The Silver Lining in High Commodity Prices

Today’s soaring commodity prices scream a fundamental truth of modern life that many politicians, particularly in the West, don’t want us to hear: the world’s natural resources are finite, and, as billions of people in Asia and elsewhere escape poverty, Western consumers will have to share them.

Cambridge – Today’s soaring commodity prices scream a fundamental truth of modern life that many politicians, particularly in the West, don’t want us to hear: the world’s natural resources are finite, and, as billions of people in Asia and elsewhere escape poverty, Western consumers will have to share them. Here is another truth: the price mechanism is a much better way to allocate natural resources than fighting wars, as the Western powers did in the last century.

The United States’ ill-considered bio-fuels subsidy program demonstrates how not to react. Rather than acknowledge that high fuel prices are the best way to inspire energy conservation and innovation, the Bush administration has instituted huge subsidies to American farmers to grow grains for bio-fuel production. Never mind that this is hugely inefficient in terms of water and land usage. 

Moreover, even under the most optimistic scenario, the US and the world will still be relying mainly on conventional fossil fuels until the hydrocarbon era comes to an end (which few of us will live to see). Last but not least, diverting vast tracts of agricultural land into fuel production has contributed to a doubling of prices for wheat and other grains. With food riots in dozens of countries, isn’t it time to admit that the whole idea was a giant, if well-intentioned, mistake?

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