The last, best hope to both save the planet and feed it? Capitalism
"It was pretty clear to me that business was the source of all of [our food-system] problems," organic yogurt maker Gary Hirshberg, CEO of the $360 million per year Stonyfield Farm, said in the anti-agribusiness screed Food Inc. "We're not going to get rid of capitalism, certainly we're not going to get rid of it in the time that we need to arrest global warming and reverse the toxification of our air, our food and our water." That lack of free-market faith expressed by the Baron of Yo-Baby has also been echoed from the corners of New York City this month. First, it came from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who told the United Nations that making sure we all eat our transfat-free peas and carrots is the "highest duty" of any government. Second, it was intimated by the thousands of new-age Hippies, union sympathizers and professional agitators who gathered in the Wall Street District to decry the antipathy of large corporations to tend to the needs of the little people, even as they documented their protests in real time using new technology provided by large corporations.
If it all seems a little hard to follow, well, get in line, says Jay W. Richards, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute and a contributing editor of The American at the American Enterprise Institute. Richards' recent book, Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem, is the outgrowth of his years of exposure to numerous incidents like the mayor and the protestors, those that express good moral intentions coupled with sometimes dangerously dopey economics.
"I'm always very careful not to put the word 'economics' into the title of speeches or books," Richards says. "If you're not particularly interested in economics, you might start to nod off when you hear the word 'capitalism,' but I've discovered that almost all of the moral concerns that we have, concerns about the environment, about how we treat our fellow human beings, about third-world poverty, about food--all of these things actually have to do with economics. "
"I have come to the conclusions that a lot of folks have very good moral intuitions, but we have really bad understanding of basic economic principals. So we too often sort of channel our moral conviction into really bad economic policies that actually end up hurting people rather than helping them."
From Fair Trade Coffee that elects one set of third-world farmers to support often at the expense of others, to inner-city farmers markets that price fresh produce beyond the means of the poor when they attract wealthy suburbanites seeking an "authentic" shopping experience, to antibiotic- and hormone-free food labeling that ultimately harms consumer health by scaring them away from conventional foods they're conditioned to suspect, evidence of that very kind of harm at the hand of bad economic theory is rife among today's food issues. Richards' concise and lucid dissection of several commonly held mythologies about modern food economics makes great food for thought in this fascinating interview with Truth in Food.