Monday, June 09, 2008

Unripe

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

24 comments:

Jeff said...

Your average libertarian would likely respond that the consumer just doesn't want tree-ripe fruit all that much. Clearly there is no significant change in the number of people buying fruit because the fruit is of slightly lower quality.

Let's assume that the fruit you get at the market was, once upon a time, tree-ripe and hand-picked. Then mechanization happened, and quantity increased as quality decreased. Don't you think that, if consumers cared about the taste lost by mechanization, there would have been a dropoff in sales which would have led to lost revenue for the mechanized farms?

Here's what the market doesn't do well - cater to minority tastes. In this case, your preference for tree-ripe fruit is drowned out by the masses of people who don't give a crap. Let's take beer, for example. Say I (a craft-brew fanatic) lived in Middle of Friggin' Nowhere, North Dakota (drunkest state in the union). If I go to the store, I'll probably have a hard time finding my favorite craft brew behind all the mass-market lagers. Why? Because in MOFN, ND, I'd probably be the only person who would spring for a Fat Tire. For most people, Bud's cheap and it's good enough.

Consumers place their priorities where they will, and those who place their priorities differently from everyone else get left out. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it goes. How would you suggest remedying this?

Matthew B. Novak said...

Your argument has a fatal flaw: that we can accurately gauge what consumers care about. Until recently, I was just like everyone else buying fruit at the store; I had no basis for thinking there was anything else out there. I was uneducated on the topic. Before I didn't have preferences, and now I do. We aren't talking about the distinction between majority and minority tastes. We're talking about the distinction between having preferences and not.

I'm convinced that most people would demand tree-ripe fruit if they actually knew the difference (and realized it could be had for only a slightly higher price). I'm convinced most people (outside of college) would frequently prefer craft brews. I know I do.

The point here is that the market isn't serving the priorities people have, because people haven't even placed their priorities.

Remedy? I don't know. I guess regulations. Tax and spend, that's my creedo. :-)

Jeff said...

To the market, though, "no preference" and "minority preference" are the same. So if the problem is lack of preferences based on the lack of knowledge of alternatives, shouldn't the solution be to educate people on these alternatives?

Think "fair trade" coffee movement here. This is a labeling scheme that sprung up entirely via the market - someone began talking about the exploitiveness of the coffee trade, consumers began demanding coffee that came from well-paid farmers, coffee buyers started responding, and someone set up the Fair Trade labeling scheme as a way for producers to let consumers know they were responding. Now some consumers have begun to criticize "fair trade" and want more information, and roasters such as Counter Culture and Larry's Beans here in NC are doing just that. That's the market responding to changing consumer preference!

So here's my question - if you started a movement that created demand for tree-ripe fruit, wouldn't you see non-mech farms selling tree-ripe fruit to stores under a special labeling system within a couple of years? And if someone went into MOFN, ND, with a six-pack of Fat Tire, wouldn't New Belgium start selling to the convenience stores there*? (And can I sign up for that job?)

*Or would, if breweries weren't required to sell their wares to wholesalers instead of directly to retailers in every state but OR. That's a whole other rant, though.

Mike said...

First off, you'd be surprised how many people (outside of college) just simply prefer light beer. They've tried some of the craft brews and actually don't like them. I went to the Tampa Beer Festival with a friend back in October, and every craft beer he tried I eventually finished for him. After about five, he just stuck to Bud Light. Go fig.

Anyway, unfortunately, though I'm nominally a resident of the "urban" libertarian camp, I'm not as much of a free market guy as I am a social libertarian. (I suppose I should note that I majored in Computer Science, though I did take one econ class.) The reason I tend to believe in free market ideals is because it seems to me like that opens up consumers to a greater variety of options. Regulation, on the other hand, seems to me that it would limit options. Take for example Jacob's recent obsession with raw milk. Because of government regulation, I'm unable to know whether I have a preference because I can't try the alternative.

Here, you have presented a case in which you argue the free market has restricted consumer options. In your penultimate paragraph, you seem to stress that the problem (or at least a problem) is people don't even know they want an alternative. From my perspective, this is not an issue (and, for that matter, maybe they don't). But it is worth noting that you now know you want an alternative, and now that you know this, you have options (e.g. Whole Foods markets). This is due to the fact that the government doesn't regulate the fruit we eat, giving people access to both ripe and unripe fruit based on the amount they want to pay and to what lengths they want to go to acquire it.

I guess I'm not sure how government regulation can solve people not being aware of their options in the market. What sorts of regulations would you argue for?

Mike said...

"...if breweries weren't required to sell their wares to wholesalers instead of directly to retailers in every state but OR."

