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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10741/keep-your-self-righteous-fingers-off-my-processed-food/

Keep Your Self-Righteous Fingers Off My Processed Food

September 30, 2009 by

Those who think that there is something wrong with owning more than two pairs of sneakers or that exquisite fastidiousness about what you put into your mouth equals virtue need to be teleported back to, say, the Depression itself. FULL ARTICLE by Charlotte Allen


Michael A. Clem September 30, 2009 at 8:54 am

Thanks for the article. Buying cheap doesn’t hamper innovation, it is the reward for entrepreneurs who figured out how to lower the costs of their good and services for their customers. These people need to come down from their bamboo towers (Ivory comes from endangered elephants) and stop advocating evil.
I would add, however, that high fructose corn syrup might not be so prevalent in our foods if it weren’t for the sugar tariffs. And the price of milk would be even lower if it weren’t for the price controls.

Enviro-Nazis September 30, 2009 at 9:03 am

The problem with those ideologues is that they are either mixing socialism with environmentalism or they are hiding behind environmentalism in order to advance their anti-capitalist agenda.

Their purpose is to destroy private property and to destroy free market capitalism, they could not care less about the environment.

They accuse capitalism for destroying the environment, but I recall that the governments of the world owns a lot of land which they happily polluted with radioactive fallout from nuclear tests.

When was the last time a “greedy” capitalistic CEO from an evil multinational tested a nuclear weapon in the pacific ?

The USSR had completely insane construction experiments in Siberia where they detonated several nuclear weapons to dig a canal. They even used nuclear bombs to build underground “tanks” to store fuel. They even tested nuclear bombs in mines and never told the workers who all died when they return to the mine to work.

The water of the techa river is so polluted that you cannot come close within 2 miles of this river without suffering radiation poisoning.

Even Moscow is littered with radioactive waste unaccounted for.

We all know the disaster of Chernobyl, the privately owned capitalistic power plant built by greedy financial tycoons who were motivated by profits (sarcasm).

The USA was testing nuclear weapons on it’s own soldier and population. We all know about Chemical Ali but what about Radioactive Joe ? The USA even tested radioactive fallout on prisoners and unsuspecting citizens.

We all know about Three Miles Island. What about Castle Bravo, that big 15 MT of nuclear pollution that caused widespead disease and illness in the local population.

What about TSAR Bomba, a 57 MT device detonated in the arctic ?

And those statists are the ones who would want us to wipe our selves with our bare hands instead of using toilet paper ?

So those enviro-socialists are pointing at the wrong party. If property had all been private since the beginning, if taxes did not exist, if we paid in gold and did not have fiat monies, then all this government wars and pollution would not have been possible.

Why not use private property and free market capitalism to fight global warming and climate changes and clean the environment ?

My bet is that when all land is privately owned, it will be in better shape. We won’t see nuclear tests, chemical tests or devastating wars fought on those lands.

The governments of the world almost annihilated mankind back in 1962 and the cuban missile crisis.

So they are not in a position to lecture us. When property is publicly held, nuclear holocaust is not far behind.

Governments concentrate so much power in the hands of so few that it goes unchecked and creates disasters.

Let’s auction all government lands and sell it to private interests, let’s have private everything and get government out of our lives if we are to save the world.

In the mean time, those eco-geeks can be as “green” as they want, they can eat grass and recycle their feces if that’s what they want, but don’t try to force your lifestyle on the rest of us.

Artisan September 30, 2009 at 9:19 am

Certainly the author makes a point against snobs.

However, to some extent the question of industrial development threatening endangered species is a also question of valuable biodiversity.

You don’t want to pretend for instance: who cares if all the expensive fishes (or tomatoes) of the world disappear because we’ve got cheap cod farms (synthetic tomatoes) feeding the world so well.

freefred, Nicholasville Ky September 30, 2009 at 9:34 am

To me, the woman who wrote “Cheap” is just wearing a disguise for the climate change freaks–to accomplish their goals they need control of everything, including how much each of us spends and how we spend it. If I want better quality I’ll save for it and buy it , otherwise she and others like her need to stay out of my business..

Mike September 30, 2009 at 9:39 am

Thank you for this article! God, I hate activists. Get a life; stop trying to find meaning in yours through meddling in mine. Oh, it pisses me off so much I just want to hit something.

