Over the past months (years?) I've spent a good deal of time thinking a lot about the libertarian position. This is largely a function of some of the blogs I frequently read. Anyone who has followed my conversations on those (and sometimes this) blogs, or who has discussed the issue with me, knows that generally speaking I'm not a big fan of libertarian ideals.
Of course, there's really two types of libertarians out there, and it's important to make a distinction between the two. The first, the "classic" libertarian is the gun-toting, western rancher, who is deathly afraid that the government is going to interfere in his ability to make a living, will take away his guns, and restrict his land usage. This is a person who just wants the freedom to do as they please on their own land, and for the government to just stay away. I find it's best to just leave these folks alone.
It's the other type of libertarian, the "urban" libertarian, who concerns me. I think this is a relatively new breed of libertarian, though I may be mistaken about that. Generally speaking the urban libertarian is a white guy who majored in some type of social science. Their primary concern isn't with their land or their guns, but rather with the market and "efficiency". The urban libertarian took enough econ classes that they've learned how to assume away reality and thus they're generally deluded into thinking the market is an efficient being. I could say a lot more here, particularly about how even if that were true no one should be drawing normative conclusions from economic analysis, but in the interests of brevity I'm going to jump right to my focus.
For quite some time, I've conceded that the market is efficient at delivering goods and services. It might not always deliver what people actually want, but it effectively keeps the shelves stocked for consumers, however, after reading about the delivery of fruit, I may have to reconsider my position.
From Jeffery Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything:
To save on labor costs, growers use machines to pick, sort, and pack their fruit. Ripe fruit cannon survive a run-in with these machines. And when mechanical harvesters are used, they pick everything in sight - hard green, barely mature, and nearly ripe. Growers know that early fruit commands a higher price; all growers would like to recover their investment as soon in the season as possible; and most would like to sell whatever has not ripened by season's end. Citrus growers pick early when they fear a frost.
Growers complain that fruit brokers and retailers make them compete on the basis of price alone, not with texture or flavor. Brokers contend that retailers refuse to accept delivery of produce too ripe to have a long and happy shelf life. Retailers say that brokers buy only the easiest fruit to handle; they blame consumers for the unwillingness to pay more for more delicious fruit. The magic of the marketplace has somehow failed us when inferior fruit forces out produce of higher quality.
Steingarten has put his finger on something that has troubled me for some time: the consumer has little-to-no control over the options that are available to purchase. If a customer thinks to themselves, "I want some ripe-picked fruit (because ripe-picked fruit is the best fruit)" they are hard pressed to find it for sale. Generally speaking, they have to circumvent the normal market delivery system and go directly to the farmers and/or find some alternative delivery system. Even worse, given how hard it is to get outside of the normal distribution system, people frequently don't have any idea that alternatives exist, or that they even want an alternative.
Steingarten writes about how much better ripe-picked fruit is than non-ripe-picked fruit, explaining the science and taste experience. I had no idea. I though fruit could really ripen off the plant just fine. Generally speaking, that's not true. So then I thought, "I'll just make sure to buy riper fruit at the store". But then I discovered that buying ripe-picked fruit at the store is a near impossibility. Now I'm gonna have to look into alternative distribution options. Because, long story short, as a result of the marketplace, consumers are routinely sold an inferior product, even though a superior product is readily available.
How do you like them unripened apples, urban libertarians?
Well I never been to England
But I kinda like the Beatles