Jaw-dropping in its seemingly limitless capacity to be inefficient, there’s nothing quite like the state to tell others how to “cut back on waste”. Yet that is what three US bureaucracies are doing, right now.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration announced a joint agreement to reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills, part of the government's Winning on Reducing Food Waste initiative. The agreement touts the economic advantages to business and consumers of reducing food waste, and pegs consumer education as a key element of the plan.
Of course, the Dept. of Agriculture, EPA, and FDA not only don’t need to do that, by taking peoples’ money to do so, they are already inhibiting the capacity of the market to best fit what consumers and sellers hope to achieve.
And that single thing is efficiency based on subjective valuation, which usually translates into savings and decreased waste for the consumer, which, in turn, drives sellers to waste as little as possible.
All of economics is a drive to get as much for the input of currency, effort, time, or energy as possible.
So, as Lennekin writes, when…
Nearly 40 percent of all food goes to waste; Americans wasted 133 billion pounds of food in 2010; and 40 million tons of food ends up in America's landfills every year. Food waste in those landfills breaks down into (among other things) methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And the production of food that goes to waste used up the same resources as food that is consumed—including water, fertilizer, pesticides, farm acreage, and oil…
…that’s a lot of waste, and it’s expensive.
The market incentivizes participants to cut back this waste as much as possible, to constantly improve growing, harvesting, transport, packaging, and preparation of food in order to decrease the input and output costs.
But government regulations and special favors retard the efforts of market participants to reduce expenses. Indeed, everything from the unconstitutional federal school lunch program -- which sees kids dump tons of uneaten food into the trash every day of the school year -- to trucking regulations -- which increase costs and shift resources to those government-imposed expenses, rather than to efficiency breakthroughs – to arbitrary government “standards” on things like cherries – which have seen tons of cherries dumped as “unusable” – to the US push to force ethanol into gasoline – which is a net energy loser, and crowds out acreage for produce that would be more popular on the market -- to programs to pay plum growers to cut down trees – inspiring waste on all kinds of levels – to federal fishing quotas -- that force fishermen to throw back many fish that won’t live, and have bankrupted many fishermen – the federal bureaucracy constantly gets in the way of the signals suppliers and consumers receive and send that help regulate resources.
What the US bureaucracies are doing is close to the almost farcical actions of the French bureaucrats, who, until a few years ago, actually banned grocery stores from donating outdated food to the poor. What did the French government do to change the policy? It went to the opposite extreme, and, in February of 2016, mandated that the stores donate outdated food.
Simply put, the centralized government cannot accomplish the calculations of waste, investment, success, failure, and reward and loss that the market includes as its core function. It cannot do so because it prevents people from acting on their own values.
Let the market work, and let common law practices for tortious claims operate as they should.