We must produce whatever we can
These are funny times: nationalism in football; retailers praying for English World Cup success; nations glued to TVs worldwide, munching snacks, slurping drinks, watching superfit young men (many on enormous salaries) burn huge amounts of energy. I am reminded of a Sydney Olympics study that found Australians did less exercise afterwards than before. It's surrogate physical exercise. We do less, watching others do more.
And nationalism for defence, with the Chancellor reported to be backing spending £27bn on a new generation of UK nuclear deterrence. Meanwhile, agricultural security is being run down. UK self-reliance for indigenous crops (what we could grow here) is down from 84% in 1994 to 70% today. This is rapid.
With the Common Agricultural Policy rightly under attack, last week EU Agriculture Commissioner Mrs Fischer Boel announced another shake-up... of the wine régime. How many wine buffs know the annual EU wine budget is €1.3 bn, overproducing by about 15%? Who needs French wine to toast football triumphs (or drown failures) if Aussie or Chilean is cheaper? This contrast of stance on military and food security is not just a play on the word 'security'. Both issues raise fundamental questions about the role of the state and markets. What are they for? Whose interests do they serve? We want to sleep easy in our beds. But the trade liberalisation mantra is: crossing borders is good, protectionism is bad.
In the military world, they talk of resilience, being able to withstand shocks, get back up when attacked. Now think food. Our current system is 100% oil dependent (a military threat - think Iraq, Iran, Russia) for trucking food about (food miles). Meanwhile, the average age of EU and UK farmers nears 60, so who will grow the food? Will the US feed us, as they did in the Second World War? And what about ecological crises (water, climate change)?
Realists agree that retail efficiencies have stretched food supply lines, but stress that they're not broken. True. But a new policy era looms. In coming years, dismantling agriculture will be judged folly. Cut subsidies, fine. But ensure that all countries produce what they can. This is not petty nationalism but appropriate bio-regionalism. If prime state duties are protecting citizens and upholding laws, another is ensuring sustainable food supply. Currently, the state is failing. And so is the market.