Hmm, sounds like a government regulation (albeit a state-by-state one).

Thanks for using an example that shows consumers discovering their alternatives, and thus determining their preferences, completely independently from the government. It goes to reinforce my point that the government really doesn't have much of a role to play in terms of consumer preference. (I'm sure Matt will provide a counterexample I was heretofore unaware of though :)

Matthew B. Novak said...

First off, I wasn't actually serious about the "regulate it" idea. It was just a tounge-in-cheek suggestion. I think education is probably the way to go, but I think there are some serious market barriers to that education and/or the realization of what the educated masses want.

Jeff said, To the market, though, "no preference" and "minority preference" are the same.

Actually, the problem is that "minority preference/majority preference" are ignored all together. Ignoring consumer preferences allows producers/distributors/retailers to cater to their own whims. In actuality the majority of people who have a preference about fruit are probably going to prefer ripe-picked fruit, and the minority of people with a preference are going to prefer something else.

The "no preference" folks probably should be re-labled something else like "not-educated" or "undiscerning". It isn't that these people don't have a preference, it's just that they don't know that there is a preference to be voiced. If you asked them "would you prefer fruit that tastes better or fruit that tastes worse?" they'd probably think you were insulting them. The answer is obvious. So even "undiscerning" folks have an actual preference. But the market doesn't cater to that consumer preference, and enables the further undiscernment (!) of that preference.

And though education is the key, I think there are probably barriers to education. For example, corporate (and libertarian) opposition to labeling laws. The marketplace distribution chain makes more money off of uneducated consumers than it does on educated ones.

I see Mike's point that regulations can certainly limit some of our options (and those are bad regulations, generally, unless they're protecting us in some substantial way), but I can't conceed that the free market works to deliver more options. Because that just doesn't play out in reality. There's a litany of famous examples, from the Tucker, to the electric car, to runless pantyhose, to fruit. And those are just the big ones. I suspect that nearly every market has been restricted in some way or another, much like with fruit.

In some small areas very active consumers have been able to get small concesions regarding the source and grade of the products they're buying. Coffee is one such example. Organic foods are starting to come around. But even this leads to more problems, because you need regulations to enforce honesty and accuracy in labeling, otherwise consumers just get duped even further.

And, for the record, there are some ripeness requirements, but they've essentially been set by the industry. Just another example of how consumer/citizen demand for a ripeness standard was perverted by the corporate delivery system.

Could a free market actually deliver more options? Sure. But for a free market to exist, consumers have to have some power. That simply is not the world we live in.

Jacob said...

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.

Focusing on "efficiency" does seem like a geeky, out of touch thing to do, but when you take away the economic jargon it just means that we want people to get the most bang for their buck. So if we see that, say, sugar tariffs are making Americans pay twice as much for sugar than they could be, we've got a good reason to drop the tariffs. That's a straightforward normative conclusion from economic analysis. There might be times when other considerations outweigh the economic concerns, but economics can make a good prima facie normative case in lots of situations. Right?

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.

Earlier in your post you criticized libertarians for assuming away reality and thinking economic theory has the answer to all of the world's problems. Yet here you're assuming that a "superior product is readily available." How do you know that? Do you know what it would cost to get freshly picked fruit from the farm to a consumer's cart before the fruit goes bad? You'd need more precise, labor intensive harvesting; you'd need more pickups from farms to distribution centers; you'd need faster, more frequent delivery to grocery stores; you'd need more rapid turnover on shelves, meaning that consumers would either have to pay the cost of wasted products or deal with stores often running out of the fruits they want. There are all kinds of complex trade-offs at work here. Libertarians don't advocate for the free market position because we think we know the answers -- we do it because we're modest enough to realize that we're not possibly informed enough or smart enough to legislate a better system that's going to take all these factors into account.

Ripeness is one thing we want from our fruits and you're right that our current system sucks at providing it. But we also want our fruits to be cheap and available year round. These goals are, to some extent, mutually exclusive. Our parents and grandparents have been happy with the latter two. Having grown up in an age of abundance it's easy to look back now and criticize what's available, but it's not that obvious to me that they made the wrong choice, given their constraints (or that they would have chosen otherwise if only they'd tasted fresher fruit).

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.

In the short-term, if the consumer has a really exotic preference, I guess that's true. But I'm not sure what your point is. Another reason libertarians like markets is because they encourage a discovery process. Entrepreneurs try out new ideas, expose consumers to new products, and see what works. There are some markets that we might describe as uninnovative and uncompetitive, but the grocery market in contemporary, food-obsessed America is not one I would pick.

