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The Economic Way of Thinking and the Locavore's Dilemma

August 20, 2010

This was in my RSS feed: Stephen Budiansky does some of the math and finds that, giving how efficient it is to move things by truck and by rail, the energy costs associated with shipping lettuce from California to New York are trivial relative to the energy costs associated with storing that lettuce in a New York refrigerator (my apologies to whoever first linked it; I owe you a hat tip). As I argued a couple of years ago, “local” isn’t necessarily virtuous because the energy intensity of cultivation is probably higher. The tomatoes we grow in our backyard, for example, are probably a lot more energy-intensive than commercially-cultivated tomatoes in Florida. They taste better, but there are reasons why we can’t get good tomatoes in the grocery store. It isn’t because of free markets. Budiansky’s article will make an excellent supplement for economics courses, and the author adds more evidence that a lot of environmental gestures are best understood as exercises in religious piety.

Austrian and libertarian economists have produced a voluminous body of resources on environmental issues, like Roy Cordato’s “An Austrian Theory of Environmental Economics.” Here’s my “Environmental and Resource Economics” lecture from last year’s Mises U. For a paper I was revising earlier this summer, I re-read Murray Rothbard’s classic article “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution.” Some of my favorite recent contributions are Michael Munger’s EconLib essay on recycling as well as his discussion of recycling on EconTalk.

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