Savannah Liston September 30, 2009 at 9:44 am

I think there is a difference between telling people what to do, and trying to kindly persuade people. I eat quite a bit of local food, and a lot of organic food, and I think it is better for people…but I do not think it is right for me to tell you that you must eat just like me. That’s your choice. It is your body, your life, your health, you make the decision…but that doesn’t mean you should eat twinkies and cheetos for the rest of your life. :)

Wayne September 30, 2009 at 9:46 am


Why would expensive fish or tomatoes disappear if there were cheaper alternatives? The industrial farming of said things may decrease (or disappear if the demand completely dries up). There is no economic reason that higher priced alternatives would disappear just becuase there are cheaper choices. Has Bently, Rolls Royce, or Ferrari disappeared of the cheap cars produced by Honda, Toyota, or Ford?

The point this article is trying to make is that cheaper goods enable those with lower income to afford said goods. This opens entirely new consumer groups to the producers as well as allowing people who wish to pay more for competing products to buy what they want. The market is driven by the demand of it’s users and not everyone buys cheap!

Point in fact, Organic food *is* taking off and many people are willing to spend more for it, so contrary to your statement of “expensive” products disappearing, expensive products are being added to the market in competition with cheaper products!

luisdiego22002 September 30, 2009 at 9:52 am

Maybe Ms. Shell should enlighten us and show us the way, sell her SUV, get rid of her Mac Power book, her upscale home, her Doc Martens, buy a Swiss army knife (allowing for some luxuries) and abandon society all together and leave us less pietous parasites to live our lives as we choose, eating with whatever dose of preservatives we like. That we way, she won’t have to put up with such intolerable sins as consumers buying stuff for less.

Professor_Blitzkrieg September 30, 2009 at 10:12 am

I haven’t done too much research on this, but I don’t really believe Americans even have cheapness at the top of their list.

I see poor minorities at wal-mart buying high cost calories that are unhealthy for them too. I don’t think legislation should be passed to stop poor people from screwing themselves over, I just think its evidence that they don’t care about their health or their finances very much.

oksana September 30, 2009 at 10:18 am

I’m compelled to write this as a response to the extremely poor quality of the today’s email article ‘Keep your self-righteous fingers off my processed food’. Riddled with insulting stereotypes, generalisations etc, it is better suited to what we call ‘yellow’ press here in the UK. Bristling with indignation at apparently being told what to do & eat, the author actually misses the point. The economics of cheap and disposable are partly responsible for getting the humanity in the sorry state that we’re in now. This is not about the power of the state and its threat to the individual choice – the criticised book is about short-term sacrifices to invest into longer-term goals (including your health!) and quality things that will last. Surely, something that we all should do more of these days? And I’m not even going to mention this beauty: ‘That’s why even America’s poorest people nowadays can afford automobiles, cell phones, and TVs’. I did not know whether to laugh or to cry when I read it.

newson September 30, 2009 at 10:36 am

oksana says:
“Surely, something that we all should do more of these days?”

by what authority do you speak for others? or is this the royal “we”?

newson September 30, 2009 at 10:56 am

hitler was a vegetarian teetotaler, same for himmler, who was so into herbal remedies that he insisted every concentration have a herb garden (plenty of guinea pigs at hand). there’s a pattern with the lifestyle-preachers.

they would have hated ikea too.

Mushindo September 30, 2009 at 10:56 am

From the article: ‘and, of course, Wal-Mart (no work of social criticism is complete without a drive-by shooting aimed at that chain) ‘.

Allow me to take a shot from the other side of the road: Wal-mart’s innovation in logistics and supply chain management was the stuff of genius. But efficiencies of scale alone are not solely responsible for its giant megacorp status: It is a beneficiary of a slew of state-assisted barriers to entry and unilateral advantage over potential competitors, besides its rather too enthusiastic playing of the eminent domain card wherever unwilling-seller landowners get in the way of its expansion plans. Reminds me of a steamroller.

As an exponent of the bona fide free market, Wal-Mart doesn’t exactly walk the talk.

I havent researched this in any detail, (and I daresay some Austrian economist I havent read yet has already nailed it down), but I have an hypothesis that in any industry, heavy concentration in the hands of a few megacorps is a sure sign of heavy State intervention.

The achievement of economies of scale does, to be sure, drive some degree of concentration and acquisitive growth in any competitive industry. But in an economy containing populations of hundreds of milions, if it is indeed free, the optimal number of players in any industry will invariably floor out and settle long before a state of oligopoly or monopoly is reached. Simply because dominant players’s behaviour and profit margins will attract more competitors. Retail is no exception.

Michael A. Clem September 30, 2009 at 11:07 am

Mushindo, while I would agree that Wal-Mart gets its share of government privileges and advantages–I would argue that only happened later in the company’s history, and that Wal-Mart’s early growth was indeed from economies of scale and other entreprenurial efforts, such as their use of the Just-In-Time (JIT) inventorying system.
There’s an unfortunate tendency to paint Wal-Mart as either a free market bastion or as an evil corporation, when the truth is not nearly so obvious or clear-cut. Wal-Mart is just another company (especially since Sam Walton died), and as such, does what needs to be done to take care of business. What we really need to do justice to Wal-Mart is to look more closely at the system that it is now firmly embedded in, instead of merely blaming the company.