Consumers are starting to realize the benefits of fresh fruit and farmers' markets are succeeding in lots of American cities. That's great. But you know what's also great? That it's 1 am and if I feel like it I can walk three blocks to the 24 hour Harris Teeter and buy a pint of blueberries for less than three bucks. That's awesome, dude.

As a libertarian and a foodie, I often face tension between my praise for the market and the mass-produced crap it provides. But I'm more often in awe of the incredible variety of food and drink on offer, a bounty that keeps on growing and improving in quality.

There are certainly some experiences we've lost touch with: making our own bread, slaughtering our own pigs, picking our own fruit. The price of our amazing wealth of food has often been the loss of authenticity. But we're reclaiming that more and more, and not because we're so poor that we have to, but because we realize food tastes better when its treated with respect. As a consumer whose life is deeply entwined with food and drink, there is no other time in history in which I'd rather eat.

Matthew B. Novak said...

We want people to get the most bang for their buck. So if we see that, say, sugar tariffs are making Americans pay twice as much for sugar than they could be, we've got a good reason to drop the tariffs. That's a straightforward normative conclusion from economic analysis. There might be times when other considerations outweigh the economic concerns, but economics can make a good prima facie normative case in lots of situations. Right?

Wrong. See, the normative conclusion doesn't come from the economic analysis, (which says tariffs increase prices) it comes from two prior conclusions.

1. That it is important that people get the most bang for their buck. This brings up all sorts of questions, the two biggest of which are "who constitutes people? (average consumers? The well-to-do? Corporations?)" and "what constitutes 'bang'"? However you've answered these questions, that's what you're concluding is important. Others would certainly come down differently on these questions.

2. That an unregulated market is the best way to achieve this goal. I certainly dispute this conclusion. Ultimately you've drawn two big, precarious, highly problematic conclusions, and it is upon this foundation that you are using economic analysis to draw normative conclusions. So no, economics cannot make a good prima facie normative case.

Here you're assuming that a "superior product is readily available." How do you know that?
Because I've read about it, and experienced it for myself. Are the some additional factors in play? Yeah, sure. It's a little harder to get ripe-picked fruit to market than it is unripe-picked. And the cost goes up a little. But there is a superior product that could easily be made available. Why would you assume otherwise?

Ripeness is one thing we want from our fruits and you're right that our current system sucks at providing it. But we also want our fruits to be cheap and available year round. These goals are, to some extent, mutually exclusive.

No. No they aren't. I can, off the top of my head, think of several ways that both ripe fruit and (slightly) cheaper year-round fruit could be made available. For example, a farmer picks half of their crop ripe, and half by machine like they do now. Or some farmers pick ripe, and some don't. There you go, an extremely obvious and simple way that we could have both ripe fruit when it is seasonally available and the same distribution we have now for everything else the rest of the year. In no way are they mutually exclusive.

Having grown up in an age of abundance it's easy to look back now and criticize what's available, but it's not that obvious to me that they made the wrong choice, given their constraints.

Ah yes, once again assuming that consumers made a choice. Do me a favor, call your grandparents tonight and ask them about the time they sat down and calculated whether or not they wanted ripe-picked fruit or year-round fruit. Ask them about the factors that went into their decision, and whether they consulted with friends and relatives on the topic. Ask them how they relayed their decision to the farmers. Ask them whatever you want about their decision, because you're gonna get the same answer either way. What the heck are you talking about?!? There was no choice on the matter. Consumers do not, and have not, operated as you assume they do. And thus the market does not, and has not, operated as you assume it has. Consumer preferences are not reflected in the market because consumers are not given a choice!

There are all kinds of complex trade-offs at work here. Libertarians don't advocate for the free market position because we think we know the answers -- we do it because we're modest enough to realize that we're not possibly informed enough or smart enough to legislate a better system that's going to take all these factors into account.

Yes, there are several complex trade-offs here. That means not only were consumers never given a choice between cheap fruit and tasty fruit, they were also never given a choice between every possible permutation of all the variables. You can call deference to the market "modesty", but I'm going to call it (a very generous) willing blindness. Do I think I can legislate a perfect distribution system? No. But I think that a regulated market can come a heck of a lot closer to perfection than a free market can.

And keep in mind - this is VERY IMPORTANT - the choices aren't just between free market and communism, there's all sorts of different levels of government involvement that we can opt for. The libertarian position is generally that any government involvement is bad. And that's not premised on modesty, that's premised on the idea the the market gets it right (or closest to right). You're in the position of defending the accuracy of the market, and I have the (quite fortunate) position of not having to defend the accuracy of any particular regulations except those I am specifically advocating.

