Resource allocation failures

The challenge is to identify a DSC system and tools that will have some acceptability and success in a different context. The more pressing parallel with WWII is the recognition of widespread price failure (on current externalities and price failures, see Pretty et al., 2000; Tegtmeier and Duffy, 2004) and resource allocation failures.

A central failure can be seen in luxus consumption. Smil (2004, p. 22) observes from a population level perspective on biological calorie requirements vs. current consumption that, "weighted means for entire populations are rarely above 2,000 kcal/person. This means that per capita gaps between average availability and actual consumption are now greater than 1,000 kcal/day in every high-income country, with maxima approaching, or even surpassing, 1500 kcal/day. In order to account for inevitable food losses and to provide an adequate safety margin the average per capita food supply should be 30% above the needed mean of 2,000 kcal/capita, averaging no more than about 2,600 kcal/capita." In his view, proper allocation of calories would feed an additional 350 million people.  Luxus consumption is in part a pricing problem.  See Table 4 for additional failures.

Table 4: Examples of current resource allocation failures in the food system

Example Description References
Over fertilization with P 75% of Ontario cropland has excessive P levels but farmers continue to apply in excess; much of it goes directly to watercourses Carter (2015)
Difficulties finding conventional farmers to convert to organic Despite farmgate prices often 2-3x higher and significantly better environmental performance; the market does not account for socio-cultural barriers to transition nor value resource conservation MacRae et al (2016); MacRae et al. (2014)
Animal production Continues to increase despite mounting evidence of GHG and nutritional problems associated with production and consumption MacRae et al. 2010a
Problems coordinating rail transport of grains and oilseeds Privatization of rail infrastructure means grain and oilseed shipping competes with other priorities.  Significant backlogs and lost sales. See Goal 5, sustainable transportation
Location of supermarkets Despite higher aggregate demand in high density low income neighbourhoods, supermarkets often fail to site there TFPC, 1996
Investment in SME processing Despite ample evidence of profitable market niches, investors unwilling to put money into SME processing; claim the inconvenience of more administration for the same sums of money; consequence is loss of infrastructure. Christianson and Morgan, 2007
Redundant trade Goods of the same price, quality and characteristic are traded across borders because of convenient or coercive relationships HCA 2005
Food devoted to producing products that help create disease Corn for sweetener, soda and animal products, accounts for about 2/3 of US corn crop National Corn Growers Association, 2013
Failure to invest in food as health promotion Billions spend on health care for conditions that are preventable Health Canada[1]
High levels of food waste Estimated that 44% of food available for consumption is wasted across all dimensions of food supply chains (revised to 58% in 2019) MacRae et al. (2016)

Gooch et al. (2019)

The obvious advantage for WWII decision makers was how the war assured the population would buy into the need for extraordinary interventions. The Wartime Information Board continually reinforced this commitment with on-going communication with the population.  The case is admittedly much harder to make today, but the presumption here is that problems will continue to increase, making the population more amenable to significant changes.  The number of people interested in buying organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free, animal-friendly and local food is, in part, an expression of current dissatisfactions with the dominant approach and all indications are that these consumer segments will continue to grow.

The other advantage of WWII was that many business people worked for free for the government during the war, seconded by their firm.  They brought information and expertise that the civil service did not necessarily have. Equally significant, the federal and provincial governments cooperated on many issues in ways that have not necessarily occurred post-war.  A more pluralistic approach to governance and implementation has been called for (cf. MacRae and Abergel, 2012) and the design of new structures, as in WWII, should take account of collaborative expertise.


[1] Health Canada conservatively estimated that the total economic burden of diet-related disease using data from the 90s on the economic burden of disease for coronary heart disease/stroke/diabetes/cancer  was $6.3 billion annually, including $1.8 billion direct costs, $4.4 billion indirect costs.  See: "Health Canada announces new mandatory nutrition labelling to help Canadians make informed choices for healthy eating" [news release] (Ottawa: Health Canada, January 2, 2003).