Can We Provide Enough For Everyone?

Here is my first blog post. I have set myself a goal to write 500 words about economics every Friday, in a way that is accessible, easy to understand, interesting (even for my wife), and scrupulously based on scientific reasoning (not political ideology).

This post is just an introduction to what the blog will be about.  So let’s start by considering this question:

Do we, right now, have the ability to produce and distribute enough stuff for everyone to have a decent, basic standard of living?

By this I mean, do we currently produce enough food to feed the world?  Do we have the technology and the raw materials to get clean water to everyone?  Can we then get all the basics of life – shelter, energy, whatever we decide is “basic” – to everyone on the planet?  And can we do this in a way that does not produce mass environmental destruction?

A “yes” answer would mean that sufficient raw materials exist in the world to provide the “basics” to everyone.  It would also mean that we have the productive capacity to convert those raw materials into products (i.e. the factories, the machines, and the people who know how to operate them).  And it would mean that we have the means to distribute these goods to the people who need them.

Now I don’t know what the answer to this question is.  Clearly, we have the capacity to produce a lot of stuff globally.  Organising the distribution to meet everyone’s need would be highly complex.  And in fact, we would also want to involve everyone capable of working in that production and distribution so that they can earn the means to pay for their goods.  And whether we could do this in a way that is environmentally sustainable is probably the hardest part.  But let’s set that aside:  right now, we’re destroying the environment and we’re not even coming close to meeting everyone’s basic needs.  At least let’s try and do the latter!

But if this is an achievable goal, shouldn’t it then be one of our main goals as the human race?  Shouldn’t this be what the combined powers of the earth – the governments, the scientists, and in particular the economists – are focused on achieving?

But let’s pull back from a global utopia.  Consider your own country.  In mine (the UK) many people work long hours, in boring jobs, with poor conditions, for low pay, and very poor job security.  And we’re the lucky ones, compared to the rest of the world.  Are there any countries where the economy is working in a way that keeps everyone satisfied?

This blog will be about these questions of how we develop an economy that meets everyone’s needs (and why we’re failing to do so at the moment).  To be clear, I don’t believe the answers to these questions will be found by great thinkers or encapsulated in grand theories, nor will they be found by economists or Governments.  I believe they will only be found by everyone in society working together to gradually improve the condition of society as a whole.  I have no pretentious programme to propose or school of economic thought to promote.  But if we can only build an economy that meets our needs by everyone in society working together, then we all need to improve our understanding of the reality of how economies work.  So long as we keep ourselves ignorant of these realities, we are slaves to whatever nonsense governments, economists, the media, or other vested interests choose to pump at us.

Knowledge is power.  And knowledge will set you free.  But economics is boring.  So I see it as a stimulating challenge to write about how economies work in reality in a way that is straightforward, understandable, and interesting.  I hope some people will join me on this journey (500 words, every Friday), and give me some feedback on whether I’m pulling this off.

12 Replies to “Can We Provide Enough For Everyone?”

  1. I do not know whether it is possible to meet all the basic needs of everyone on the planet without environmental destruction. However I do believe it is possible to feed everyone and give everyone clean water, but it’s a huge task. It may even be possible to do it without environmental destruction if we can adopt renewable energy technologies as well as countries like Holland have done.
    I am sure science and technology are capable of delivering this if there is the political will of the rich countries to give sufficient aid for development to enable poor countries to develop their agriculture, infrastructure and water conservation.
    If we were to achieve this, then I believe it would also dramatically stem the flow of refugees and economic migrants.
    I see the major obstacles of implementing appropriate technology being war, corruption (both political and personal), ignorance (particularly that which is spread by pressure groups like the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace regarding the use of pesticides and genetic modification) and the lack of political will.
    However I remain optimistic for the following reasons: War is at a relatively low level since the high point of WW2; Corruption is being rooted out slowly; There are a lot of good people in the world giving to charity, volunteering and trying to do the right thing (though sadly many are wasting their time thinking religion can make a significant contribution) ; Ignorance can be countered using the internet (though at the moment the prevalence of fake news and websites spreading spurious information is quite alarming); Political will can be changed if the people choose to vote for good politicians who genuinely care for people (rather than billionaires who only care for money and their rich friends)
    I know it’s not going to be easy, but I believe it is possible.

  2. I am so glad you’re doing this Bill. I have been wondering about asking you to teach me about economics. This is going to be great.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *