Shower Thoughts: Are There Enough Free Lunches To Feed the World?

A Food Fantasy

You can’t get something for nothing. After all, “There ain’t no free lunches” goes the popular saying. Yet I always hear well-intentioned people repeating mantras like, “This world has enough food to feed everyone.” Or, “If we wanted to make it a reality, no one would die of hunger.”

Of course, the conservative-leaning response is often that the world’s abundance of food is grown in fertile places and would have to be transported to places with higher food scarcity; that transportation will cost money and, in a sense, money is even more precious than food. If our governments spend money abolishing world hunger, that spending will be taken out of our budgets for things like healthcare and education.

“So what?” I hear the well-intentioned people (who I am undoubtedly beginning to irritate) say. “The world’s governments spend trillions on their militaries, so surely some of those funds can be diverted to solving world hunger for good.” But I also hear another voice ー admittedly one in my head, so take it with a grain of salt ー “I hope that military spending paid off in the form of anti-air defenses”, popping up in my head every time I hear something about North Korea’s latest nuclear missile tests. Sure, that might be my unreasonable fear of a nuclear holocaust speaking, but what about the frequent, non-hypothetical cyberattacks on the government databases holding all our personal information? I hope we’re defending ourselves from those! The bottom line is that even outrageous military spending provides some social benefit, which will be diminished as spending is diverted.

Even if spending on foreign aid is financed by increased taxes, those increased taxes will disincentivize money-making in the rest of the economy. Why work harder to find a new cure or provide a new service just to have the government scoop up the monetary benefits? It seems as though, for everyone who legally has that $, our economic principles (which our laws enforce) can provide a rationale behind them having it. For every way we spend money, there is at least a minor benefit to be had, and hard work must be done to determine whether it is outweighed by a greater cost. In any case, it seems there really are no free lunches.