[Or "I hate economists", parts MMCCCXLI and MMCCCXLII.]
So here is Arnold Kling piling onto a discussion (he's 3rd in a chain that started in the NYT) of economists mocking locavores, people who believe it's gennerally better to eat food produced locally. The crux of the libertardian argument is that the price of a vegetable accurately reflects all the costs that went into making it, particularly energy, so that buying local (if it is more expensive) is not really any better for the environment and may well be worse.
There are at least three responses to this that I can think of (aside from "fuck off"):
- Economics takes as axiomatic that people's preferences are unassailable. So if some hippies want to pay more for locally produced produce, who are you to tell them otherwise? Obviously they get more utility out of it. It's not like it's hard to discern the sometimes vast differences in quality between locally-grown produce and stuff that's been industrially produced and shipped across the country.
- Underlying the locavore ideology is a set of beliefs that may or may not be accurate but must be addressed in any sensible discussion. Among these: the idea that prices do not accurately reflect energy usage because of the massive subsidies given to petroleum-based economy (including highway construction and fighting trillion dollar wars in the Middle East). Some locavores believe that it's a moral duty to compensate for these distortions even at the cost of paying more at retail.
- Another value underlying locavorism is that local is better because it's more reliable and there are fewer intermediaries between producer and consumer. There is actual value in being able to look the grower of your beets in the eye and converse with him. There is value in having a short supply chain because it reduce the potential for adulteration.
And there's the feeling of unease at the astounding reach and complexity of global economic webs. This may be easier to see in the context of manufacturing. Sure, it's nice to be able to afford cheap stuff from China, but (a) sometimes it has poison in it, and (b) it makes us dependent on a bunch of heathens who don't necessarily have our best interests at heart. Validly or not, it is easier to imagine a farmer two counties over as being a good guy than one two countries over.
I myself don't entirely buy into this sort of view, which might as well be called localism, which underlies a lot of the ecological, foodie, and other movements, especailly here at the southern end of ecotopia. It has elements of fear and reaction to it; in its extreme forms you end up as a survivalist hoarding guns and trying to grow all his food in the backyard because when the apocalypse comes, you can't rely on anybody. And it seems to be somewhat of a conservative, romantic reaction to the triumph of globalized capitalism -- which needs a response, but somehow farmer's markets don't seem quite adequate.
The flippant, arguments presented by economists illustrate very clearly the extraordinary poverty of thought produced by the crappy economic ideology exemplified by libertards. They are just so enraptured by their abstract models of how markets work that they don't bother to see if they actually apply to the actual world.
On a slightly more elevated plane, here's a couple of comments I made on Robin Hanson's blog. Hanson seems a lot smarter than Kling, but in these posts and elsewhere you can see a deformation professionelle not very far below the surface, a determination to reduce the complexity of social dynamics to some kind of univariate maximization of "status" or "utility". Blah. Not that that is not a useful stance sometimes, but really, what a boring way to view the world.
[[update: I forgot to mention that Kling is a corporate shill who used to write for the propaganda mill Tech Central Station. This piece that trashes Open Source as communism and praises Microsoft is a good example -- that its predictions were entirely wrong is somewhat forgiveable given that it was written in 2003, but check out the ad banner at the bottom.]]