Comment: How cheap should it be?

Wednesday, 17 July, 2013 - 12:00

COMMENT

Striving for profit is a core element of the capitalist market economy. The quickest way to maximum profits is to have minimum costs. “More is better than less” and “cheap is better than expensive” are firmly anchored in people’s minds.

But when horse meat instead of beef suddenly appears in frozen lasagne and our clothes are sewn in run-down barracks in Bangladesh, then the reason is not to be found amongst evil businessmen looking to maximise profits, but in society’s call of “can we have it a bit cheaper still, please?”

Everywhere we want the cheapest – and are then shocked when the result doesn’t meet our standards of quality and morals. Afterwards there is always the smart-aleck remark: “You should have known! At that price it can’t have been done by the book,” but it’s true.

And yet even our politicians still want to persuade us consumers that the cheapest is best for us when it comes to the price of electricity. It is an old argument that offshore wind power would lead to an explosion in the price of electricity. “Strompreisbremse” (electricity price brake) is the current watchword in Germany. And society hears it gladly, for it sounds like “we can do it more cheaply”.

When consumers find out afterwards that thousands of fish had to die in an oil spill to provide that cheap electricity, that thousands of Japanese lost their homes and even towns to nuclear contamination, or that their dear uncle is being forced out to make way for open cast brown coal mining, then voices are loudly raised once again. But with a difference: it is not something we should have known – we know it! We know the dangers. We just have to look at them and not away.

Even if electricity from offshore wind power is currently a few cents more expensive than power from conventional sources, there is firstly lots of cost ­reduction potential and secondly, clean energy simply doesn’t come at a discount price. Cheaper is not always better!

Katharina Garus

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