Bioethics Blogs

Blessed are the wastrels, for their surplus could save the Earth

Reposted from an article in “the Conversation”. 

In a world where too many go to bed hungry, it comes as a shock to realise that more than half the world’s food production is left to rot, lost in transit, thrown out, or otherwise wasted. This loss is a humanitarian disaster. It’s a moral tragedy. It’s a blight on the conscience of the world.

It might ultimately be the salvation of the human species.

To understand why, consider that we live in a system that rewards efficiency. Just-in-time production, reduced inventories, providing the required service at just the right time with minimised wasted effort: those are the routes to profit (and hence survival) for today’s corporations. This type of lean manufacturing aims to squeeze costs as much as possible, pruning anything extraneous from the process. That’s the ideal, anyway; and many companies are furiously chasing after this ideal.

Unfortunately there is often a trade-off between efficiency (producing the same goods at lowest cost) and resiliency (strength against unexpected crises). Protection against crises or disasters generally costs money. You need to maintain reserves and build up unused inventories. You need to develop contingency plans and train workers. You need excessively robust or excessively flexible manufacturing capabilities. You need a branch of your bureaucracy devoted to worst-case scenarios, with all the salaries and time that goes with that. And if you do all that – well, there are other companies out there, very willing to swoop in and take all your customers with their reduced costs.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.