Andy said...
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jacob said...

I don't there's much point in further arguing most of these disagreements, and I think we've both stated our views clearly. But just to be clear, this is what your position seems to be:

1) Stores could easily, and for very little extra cost, stock freshly picked, vine-ripened fruit.

2) Consumers, if they were exposed to it, would very much prefer this kind of fruit.

3) Stores won't carry it because... They're conspiring against customers? Aren't interested in gaining advantages over their competitors? Aren't smart enough to figure out the plan that you just spun off the top of your head?

4) Therefore, libertarianism is wrong.

I think you need to work on number 3 or check your premises on 1 and 2.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Andy -

First, there's no gaurantee that the fruit at farmers markets is picked ripe. Far from it actually.

Second, farmers markets aren't an alternative provided by the marketplace, they're an alternative to the marketplace. It's an alternative form of distribution, that operates outside of the normal channels of commerce. Much like if you want to buy Cuban cigars you have to do so on the black market, so too if you want to buy ripe-picked fruit, you have to find an alternative market that offers that good.

If we were really talking about free market and invisible hand and such, then the grocer would be responding to your desires by stocking ripe-picked fruit, and the balance would be set in the normal chain of distribution. But that's not happening. Instead you have to seek out an alternative market to purchase the goods you want.

Finally, and this is important, is that one of the biggest arguments for the free market is that it is supposed to be both responsive and speedy. It's supposed to deliver what people want faster than any other system. But as we can see, the market isn't shifting to reflect preferences and any shifts that are taking place are painfully slow.

Jacob said...

Second, farmers markets aren't an alternative provided by the marketplace, they're an alternative to the marketplace. It's an alternative form of distribution, that operates outside of the normal channels of commerce.

Say what now? That's just a ridiculous definition of the marketplace. Heck, it's even called a farmers' MARKET. It's a place where people come together to buy and sell stuff. That's like saying that because wine lovers often go to specialty wine shops instead of buying the cheap stuff available at the grocery, the market has failed to provide for wine lovers. That's obviously false.

If your argument is that markets won't provide for people with a taste for fresh fruit, and then you arbitrarily exclude places where people buy fresh fruit from the "market," then there's really no point in having this exchange.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Jacob -

Awww. Don't quit on me.

As for my argument... it's really less sylogistic than you make it, and much more observational. Basically all I need to rely on is #2 (consumers like tasty fruit), observe that the market isn't getting it to them, but is instead substituting some alternative that no consumer ever chose to embrace, and point out that there's obviously some sort of disconnect, because the market isn't delivering what people prefer.

I think that alone is enough to call into question the libertarian view.

I also think your characterization in number 1 was a bit inaccurate, since all I said was that ripe-picked fruit could be offered to consumers at little increase in cost to them. I dunno, maybe that'd decrease profits for the producer/distributor/retailer. But that too just highlights the problem with a completely free market. If they can get away with it, the free market encourages people to make more money off of an inferior product than they do off of a superior product. That is not a goal we should be aiming for.

Finally, I'm not sure about #3. Maybe I've already hinted to the real reason in that previous paragraph. But the reason we're getting inferior products isn't important to the argument here. Because the argument here is:
1. Libertarians have told us a free market will effeciently deliver the goods we want.
2. We aren't getting the goods we want.
3. Therefore, Libertarianism is wrong.

Jacob said...

OK, I won't quit quite yet ;)

1. Libertarians have told us a free market will effeciently deliver the goods we want.

Emphasis on "efficiently." If libertarians were just saying the market would deliver the goods people want, we'd be crazy. I want a house with a big yard and a pony that's within walking distance from the Metro. Sadly, the market has yet to deliver it at a price I can afford.

What we're really saying is that markets do a good job of aggregating lots of dispersed information about what things cost and how much people are willing to pay for them. So, for example, we know that people want fresh fruit.

We don't know if they're willing to put less of other stuff in their shopping cart to get it, or to risk that stores will more frequently sell out of the fruit customers want. That's the kind of thing that markets are good at figuring out and that random individuals are not.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Jacob -

It's also called a black MARKET. Does that mean it's considered part of the normal distribution chain?

The reason I'm saying it's an alternative market is because that's exactly what farmers markets are designed to be. They've been created as a way of avoiding the normal chain of distribution. Most of the transactions are in cash, probably without tax. Most of the "retailers" at farmers markets are not in the retail business, but are conducting a transaction outside of their normal course.
People transacting at these markets often take a great deal of pride in the fact that they're not doing so in the normal market. In short, these are transactions that are an exception to the norm, and thus can fairly be categorized as a distinct alternative to the normal market.

