Waste and Efficiency

So I stumbled across an old-ish study on how the US wastes food (thanks, Gristmill), and it got me thinking about the quest for efficiency in the Obama-era.

But let's think about efficiency. Generally, it means making something better without costing more in the grand total. Unfortunately, applied to the economy and stuff like that, it seems like that ends up meaning making more money, without regard to "externalities", or things that can't be priced out (like a forest, or the quality of the air). Now, that's a little cynical (for some reason I've had a negative impression of most economists lately, can't imagine why), but is largely true.

And the fact that a ton of food gets wasted for no real reason is a good example of how money isn't really the be all and end all of efficiency.

Consider modern agriculture in the United States. Since the Green Revolution that followed World War 2, modern agriculture is all about huge farms, tons of artificial fertilizer, and technological systems to help with irrigation. We pour a huge amount of resources - in terms of energy, water, and fertilizer - into improving crop yields each year.

And yet, a frankly huge percentage of that goes to waste before it's even harvested. And yet, the system is, apparently, economically viable.

Without sounding too hippity-dippity, isn't this a clear case of a market failure? Modern farming is not a good thing for the environment - and we're not even getting all we can out of what we're putting in. Is it that difficult to find something to do with odd-shaped cucumbers - to the point where it isn't even economical to harvest them?

Doesn't make much sense to me.

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