Nate September 30, 2009 at 11:07 am

@ oksana

“The economics of cheap and disposable are partly responsible for getting the humanity in the sorry state that we’re in now.”

And how would you like to qualify that statement?

Traditionally, IMO, the “sorry state” of humanity can be attributed to famine, disease, pestilence and war. Three out of the four can be reduced or eliminated by the economics of cheap.

Inquisitor September 30, 2009 at 11:29 am

“The economics of cheap and disposable are partly responsible for getting the humanity in the sorry state that we’re in now.”

No, government intervention is.

“This is not about the power of the state and its threat to the individual choice”

It always is.

“And I’m not even going to mention this beauty: ‘That’s why even America’s poorest people nowadays can afford automobiles, cell phones, and TVs’. I did not know whether to laugh or to cry when I read it.”

Ditto on your comments.

ozzy September 30, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Wow – I’ve been reading Mises daily articles for a helluva long time now, always looking forward to the incisive and intelligent perspectives on offer, but this article is neither incisive nor intelligent – it’s a poorly reasoned, downright ignorant diatribe which flies in the face of logic and evidence. What a huge disappointment! Mises standards have apparently dropped by a substantial margin – hopefully this piece was just a fluke.

Whether you agree with Pollan’s politics or not, his books, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food, are very thoughtful, with lots of data, and go a long way toward explaining the innumerable food-related afflictions we are now seeing in America, including the explosions of diabetes and obesity, especially among the young. Apparently, the author of this article was too busy foaming at the mouth to actually read any of his well documented and presented *diagnoses*, preferring to take cheap shots at his predictable Statist view of the *solutions* (which would of course be utterly ineffectual). In doing so, she throws out the baby with the bathwater. A classic tactic of Statists of both the Republican and Democrat stripe.

It was no surprise to find that this author is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard, the neocon propaganda mag. This article would have fit right in there – but it’s a shame to see it disgracing the LvM Institute.

Start a revolution. Think for yourself.

Lanta September 30, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Hey, what’s wrong with you guys. I mean the author and most of the blogers here. Instead of focusing your criticism solely on coercion you engage in bashing of activists. This has nothing to do with laissez-faire liberalism. Besides that these activists are largely right. Most of commercial food is crap indeed. Corporations in food industry really do aggressive marketing full of deceptions (e.g. their “research shows”s) and bank on people’s ignorance and weaknesses. They do receive many privileges from government. And it is annoying like quality food is unavailable on many occassions.

Well, you say that adult people make decisions and companies cater to their demands? Yes, you are right. But why you bash activists who have a good point? True, “locavore” kind of norms are bizzare and also there may be some posing and snobism involved. But still the main point correct. Now, many of these activists tend to go too far and advocate enforcement of supposed high-quality foods (or bans of the opposites) and this is exactly the point where they deserve a “punch”, not before they cross this line.

Tina Brewer September 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm

This article disgusted me. It always disgusts me to see the unnecessary confusion of the distinction between laudable goals persued voluntarily and state coersion. In an ironic inversion of Bastiat’s wonderful quote (from The Law) “A Confusion of Terms; Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by the government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.” Gee, I wonder where they got that crazy idea? Maybe from constantly hearing garbage like this article from so-called classical liberal sources!

Just because we don’t want the government to coersively mandate quality, craftsmanship, nutrient density, and the flourishing of local economic life DOES NOT MEAN THAT THESE ARE NOT LAUDABLE GOALS TO BE PURSUED PEACEFULLY!!! It makes me sick unto death to hear the stupid criticisms of basic VOLUTARILY TAKEN environmentally friendly actions by so-called libertarians. I cannot count the number of times I have read snide, sneering criticisms of people, for example, who choose to carry re-usable bags for their groceries. Where, in the HELL does this idea come from that a goal is not good just because we don’t want it forced onto us?

Inquisitor September 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm

“goes way beyond Marie Antoinette saying “let them eat cake.” It’s more like Marie Antoinette dressing up in her shepherdess costume and holding court in a fake-rustic cottage at the Petit Trianon.”

It is not accurate that she said this, but it is funny nonetheless. And sorry, but people like Pollin or Pollan are nuts and need to descend from their ivory towers and stop demanding people live in their own eccentric manner.

gene September 30, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Tina makes some excellent points.

The article, on the other hand, seemed entirely pointless and contradictory.

Since, neither the author nor those she criticises is “forcing” anyone to do anything, who really cares what either party says? If someone thinks it is good to eat well rather than eat crap, then that certainly is commendable, while if someone wants to eat the cheapest stuff around, good for them, just don’t ask me to pay for their bypass surgery.

the problem lies in government subsidy. most of the items she mentions probably would cost more and probably would be of better quality if the government stopped lining the pockets of who they want to produce, rather than letting us choose who we want to produce.

Wes September 30, 2009 at 1:41 pm

I have to agree with the latter few posts about the disgust in this article. Why Mises would stoop to the level of a neo-con propagator is beyond me. Regardless of the reasoning, this type of piece should not be allowed the privilege of being published on a site that champions the free market.

While the author thinks that she herself is championing the free market system, her refusal of an open mind effectively closes that system. She’s lambasting people like Pollan for “forcing” their ideology on others, but she’s doing the same thing.

I have been interested in both books by Pollan, and have several friends that have read them. However, I have not. From what I know about Pollan’s stance is that he’s simply an advocate of locally grown foods and he is merely trying to persuade people to think outside of their pre-existing boxes of consuming what they normally do. I’m not aware of any political-agenda-pushing on his part, and his work seems to be very well documented, as some here have mentioned.

If Pollan DOES have a political agenda here, I would chalk it up to the same reason why so many doctors are in favor of a public option in the health care debate. And that is that they’re severely misled in believing that the government can fix our problems for us. The people in this mindset clearly recognize a problem with the system (or way of doing things) and they want change. They’re just mis-applying and mis-directing it into government intervention. This type of thinking can be argued against the same way movements like Campaign for Liberty do things: using an open forum to debate and then prove the fallacies of policies that perpetuate government intervention.

The way I see it, the food industry is as bad as the health care industry. Processed food is no different than pharmaceuticals. Both are regulated and over-seen by government bureaucrats that have conflicts of interest in the industry (ie. they sit on the boards of some of the top companies in the business). A great example of that is the virtual mirror image of FDA board members and Monstanto executives. This is never a good thing because it’s an oligarchy of commerce.

Not to mention the advent and implementation of things like Agenda 21 and the Codex Alimentarius. If you have never heard of those two things before, then do some research for yourself. Both of those initiatives are using things like Big Pharma and Big Food to push their agenda. And this means more liberties taken away/restricted and less freedom on the open market.

The author wants to lead us to believe that the ONLY way a free market is to work is that we all buy cheap goods and services. That’s not what Austrian Economics embraces. If it was, then we’d be advocating price controlling and subsidies. Instead, the Austrians embrace the choice of individuals to choose the quality, materials, origins, etc. of the things they buy on a day-to-day basis and then give their hard-earned money to the person who provides it. It’s about individual choice, not simply about cheap prices.

Ribald September 30, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Two words would enlighten the discussion more than any snide remark or populist demagoguery: systematic error.

The conflict here is between those who don’t believe in systematic error in individual purchasing decisions and those who do.

To explain the impact of systematic error in individual purchasing decisions, we may refer to excerpts from Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.


For instance:

“When Williams-Sonoma introduced bread machines, sales were slow. When they added a “deluxe” version that was 50% more expensive, they started flying off the shelves; the first bread machine now appeared to be a bargain”

What does Austrian Economics make of this result? The “deluxe” option didn’t increase the value of the original bread machine at all. Rather than making a rational decision based on the value of owning the bread machine (as they ostensibly did before the deluxe option arrived), customers merely compared it to a similar product and bought it because it was cheaper.

In the case of Shell’s thesis that the things we buy are too cheap, the impact of systematic errors in judgment (verified by experiment) are clearly critical, if unstated in the book. Since many aspects of consumer irrationality are so predictable, it is natural for some to argue that regulation would nullify the negative effect of consumer irrationality. In Shell’s case, a tax on certain “too-cheap” (i.e. cost-inefficient, but low-priced) goods would conceivably cause consumers to make choices based on real value rather than the dollar price.

The question is: how does a Free Market handle systematic errors in individual decisions? The trivial answer is to say that people who make systematic errors (the vast majority) are punished by the market, while those who don’t are rewarded. If we take into account what we know of the science of learning, we might predict that the outcome of one’s irrationality would be nearly impossible for the individual to associate with its cause, especially since most everyone else suffers the same for it.

Are systematic errors in judgment significant enough to bother with? I’d suppose so, since arguing for a Free Market system as the most rational system available readily implies that those who don’t trust it (most people) have made systematic errors in judgment in thinking that governments must have a large role to play. How often has it been said that the masses are being exploited by the (government) hand that feeds them?

