The whole idea of money having a fixed value is true only in the limit that each of us has comparable access to money. We don’t have to have strict equality, but the creepy dynamics are at the margin.
Urban dwellers in the US are familiar with the dynamic. Old neighborhood falls apart. Starving artists move in and make it a core cultural resource for the city. Prices go up. The artistic types who saved the neighborhood are driven out. Community is replaced by decay, decay by art, art by commerce. In the end, this is chalked up as a win, but the winners aren;t the folk who deserved to win.
Food is another example. A rich person may have non-food uses for what a poor person ordinarily eats. You think this is a bizarre idea? Well it isn’t, and not just because of biofuels. The rich person wants meat – most meat nowadays is a repurposing of grain, essentially wasting 90% of the food energy for a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks regarding nutrients, but a perceived win on food palatability.
A Guardian article by Joanna Blythman dances around the economics of inequality, but a new case in point is coming up. Quinoa was a staple in the Andes, and now it is a desired luxury by well-to-do vegans and near-vegans like myself. Through no fault of my own I am apparently disrupting the flow of staple foods to peasants, their local landscape and ecology, and their social structures.
In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend.
This misses the key point. The question here is not how to layer more guilt on the already guilt-ridden. It’s how to make the economic signals actually line up with well-being.
I’m not going to stop eating quinoa because that will not put the genie back in the bottle. Instead I’m going to argue that all politics is global.