Cheap Goods Come at a Cost

The fascinating chart below tells a tale of ever cheaper consumption. It can be read as verification of one of capitalism’s promise: pursuit of profit results in productivity gains that lower costs and prices. The other profit promise is it leads to innovations that will become widespread as they enter the cycle of cheapness.

What this chart does not show are the subsidies that make this cheapness possible.

First, and most obvious, are the actual financial subsidies. The U.S. agricultural system is heavily subsidized. Governments spend billions supporting farmers. Second, and more consequential, are the externalized costs. Rural populations, ecosystems and future generations all suffer an incredible variety of negative effects of large-scale agricultural production. Fertilizer runoff leads to excess nutrients in waterways killing wildlife. Concentrations of manure produce noxious odours. Emissions from fossil fuels have led to our climate crisis.

Cheapness is an illusion.

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