Shell’s thesis would be far more powerfully expressed as an appeal to the logic of counteracting the detrimental effects of irrationality, at least so far as science has established it in the realm of economics. Appealing to those who share the same values reduces it to a criticism of those who don’t.

Mike September 30, 2009 at 3:52 pm


I think a lot of debates boil down to values. I say that because as I read your last comment, what I kept thinking is “don’t care, don’t care”. This isn’t some dimwitted way to brush you off, either. It’s just that I value freedom over just about everything, and the free market is the only economic system compatible with freedom. If this means a market with some inefficiencies because people make dumb decisions that they can’t learn from, that’s a small price to pay.

Caveman September 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm

“It always disgusts me to see the unnecessary confusion of the distinction between laudable goals persued voluntarily and state coersion.”

Tina, where does Allen mention anything about “state coersion?” I keep reading through the article looking for it and I don’t find it. Allen is simply countering the argument that lower prices are bad for society and rejecting the entreaties of those who deign to tell the rest of us what and where to buy and how much we should be paying.

Besides, do you honestly believe that persons like Profs. Shell and Pollan would oppose legislation intended to effect their desired social outcomes just because the legislation curtailed individual liberty? If the history of social activism is any guide, first the activist pleads his/her case to the public and when ignored/rejected appeals to the state to force the unwashed masses into doing or not doing what’s “good” for them.

Paul Stephens September 30, 2009 at 4:20 pm

This is a very representative article (and comments) which illustrates the fallacies of Greens being thought of as “environazis” and advocates of State Socialism (not more than 5 or 10% actually support this), while Libertarians are supposed to support every corporate subsidy and usurpation of state power in support of “free markets.”
Wal-Mart is a corporate monster, destroying local economies and “markets” by the thousands, fueled by Communist Party slave factories in China.
This “model” doesn’t need “drive-by shooters.” It needs a systematic, frontal attack – in this country, not in China.
But, hey, China holds most of our worthless dollars and Treasury Bills. We can’t mess with them, now, can we?
I think the author posted in the wrong blog. The LA Times (or Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal) is the place for this!

Caveman September 30, 2009 at 4:37 pm

@Paul Stephens

Paul, please. I’m guessing you don’t visit this site often. If you did, you’d know that most of the contributors and posters are well aware of the malignancy that is corporatism. I don’t think any of us would argue for state-funded corporate subsidies under any circumstances. If Wal-Mart (or any corporation or special interest) receives benefits from the state it’s an indictment against the state not Wal-Mart. Is Wal-Mart to blame for accepting privileges extended to it by the state or is the state to blame for extending such privileges in the first place?

Reduce or eliminate the state and you reduce or eliminate the state’s ability to subsidize politically-connected corporations, et al.

gene September 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Excellent point stephen, the truth is most “greens” disllike the State and realize it is the state that either actually commits the environmental degradation or is a party to it through corporatism.

what we need on all accounts is the elimination of the elite privilege of State chartered incorporation. let “corporations” buy their limited liability and compete fairly against everyone else on the free market and see what gets produced and at what price. Wal Mart just might become Stall Mart.

As a Libertarian, I support elimination of State interference in the marketplace and “incorporation” sponsored and subsidized by the State is the deepest and most flawed intrusion into the free market and no Libertarian has any “free market” grounds to disagree.

The market can be varying degrees of free, but a condition within the free market is either free or not. The condition of State chartered incorporation is not.

There is nothing antagonistic between corporate and State, they are one and the same. In our time, one does not exist without the other.

Jero September 30, 2009 at 5:14 pm


“The “deluxe” option didn’t increase the value of the original bread machine at all.”

Austrian econ posits that value is subjective. Hence, the only way to know whether the value increased was to see if people valued it more. It is not an “error” on the part of consumers, only that (for whatever reason) they came to value the deluxe version more than the regular version.

Do you think that value is objective and that you (and other smart people) are the only one who can determine which of my values are in error? Who gets to say that the Deluxe version didn’t really satisfy consumer wants more than the regular version?

Do you really think that it is better to give gov’t officials vast amounts of power to correct these so-called “systematic errors” rather than to let people make choices that you yourself may not have made? I think that both Austrian econ and Public Choice econ would suggest that such a course would be unwise.

Rodney September 30, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Hi Tina Brewer,

I agree with you. We vote with our dollars, right? So just as there’s nothing wrong with spreading the word about the benefits of voting Ron Paul into office, there is certainly nothing wrong with spreading the word about the benefits of buying locally produced foods that won’t poison and soft kill you.

