h1

Heh (3)

April 16, 2016

I found this pretty amusing not only on its face but also because it reminded me of a similar discussion I had in the summer of 2000. At the time, I was managing a small development group in Minneapolis. One of the group members was a fairly hippie cat who wrote Java for the company’s web site. We came to get along fairly well and we spent a few evenings eating pizza (in the office) and discussing his Java and whether it was good object-oriented design.

I recall one day he was telling me about how he disliked American Consumerism (whatever that means) and how cool it would be instead if people could only trade with each other. I asked him if he meant that everyone would be bartering with one another.

No, he told me, it would have to be more flexible than that. So I asked if his "trading" scheme wouldn’t lead to some type of markets. He admitted it would and added that the thought discouraged him. I was a little bemused by that.

A Hippie Discovers Economics, And You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next!
What if we all grew crops and traded with each other? And what if we discovered the science of economics?

A post from Facebook has been making the rounds, where I came across it by way of my Federalist colleague Scott Lincicome.

grow-food-not-lawns

Here’s the mind-blowing argument: “If we each grow a large crop of different food, we could all trade with each other and eat for practically free.”

Where to start?

Well, for one thing, growing your own food isn’t exactly “free,” not even “practically free.” As anyone who has his own vegetable garden knows, it requires seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, protection from insects and birds and animals, and a lot of work. The cost may not all be measured in monetary terms, but it isn’t free. In fact, it’s notoriously easy for a vegetable garden to end up costing more money than it saves, which is why most of us do it just as a hobby. […]

But let’s not pick this apart. Let’s take the idea seriously. Hey, what if we all became small farmers and traded with each other? As they say on the Internet: you’ll never guess what happened next.

Maybe instead of everybody growing the same things, we could all produce what we’re best at and trade with others for what we need. We could come up with a catchy name for this, like “division of labor.” And we would need somewhere to exchange these goods with each other, which we could call a “market.”

Don’t Stop There!

Maybe we could get even more specialized. Some people could devote themselves just to growing young plants in greenhouses in the spring for others to plant when the weather gets warmer. Or they could provide seeds for other people to use, or breed hybrids with better yields or other desirable characteristics.

And maybe some crops would grow better in different areas, or at different seasons. I’ll bet you can’t grow blackberries in the middle of winter, but there are other areas of the country, or of the world, where these things still grow even when they won’t grow in your front yard. Maybe you could trade with people who live in those places.

Still, crops come ripe at different times, so maybe we need a system where I can trade my spring harvest of peas for somebody else’s fall harvest of pumpkins. Maybe we could write this all down on little pieces of paper which we pass between us to make trades. Has anybody ever thought of that? […]

It’s a tough problem to design a replacement for a system which generates an enormous bounty but which still doesn’t give the results you like. It’s an attitude I hear from Senator Sanders when he says things like, "You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country."

I take Sen. Sanders claim about hungry children as just more political hyperbole. Here’s a fact-checking article about how measures of "food security" have replaced measures of going hungry because, basically, there aren’t many children who actually go hungry. These days, there are just varying amounts of food in the pantry.

I won’t say that children never go hungry or are never poorly nourished but I suspect that when they do (or are), it’s not for lack of food but instead for lack of responsible parents or care-givers.

I’m not sure what the relationship is between "too many" choices in the consumer market and the number of irresponsible parents. I don’t think Sen. Sanders knows that relationship either.

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