More importantly though, is that my argument is that if the free market is as responsive as you claim it is, things like farmers markets shouldn't even have an opportunity to exist. If things are happening like you say they are, then normal distribution channels (in this case grocers) should offer all the variety and choices that consumers want. That sure doesn't happen.

jacob said...

I've never said anything about the "normal distribution chain," whatever that means, being the true form of the market. And it seems arbitrary to say that it should be. To take your view to an extreme, you'd have to say that a working free market would conclude with just giant stores that carry every product that everybody wants.

Grocery stores provide a big variety of stuff, of varying quality, reliably and at generally lower prices. Convenience stores stock just very basic goods at higher prices. Specialty stores and farmers markets offer higher quality goods and cater to more particular or discerning tastes. This is all markets, and I don't see how it presents a problem for my political views

Andy said...
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Andy said...
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Andy said...
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Matthew B. Novak said...

Alright, I'm willing to conceed that the farmers market aren't just an alternative to the market. Here's why: in a totally free market, there's no such thing as a black market, or any other alternative to the market, because it's all inclusive. So, in a hypothetical free market, yeah, it's all there.

So, for example, we know that people want fresh fruit. We don't know if they're willing to put less of other stuff in their shopping cart to get it, or to risk that stores will more frequently sell out of the fruit customers want. That's the kind of thing that markets are good at figuring out and that random individuals are not.

First off, we're not talking about random individuals making decisions here. Why do libertarians always jump to that as the alternative to a free market?

Second, how do we know the market is good at setting prices and availability of products? I can point to people lamenting the quality of fruit and we've got a very obvious challenge to the effectiveness of the market. You're arguing instead that the market has accurately set price and distribution to reflect aggregate consumer preferences, but your reasoning turns on your claim that markets are effective. That's circular reasoning.

In an ideal free market, yes. But when free market theory is applied to a real market, as customers become more unaware of competitor prices or as the number of independent customers decreases, the price in a free market can be more sluggish to respond. But that doesn't mean jettison the free market concept; it only means this is the effect of real world application.

Ah Andy, you make my point for me. We aren't dealing with ideals here. We're dealing with the real world. And my point has been, from the start, that the market is not giving people what they want. The reality of the situation demonstrates that our ideal market is a farce, and if the idea doesn't play out in reality, then we certainly shouldn't be relying on it. We need to understand the way people actually make decisions, and that's gonna take a lot of work and investigation and time and energy. But that's the alternative. Instead of hypothesizing some happy ideal model of decision making we should be actually looking at the way people operate.

We're not in a free market.

Fair enough. But we're in as close to a free-market as is seen in the world today. And if you're going to make the argument that it is government interference that is keeping people from getting ripe-picked fruit, then you're going to need to demonstrate how that's so. Because in the quoted portion of the book, Steingarten explains precisely how it is the profit-maximizing motive of producers/distributors/retailers that is keeping us from getting what we want as consumers, and not the regulation of the market.

We're the problem, not the market.

No, exactly the opposite. Our goal should be understanding how people operate, what people want, and how to make people better off. The market is supposed to be a tool, and if the tool isn't doing it's job, then you need to get a new tool. If you need to pound in a nail and I give you a hack saw, it isn't reasonable to blame you for failing to pound in the nail. There's nothing so sacred about the market that we should revere it above the people it is supposed to serve.

Andy said...
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Matthew B. Novak said...

Andy -

I live in D.C. I shop at farmers markets. I've even volunteered at farmers markets back when I was in college. I'm well aware of farmers markets and what they do and don't offer. I'm also well aware of the seasonal nature of fruit. Please don't treat me like a child. It does not reflect well on your ability to carry out an argument.

Despite your claims that you can get ripe fruit all day long, I think you'd be surprised at how little of what you're buying is really ripe. Just because it's from a farmers market doesn't mean it's ripe, or organic or anything else. The quality is often higher at farmers markets, yes, but there's certainly no gaurantee. Just like at a grocer, where you can at time find perfectly ripe-picked fruit.

The problem comes in consistency and availability. Even in-season, when ripe fruit could be offered exclusively, inferior products are sold (both at farmers markets and at grocers). The only reason for this is the profit-maximizing motive of producers/distributors/retailers. It has nothing to do with what consumers want.

The problem isn't just that people have a hard time finding what they want, it's also that the market is delivering an inferior product even when a superior one is readily available.

Andy said...
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Matthew B. Novak said...

Andy -

Thanks for the parting shot. If you were really just "out of here" because you cared about the level of discourse you wouldn't have bothered to make an insult like that on your way out, you would have just not posted again.