Does it even occur to the author that the agribusiness industry that produces such wonderfully cheap products has an unfair advantage over small, independent food producers? Agribusiness is, after all, SUBSIDIZED WITH OUR TAX MONEY.

So there are hidden costs associated with the agribusiness industry. Even if their products are cheaper ON THE SHELVES, we must take into account the subsidies, the tax breaks, and other monopoly privileges bestowed by government that unfairly drive smaller competitors out of the market and hit consumers with hidden costs.

Moreover, even on the shelves, agribusiness products aren’t always “cheaper” than locally grown food. I got a giant loaf of Italian bread from my farmers’ market for $2. Lasted me a whole week. It was also fresh and not made with ingredients full of Monsanto’s poisons. Bonus!

This article really pisses me off. There are so many things wrong it; it is so confused and muddle-headed, it’s hard to know where to start dismantling it.

So can “the poor” really afford their TVs, cars, computers, etc., as the author ecstatically claims? Or are they simply going deeper into debt and living beyond their means, just like the government and the rest of the country, with debt made possible and encouraged by the Fed’s tampering with artificially low interest rates?

And I guess we should feel proud, too, that American jobs are going overseas to help prop up a totalitarian government which has so restricted individual liberty in its own country that the poor proles have no choice but to take the shitty, sweatshop jobs that Wal-Mart provides. Ain’t it wonderful?

Speaking of Wal-Mart…. Wal-Mart is another beneficiary of government special favors, so I’m really sick of this company being deified as “capitalism’s gem.” Maybe it started out as a model for doing good business, but that’s no longer the case. On a truly free market, Wal-Mart wouldn’t have grown to be as big as it is, and it wouldn’t be leading the charge to export AMERICAN manufacturing jobs to the Chinese DICTATORSHIP.

Why was this article even posted here?

gene September 30, 2009 at 6:24 pm

all right, we are getting warmed up now!

what about unsecured debt?

have you noticed that the only unsecured debt that the government backs is that which is “owed” to corporations? consumer loans, small business, individual, that better be paid off to the corporate entity you owe it to or the State will take action.

but if the corporation owes you? then we call the “loan” an investment and maybe you get your money, maybe you don’t!

if a corporation owes a corporation or many corporations? we call this “bailout”. either way, the corporation gets the “unsecured” dough the individual doesn’t.

unsecured debt should be just that.

Rose Ley September 30, 2009 at 7:31 pm

I agree with Oksana but come from a different background. I was a farmer and over the last nine years of excessive inflation, it has been increasingly hard etch out a decent living not only in farming but in all kinds of small businesses. The amount earned cannot possibly compensate for the cost of capital investment. Go back even further and one can see a history of declining quality of food (through the indiscriminate use of hormones, sprays and fertilizers) and other goods to keep up with inflation.
In some ways this has led to the myth that corporations can run farms (and businesses) better by providing the capital but corporations are just another form of big government steeply rooted in the promotion of some form of socialism and they often receive far better tax breaks than small businesses. However some corporations also own a large part of the food chain including supermarkets so in a way a call for higher prices would suit them.
There is no doubt that as Oksana and others have pointed out, high production of cheap products has led to overconsumption and the throwaway society. We have, as a result, squandered natural resources and at the same time lowered the quality of food (leading to obesity), furniture, housing (homes are slapped together) and shoes (we have so many foot problems). The list just continues.
However, I disagree that cheap goods has been the source of the problem. The source of the problem rests with central banks who have diluted the value of everything with loose monetary policy and government interference in the free market.

Gil September 30, 2009 at 8:29 pm

To concur with a few other comments – where does Ellen Shell & co. say anything about government enforced standards on organic living? What part of ‘freedom of speech’ do some people miss here? Why can’t people voluntarily choose an inefficient way of living? What of the Amish? They’re even worse and are more ‘locavore’ than environmentalists!

However the article has this aside:

“In an online debate with the Atlantic’s economics writer, Megan McArdle, Shell observes with disapproval that, when prices are adjusted for inflation, Americans today spend ’40% less on clothes, 20% less on food, more than 50% less on appliances, about 25% less on owning and maintaining a car’than they did during the early 1970s. Over that same period, Census Bureau tables show, US median household income rose by at least 18% in constant dollars . . .”

Wow! It seems the ‘good deflation’ coexisted with inflation over the past 30 years!

Jeff September 30, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Writes for the Weekly Standard? Ugh! If it takes throwing in conflated, mainstream, neocon garbage like this to keep up with posting three articles per day please dial it back down to one.

I agree with much of Tina’s post. And Tina, if you haven’t yet, take the time to read some of Roderick Long’s work over at his blog. It is much more conducive to open-minded considerations of peaceful, cultural change within a libertarian framework.

