In a paper I gave in Norwich last week, I rather optimistically expressed the view that even if the current 'food crisis' shored up existing protectionism and subsidies in the European Union, we would not see a reversion to old, discredited policy instruments. One such instrument I had in mind was intervention buying which created a risk free market for farmers and produced the notorious grain and butter mountains.
I may have spoken too soon. The latest edition of Food Ethics produced by the estimable Food Ethics Council is devoted entirely to the 'food crisis', although quite what the food crisis is remains undefined. However, the editorial calls for 'rebuilding public stocks, which provide an important buffer against price volatility.'
Inevitably, Moses gets brought into one of the articles. Another article calls for 'public stocks .. to be re-established, with planning for local, national and regional roles. Such stocks provide an important buffer against price spikes and food insecurity.' Of course, they also provide a buffer between consumers and producers because the price mechanism cannot function as a transmitter of information. The writer does admit that they are expensive and there is 'lost theoretical market efficiency'.
That lost efficiency is not theoretical in the abstract sense of the word, it has real implications for whether we make optimal use of scarce resources.