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greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement

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Does organic food equal more jobs?

Could it help with the high rate of unemployment in the United States for more people to buy organic food? My understanding is that organic farming requires more workers than conventional farming to produce the same amount of food.

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    Nov 11 2012: This would be difficult to predict. The amount people spend on organic food is a result of the relative value to the consumer compared to non-organic food and other consumer items and the relative costs of these.

    If people spend more money on something, they will tend to spend less on something else. The reduced demand for whatever that is could translate into fewer jobs in that sector.

    If your food suddenly cost 50% more, people who live on a budget will need to spend less on other things .

    Another issue is that raising the price of necessities such as food as a way of financing public ends is regressive in the sense that the excess expenditures have a greater impact on the poor than on the affluent.
    • Nov 11 2012: I can't think of many sectors that are more labor intensive than organic farming.
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        Nov 11 2012: So then it would increase organic farming employment and reduce employment of people not involved in organic farming, with the burden of that shift potentially falling differentially on the poor who are not involved in organic farming.
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      Nov 15 2012: Good point, Fritzie. If people spend more on one thing, conceivably they'll spend less on something else. Although maybe they'll start working harder so they can have both things.

      Personally I think organic food tastes better, and I believe it's healthier, in spite of what the recent study said. So it could be a win-win to buy organic: the consumer gets better food, and more people get a job.
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        Nov 15 2012: Maybe it would be useful to think through a particular case. Let's take the urban unemployed for example. How do you thinking their switching to the purchase of organic foods works, noting that that is already a choice they have?
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          Nov 17 2012: I'm still struggling with your idea that any time people spend more on one thing they spend less on another, fritz. I'm thinking it must be an incorrect idea, because if it were true employment would never go up, and we know that it sometimes does. perhaps it goes up because of human creativity, someone comes up with a new idea that is really a good idea, and other people begin to follow it and are employed following it. For example, someone came up with the idea of computers, which apparently was a good idea, and of course computers have generated tremendous employment that wasn't there previously.

          One difficulty I'm encountering is this study that came out saying organic food is no healthier than conventional food. In this conversation I was starting with the idea that organic food is really better than conventional food because it's healthier. In that case, consumers would see a strong benefit from buying it, because it would really increase their health-----and it would create more employment. But if it's no healthier, then I can't much advocate for it. I'm going to have to look into this study that says organic food is no healthier.
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        Nov 17 2012: Hi, Greg. I cannot lay claim to this idea, as it is one of the basic ideas in economics.

        Let's say you were teaching some basic budget logic to a kid with an allowance. She sees a toy that is marked $12, but you have noticed in an ad that if she waits until the weekend, it is going to be on sale for $8.

        She has a total of $15 saved up, so she could buy the toy today, even at $12.

        How do you explain why she should wait until the weekend? Might you say that if she waits a couple of days she would still get the toy but have the four dollars she saved from the sale to spend on something else? That would be telling her that if she spends $12 now on the toy, she will have less to spend on other things.
        It is interesting that you do not see how it is that if you spend more on one thing, you would spend less on another. Maybe you have never yet lived within a budget based on the income you earn from working?

        People can spend more in one area without reducing expenditures in another if they want to go into debt for it. Debt does allow people to spend more than their budgets in the short run... and pay for that choice later.
        This lack of budgeting is one way people get into debt trouble.
        You might want to distinquish between what a household would do in the short run and long term spending trends. For many people if they need to pay substantially more for food this month, they just cannot generate the extra money to sustain their purchasing of other things by working harder or more creatively. Most people, rather, have to 'tighten the belt" in other areas of expenditure.
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          Nov 19 2012: Well, the thing is, fritz, employment results from people spending money, correct? But you appear to be saying that when people spend more on one thing, they spend less on another? If that's true, how does the overall employment rate ever go up? For example, we have 7% unemployment now. We'd like to see it at 4%. But if what you're saying is true, we'll never get there, because every time people spend more on one thing (which employs people), they'll spend less on something else (which will put people out of employment). Am I getting you, or am I missing something?
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        Nov 19 2012: There is a bigger picture to this, but it would probably be fun for you to check a basic economics book out of the library and to read it. Some people have savings and can switch some resources from savings to consumption. Some go into debt. Sometimes to get more people spending, a government reduces the interest rate so it becomes cheaper to borrow money. Sometimes a jurisdiction reduces taxes to increase after tax income.
        The jurisdiction also, then, needs to cut back what it spends money on or go further into debt.
        It's a fun subject to read about and I highly recommend it if you have never had the opportunity.

        I'd start with microeconomics, which has to do with how people make purchasing decisions and how businesses decide on things like how much to produce and how much in the way of people and machinery to use in production.

        I cannot tell from your profile whether you are a student in school, but I think a basic economic course should be part of every student's college education. It is a real literacy subject.
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          Nov 20 2012: yeah, I have a b.a. in english from stanford.

          still, fritz, have you explained how employment can ever rise? Because if the bank loans out money to someone to, say, build a house, then the bank doesn't have that money to loan to someone to, say, start an auto dealership. Therefore, employment goes up in the construction industry, but it falls in the automobile industry. thus overall it stays constant.
          i'll certainly admit i'm not an economist, however.

          wouldn't there be a third factor why employment rises, which could be creativity?
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        Nov 20 2012: Productivity can increase employment but it isn't typically a viable strategy for an individual who shifts to spending a lot more on food or some other staple item.

        Do think this through for a poor urban dweller. And grab a book as well if this subject interests you. There is no substitute for diving into something yourself.
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          Nov 22 2012: fritz, i'm still trying to figure out whether organic food is healthier than conventional food. I stopped in to whole foods market, which sells a lot of organic food. I spoke to kelly, a supervisor. she said she didn't know whether whole foods as an organization takes a position on whether organic food is healthier. i also went to ralph's and talked to supervisor john. he said conventional food is judged to be safe by FDA guidelines, but unfortunately i didn't pin him down on whether organic is healthier than conventional.

          what do you, fritz, think? Is organic food healthier than conventional, or are they about the same? I believe i'll keep asking people who work at food stores.
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        Nov 22 2012: I don't think people who work at food stores are your most reliable sources for this.

        I will look for some credible scientific information and get back to you.

        Here: http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685

        And see NYTimes article in the September 3 Environment section.

        It seems that according to these articles and also according to a short summary by the Mayo Clinic, all pretty reliable sources without commercial motivations, the reason one might favor organic foods if cost doesn't matter to you is not because they are more nutritious but because the farming methods are more environmentally friendly.

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