RTRebel September 30, 2009 at 10:19 pm

So we “exploit Chinese factory workers (who would much rather be back on the collective farm, wearing their Mao suits)”

Mann only the cool kids in gov school got to wear those! I was always jealous!

Ribald October 1, 2009 at 2:45 am


Sorry, but you appear to have misconstrued the excerpt. You see, it was not the deluxe version which became popular, it was the original. This is consistent with my mention of the fact that consumers chose the lower-priced option. Admittedly, the phrasing could have been better.


It’s great to simplify issues when they are needlessly complicated. I respect the great value you place on freedom, though I worry sometimes that those who value freedom above most all else seek a narrow version of freedom based on choice alone.

A hypothetical situation illustrates my concern:

A man sells himself into slavery. Is he free? Some say yes, because that was his choice. Others say no, because he has no choice (or very limited choice) afterwards. A similar scenario plays out in drug addiction.

So, what makes a man free: that he merely makes his own choices, or that he remains free to make any possible choice (which does not violate the property of another)?

If it is the former, then the man is free if he sells his life away, but it is not unethical to forbid him that choice. If it is the latter, he is not free, but it would be unethical to forbid him that choice (i.e. consentual slavery would be ok). To accept both leads to a contradiction: he cannot be both free in making the choice and not free in experiencing the consequences–that would be tantamount to protesting the terms of a contract one has knowingly agreed to.

Implicitly, we acknowledge degrees of freedom, rather than this false dichotomy, and base it on the number of choices available to a person at a given moment in time.

Returning to the concept of systematic errors in judgment, one might make the case that the exploitation of these common faults in judgment constitutes a reduction of consumer choice and freedom. The lacing of food items with highly addictive substances would be a more extreme, but similar, case. The difference seems to be one of degree only.

As we become more adept at manipulating each other, where do we draw the line between coercion and personal responsibility? Should we allow people to suffer for being unable to tell that they’re being exploited? What does the free market offer us if we do allow it?

I apologize for the lengthy comment.

Jero October 1, 2009 at 8:34 am


Sorry, but my point still stands, despite my misconstruction. Maybe you should deal with the point, for it pertains to what Austrian econ has to say about your point, which was you question.

Value is subjective. At some point, for whatever reason, the regular version began to satisfy consumer wants more than the deluxe version. Perhaps it was because they now felt they were getting a better deal, seeing the more expensive device in comparison. Perhaps it was merely because word got around that the machine was pretty good. Perhaps the machine became some sort of status symbol or fad and buying satisfied psycholgical wants. Neither you nor anyone else can say that the change “didn’t increase the value.”

The point is that freely choosing consumers chose. Who are you to second guess? Yes, people make choices that they later regret. Big deal. Is it better to put the government in charge to tell us what is “rational” and what is not?

As for the line between coercion and choice (in the realm of comsumer decisions, fraud and no fraud), that is a difficult question. Essentially, if there is no misrepresentation there should be no problem (what is misreprestentation becomes the question).

You asked for what Austrian econ has to say on you question. Start by thinking about how value is SUBJECTIVE and that neither you nor a Nobel Prize winning psychologist can tell me what I should value and why.

Tina Brewer October 1, 2009 at 10:00 am


I greatly enjoy Roderick Long’s perspective, and do quite a bit of reading on his site. Thanks for the tipoff, though! Cheers.

Ribald October 1, 2009 at 10:51 pm


You make a good point that value is ultimately subjective. It’s clearly true for all things for which there is value. Thus, whether the free market is better than a fascist command-and-control economy depends on who’s judging.

This is called muddling definitions in order to achieve a satisfactory result: The value of a toaster changes depending on whether there is a more expensive toaster next to it. As a consequence, no claim of this-is-better-than-that can hold any weight. It reduces my claim to nothing, as well as every other such claim, including the preferability of the the free market.

In the context of the excerpt, the effect was observed in controlled experiments, so there is really very little room to make any other conclusion than that the difference in price added value in and of itself, without reference to any real-world context. We may acknowledge that value is subjective while still concluding this. There’s lots more irrationality than just this which has been experimentally observed.

It’s all well and good to say “leave it be.” If the free market can’t right this wrongness, and government sure won’t, then let manipulation exploit irrationality freely…? If you can convince a person to do something, then you can’t be held responsible for what he does, right?

As I said in my previous comment: where do we draw the line between endorsement and coercion (if we bother to prevent coercion at all)? The latter should be forbidden, but the former should be encouraged. It’s a difficult line to draw, to be sure, but the important point is this:

The government can’t draw that line, and the free market won’t draw it.

