Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Honey Production

A reader points to this article and asks for my comment. Apparently the price of honey has increased because honey bees have been mysteriously dying.


Beekeepers throughout the United States have been losing between 50 and 90 percent of their honeybees over the past six months, perplexing scientists, driving honey prices higher and threatening fruit and vegetable production.

So, what comes to my mind first is to wonder if this is an externality from an act of ours, such as commerce and/or farming. Caird E. Rexroad said the bees are facing stresses such as “migratory stresses, mites, pathogens and pesticides.”

Naturally, from the article, it’s difficult to simply point the finger at any one area and say therein lies the problem of honeybees. Not even the experts have a good idea for the next step.

So, let me ask that we all not to rush to judgment. If we were to heed Rexroad’s advice right now to its fullest, I would have to ask what other externalities would develop from trying to control our pathogens and pesticides.

However we can go through at least one economic thought experiment. We use pesticides in order to plant our own food in the US. But here’s a caveat, I’ve already stated in the past that I (and other well-respected economists) dislike agriculture subsidies. Also, I’m assuming here that bee/honey farmers don’t get those subsidies. So, what if the US were to stop subsidizing as much to farmers, and therefore the US farmed less and used pesticides less? Then, if pesticides are the stress that they are on bees, that act alone would start to help our honey bee production. But as I said, that assumes bees see a lot of pesticides and that the bee/honey farmers don’t get subsidies.

Externalities, one of the reasons why economists exist, and one of the things economists hate having to deal with.
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