Food and Energy in Affluent Cultures Are Too Cheap

Currently (Sep 2022) UK energy and food prices are rising and the media is full of anger and people full of worry about this. But I wonder: might it be that food and energy prices are too cheap, not too expensive? Should we not have expected them to rise? Is our 'cost-of-living crisis' in reality bringing us more to where we ought to be? A facing up to reality?

Food and Energy Have Been Too Cheap!

The UK ecological footprint (in 2022) is around three Earths - three whole Earths would be needed to supply the world if everyone had the lifestyle that is average in the UK! That is totally unsustainable! Is not that totally unfair? If we demand our three-Earth-consuming lifestyles, then we are demanding that other nations should maintain an ecological footprint not only a lot less than ours but a lot less than one Earth, which is one third of ours.

We need to get our ecological footprint down to less than 1,0 Earths. (Three Earths is the ecological footprint of most European nations. Five Earths is the ecological footprint of the USA.)

Why have we such a high ecological footprint? A lot of the reason is because food and energy have been too cheap to us, so we have never had the incentive to economise, and we have used much more of them than we should have. Too much energy use results in high climate change emissions. Too much food results in obesity and other ailments. Too much of both demands that other peoples supply our overindulgence. And getting used to having surfeit of food and energy makes us greedy, expecting the surfeit as a basic human right!

We don't pay the real cost of food, but expect others to pay that cost. Many of those people don't have enough food while too many of us get obese. That is why I suggest that food and energy have been too cheap for us in the UK.

Why are Food and Energy Too Cheap?

Why have food and energy been too cheap? Mainly because they have been subsidised. Subsidised in three ways: direct subsidies, indirect subsidies, and our not paying for the harm caused by getting the food and energy to us.

By "energy" I include both power (electricity and gas) and that which powers transport (mainly oil). The power and transport sectors, globally, each contribute approximately one third to global climate change emissions, so it is very important that we use too much energy.

Direct subsidies include:

Examples are to be found in the Appendix.

They all add up to a significant sum.

Indirect subsidies include:

Specific examples and figures may be found in the Appendix.

They all add up to a significant sum.

Harm that we don't pay for includes:

Whereas harm to health, e.g. obesity, is paid for indirectly, these are harms that are not paid for even indirectly. Most of them cannot be measured, but if they were properly paid for, then the price of our food would be higher. Some are larger, some smaller, some more visible, some hidden. They are of many types, harming many different aspects of life, not just the ecological but also human health and character. Examples may be found in the Appendix.

Some of those harms are, of course, indirect rather than direct, but they all are laid at our feet as responsibility. If we don't pay the full costs of preventing such harms and repairing the harms for which we are responsible then it is like stealing. Steal something and you get it free, or rather too cheaply, paying only the cost of the time involved in stealing. Not paying for that harm and we get those things much more


These all add us to a huge reduction in price of food to us, affluent peoples.

In making these calculations, I consider food consumed in the USA, Europe (including e.g. Ukraine), and the UK. I am NOT considering the question "Who pays" to subsidize our food; that is for another time. What I want to know is what price should we pay for food in order to meet its full costs?

Then we can decide policy. Indeed, should not we, the affluent peoples pay extra for our food in order that the less-affluent can afford food?


Examples of Direct Subsidies

Please send further examples.

Present and Recent Direct Subsidies

Past Direct Subsidies

Past direct subsidies tend to form our expectations that energy and food must be cheap for us.

Examples of Indirect Subsidies

I am beginning to collect examples, past and present, here.

Present and recent indirect subsicies:

Past indirect subsidies, which fostered our current expectations:

Examples of Not Paying for Harm We Do

First, harm that our lifestyles with too-cheap energy and food do:

Now harm that subsidies themselves actually do, or encourage:

Created: 2nd September 2022. Last updated: 4 June 2023 some edits; uploaded.