infinite value – food for eating is priceless. People need to eat – that is a fundamental need and a fundamental right. People do not need to drive cars, grow pigs or make disposable containers out of corn.

What we have then is a market distortion. An incorrect value has been placed on a product/commodity/entity. Once again this is a capitalist failure. The question is how does the market correct this one. If we believe in free markets then what we should expect is that food production will rise sharply and the price will drop accordingly and everyone will have their bowl of rice. However the global distortions continue to exist – subsidies is one of the biggest ones. We can nit-pick it in all of these ways. But, for me it is about a system that does not value something above and beyond a quantifiable price. Essentially infinite value.

Once again how do you bring infinite value in to a pricing system? Can a pricing system hold infinite value? Or, are we just barking up the wrong tree and need to realize that capitalism is bust. Kapoo!!

If it is then what is the alternative? What do we construct in its place? I have a friend that talks about a gift economy. She hasn’t really developed the concept much further then the idea that if we all approach the world, our friends and our lives from a place of giving then we will all be taken care of. Well, I of course have issues with this on some levels because at the root of it is still a value judgment. How much do you give? When someone gives do you take? What if you take more then you give? Perhaps on a purely esoteric level this equates. I am not sure. But, the point for me is that we are still caught in having to construct some sort of value system.

Ultimately any system of economics has value at its root. The question is how is that system constructed and what holds the highest value – so far capitalism is tapped out at the trillion dollar mark. Once we get beyond trillions we have an issue. But, that which is recognized as holding an infinite value is something that it cannot contain and therefore ignores.
This is a shame because those are the things that we need to value the most. They are something that we need to incorporate. They are values that are above all other values.
We need to feed people first and foremost. It is not about how much money you can get for your corn that matters. Hell, if everyone is fed and there is corn left over then go ahead and make your fork and knife out of corn. But, if there are those in hunger then a value, an infinite value, is being ignored.

I am sure this is a rambling two pages of scrambled text. I am trying to decipher all of this and find a way to put it together so that it makes sense. How to apply infinite value and how to construct a system that includes this. A theory that fits.

Any idea?

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