Why we really, really, don't want planning of the food market


One reason of course is the people who end up trying to do the planning. Professor Tim Lang, the "food tsar" (can anyone remember when a tsar of anything was a good idea?) from the Sustainable Development Commission:

Professor Tim Lang, the Government’s top food tsar, said prices are likely to rise even further, up to ten per cent, as oil prices go up and demand for basic commodities like wheat increases.

He said the UK Government has failed to protect the country against these price shocks by encouraging farmers to grow our own fruit and vegetables or produce meat.

In the last 20 years the amount of food imported into the UK has grown to 40 per cent.

So, err, why is it that we've been importing more food from Johnny Foreigner over the past 20 years? Because JF can produce it more cheaply and sell it to us more cheaply. Our planner's brainwave is that we should all have been paying more for our food for the last two decades so as to not have to face rising prices now.

No, I think we'll leave that sort of planning alone, don't you?

Don Boudreaux provides the other part of the puzzle: chocolate covered pickles. It isn't just that planners will, as we've seen, fail to recognise efficiencies in what is already produced. It's also that they can have absolutely no idea whatsoever of what we might start to produce. Chocolate covered pickles are always going to be a minority taste of course (although they sound worth trying: choccie and salt, or if vinegar pickled, sweet and sour, worth a nibble at least) but take a step up to pickles themselves. You can draw a line through Europe. To the east and north, they are normally salt pickles, in brine. To the west and south in vinegar. With the new movements of people of the past decade, those hundreds of thousands from the east moving west, how should production of pickles change? What is the correct amount of salt pickled gherkins as against vinegar when there are 10,000 Poles in London? When there are 100,000?

Or my little village in Portugal, which has a rising number of Brits like me around and about. The local supermarket added Bisto and Branston to its offerings about 18 months ago. 6 months ago the more specialist Marmite made an appearance. This week just gone vinegar pickled red cabbage (to join the sugary such aimed at Germans). There is no method possible of working out whether this is a good idea or not other than simply trying it. Put some on the shelves and see if they sell.

It simply isn't possible to plan at this sort of level: which is why we should all be most grateful that Professor Lang, the entire Sustainable Development Commission, are now gone from public life. For they've been trying to do the impossible, plan the food market. And we've better things to do with scarce public resources than that, we could work on the merely difficult for example, like balancing the budget.