For those of you who’ve stuck with me so far, thanks, and give yourselves an “attaboy.”
Tom should be home or almost home and resting up from the Low Carb Cruise. Looking forward to his report, but he tipped me off that there were some problems with the audio of his roast of the featured speakers. He was huddling up with Jimmy Moore, who also recorded some of it, to see if he can get a good cut for us landlubbers. Keep your fingers crossed.
I wanted to wrap up my run through the weeds with some thoughts on how these economic principles I’ve outlined impact our health and the foods we eat, and what you can do about it.
First let’s look at the biggest common fallacy of both Big Government economics and food policy. It’s what FA Hayek called “The Fatal Conceit.” That’s the assumption that in order to manage an economy (or food policy) full of imperfect human beings, who may or may not have any idea of what they’re doing; said human beings’ best bet is to cede control of all of those individual decisions over to a small group of elected or appointed imperfect human beings; who are educated and credentialed, but in fact may or may not have any idea of what they’re doing.
Along with this hubris comes the implicit assumption that once dipped in the cleansing baptismal font of “public service,” these superior beings will acquire instant and complete immunity from such things as greed, conflict of interest, failure of imagination, peer pressure, careerism, etc., etc. All traits not of, as commonly ascribed, “the market,” or “the one percent,” or “Darwinian capitalism,” but of human beings.
The economy is no more a collection of mathematically definable variables and decisions than a pasture is a collection of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, along with some dirt and a few bugs. They are both “organic,” with literally billions of interactions occurring at any moment. Any single change or new input sets off an exponential number of adjustments, adaptations, changes. The larger and less natural the change, the more unpredictable and unhealthy those changes are likely to be, because you have just introduced artificial change into a system that was balanced and self-correcting.
Even given this Fatal Conceit, we could still at least assume people mean well, but you don’t have to look far to conclude that some (much?) of what our authorities does seems downright venal. Swat teams invading Amish stores to destroy raw milk. Schools traumatizing youngsters by confiscating their peanut butter sandwiches and making them eat chicken nuggets. The USDA increasing its buy of Pink Slime once fast food outlets dropped it. Monsanto getting cover to sue farmers whose corn fields get compromised with its GMO crops. Could this be just a few mistakes, or is this the nature of government as is grows?
Another of Hayek’s observations was covered in a whole chapter of “The Road to Serfdom” titled “Why the Worst Get on Top.” Always.
Understand that, no matter what the original intention, a law or regulatory function is a government enforceable edict to compel or prohibit transactions, or to direct resources from one group to another. Although this type of power is always sold as the solution to some perceived problem, injustice, or threat, at base it’s a tool that overrides what would happen in a marketplace of individuals making free-will decisions.
Who can maximize the use of this new power? Perhaps some well-meaning people first proposed it to address some perceived problem or injustice the market wasn’t addressing quickly or visibly enough. But they won’t take “immoral” advantage beyond addressing their original grievance. Perhaps clean food, or healthy meals for kids. But someone with less noble intentions will recognize real value here. This is the power to direct money and resources towards yourself; to inhibit competition; to force transactions on unwilling consumers. Again, who will work hardest to acquire this kind of power? Who will lobby harder? Who will fund “research?” Who will bribe? Who will extend “corporate support?” The well-meaning reformer? Or Big Business, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Oil?
So this — you cannot have a simple answer in a complex system. So if you find yourself saying “the government ought to…” or “there ought to be a law that…,” first ask yourself if you’re perhaps feeling a bit conceited.
If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that as much as us Fat Heads despise the government pushing the Low Fat, High Carb, Eat Less, Exercise More paradigm, most of us also (Tom has stated this emphatically) don’t consider the solution as being for the same government to instead push High Fat, Low Carb. The solution is to let people pursue their own personal answers, then adapt to their own results.
Also, when you look at the universe of Big Government — the USDA and Energy and the FDA and HHS and Education and on and on, please consider that you are dealing with an organism that is incapable of not being owned by the sources of the problems they supposedly exist to mitigate or protect us from. It has nothing to do with which party is in or who’s president or which experts are running what department. It has to do with real economics, reflected in the title of Ludwig von Mises seminal book of the Austrian School of Economics — “Human Action.”
So, if someone is billed as an expert, assume they’re lying. Try to take their argument apart, a la “Science for Smart People,” then decide if it holds up.
Let me come back to one of the points of my original post. The extent to which the government has inserted itself into the food markets and nutritional debate means that it’s hard to find good information. The price of those strawberries at the megamart don’t convey how or how much their journey from South America was taxpayer subsidized. So instead of them saying “maybe you should just eat what’s in season locally” or “if you want us that badly, okay, but that’s why we cost twice as much,” they’re saying “growing food with less nutritional value using massive amounts nonrenewable resource inputs, and then using other resources to ship them half way around the globe — GREAT IDEA! I mean, how could I lie to you — just look at my price.”
So, we know the “price mechanism” — which is the best, most efficient way to convey the sum of the relative values of all inputs in a free market — is hopelessly compromised.
But if you don’t know the real value of your food, you don’t know much of real value. I suggested a little bit of basic market research in Part II. It’s Spring here, and if you’ve got a local food outlet (ours starts this week!), get out there. See what real food costs when you’re paying real money. I’m not saying to buy all of your meat or veggies at the farmer’s market if your budget doesn’t justify it. I am suggesting that by patronizing the folks who are working the dirt, even for a few tomatoes, or a bundle of herbs, or a pound of grass fed beef, you’ll gain valuable awareness.
I think it’s likely that we’ll be going the way of Greece sooner rather than later. Whether through honest downsizing, controlled crash landing, or some degree of collapse, a lot of those subsidies could get tossed. It would be good to be aware of what your food is going to cost when those lyin’ strawberries have to fess up. It would be even better to have a good relationship with some of those local folks who use mostly sweat and sunshine to grow food, because they could become very popular. I just got a half-share this year of a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which keeps costs competitive with the megamart.
Okay, you’ve humored me long enough. I’ll wrap it up.
Ultimately, you’re not going to have a realistic understanding of the power, capabilities, and limitations of government (and human beings); how that will affect your food, your career, your family — without a grasp of some fundamental economic concepts. Like your friendly neighborhood establishment nutritionist, good intentions are completely overrated as a virtue when ignorance is causing real damage. And like with all experts, none of them can care more about your money, your kids, or your health as much as you can.
Hope I’ve given you food for thought about our food. See you in the comments.
The Older Brother