This problem will frustrate humanity for eternity.

Jero October 2, 2009 at 10:32 am


I’m not sure I fully understand your claims, but I am reading you as essentially making two points:

1) The fact that value is subjective implies that no normative claim can be superior to any other.

2) It is difficult to tell where a representation becomes coercive, especially considering that humans can make perceptual mistakes and that other humans can contribute to those perceptual mistakes and benefit by doing so.

As for 1), the premise that value is subjective does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that ethics are also subjective. I can say that the murderer values his victim’s death over other options while still holding that the murderer’s actions consisted of a rights violation. Here we are moving from value free observation into the realm of ethics and normative claims.

I’m especially unsure about whether I’ve interpreted you second point correctly. If you are wondering where we can draw the line between coercion and persuasion, then yes, that is a tricky question. When does a person’s action become involuntary as a result of another person’s representations?

You say that the free market can’t draw that line. I would say that the free market is premised on ethical claims (rights to person and property, free competition). As a result “the free market” (to use the term as a proxy for “people acting on the ethical assumptions implicit in the free market) can draw that line if we spin out the implications of the rights that form its foundation.

I would argue that once a person misrepresents what she is selling so that a reasonable person would think he is buying something he is not, then we have fraud or implicit theft.

Again, I think I may not be entirely understanding your claim so please clarify if this is the case.

Ribald October 3, 2009 at 12:44 am


Your interpretation of 1) is correct, but your rebuttal is strange.

You say, to paraphrase, that you can maintain that the murderer values his crime while maintaining that murder is a crime. This is nothing more than saying that his values conflict with an external definition of what is right and wrong.

Your point in your previous comment was that individual decisions shouldn’t be judged this way (unless I misconstrued it), as having value distinct and independent from the subjective values of the decision maker (consensus), which I had claimed.

In essence, you’re issue with 1) is a rebuttal of your previous comment. In my response, I should have reiterated my implicit claim that toasters have an objective value apart from the subjective values of the consumer more explicitly.

To clarify:
1) I implicitly claim an external, objective standard of value in the area of toasters
2) You claim that all value is subjective. There are no such standards
3) I counter that complete subjectivity of value eliminates the validity of all normative claims. Implicitly: there must be an external, objective standard of value
4) You counter that there is an external, objective standard of value for ethical claims
5) I counter that an external, objective standard is exactly what you were arguing against at 2)

Presumably, you can claim that such a standard is valid for ethical decisions, but is invalid for every other decision. Of course, then I must ask why that is and what it is. Is the standard of ethics consensus, or is it just your own opinion of what is right and wrong?

As to 2), I’d simply say it’s odd to use “free market” as a proxy term for everyone living according to free market ethics and say that the line would be drawn by the way those ethics are interpreted. If free market ethics has the answer, what is it? (or is it so nebulous that an answer is up to interpretation? In that case, no line has been drawn)

I agree with your opinion on misrepresentation, but the terms are vague, and I might extend it to restricting the sale of addictive/dangerous substances without clearly stating the hazards. Nutrition labels would probably fit in that category as well (at least an ingredients list for those with food allergies).

How the free market would enforce any such standards is still a mystery, though, unless one assumes that everyone will automatically act ethically.

Jero October 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

I didn’t say that there is such a thing as “free market ethics.” I am saying that the term “free market” is a term that describes a system of societal interaction that arises from people acting according to certain ethical rules (ownership of person and property – property rights – and free use of those rights). Thus any lines to be drawn are to be drawn by reasoning out the implications of those rights. Of course things are not going to be cut and dried, but I think that we are silly to expect that.

As to “how the free market would enforce such standards”, like I said, when we say “free market” we must recognize what it really means: the interaction of people according to a certain ethical rules. Thus it is no mystery how “the free market” will enforce standards – people!

What do you mean when you say “the free market”?

As for your more important point, I would make a distinction between value subjectivism and ethical subjectivism. I don’t see an ethics as being based on “objective standards of values” or on consensus standards of values or on values at all. Theories of justice, in my view, don’t tell what we should and shouldn’t value, they tell what rights we have and when thus we can use force to protect these rights. Not the same thing, in my view.

In this way I can say that values are subjective and that value only arises because people value things, but that certain actions are rights infringements. Value subjectivism does not necessarily imply ethical subjectivism.

You present a false dichotomy when you say: Is the standard of ethics consensus, or is it just your own opinion of what is right and wrong?

Do you think it must be either? If it is consensus, then can a societal consensus deem it okay to kill left-handers, thus making it so? If it’s not consensus must it come down to mere opinion?

abass December 14, 2009 at 6:52 am

The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little wary.


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