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A Tribalism Primer - Elf M. Sternberg
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A Tribalism Primer
John Quiggan makes an excellent point today, when he deals with a debate between a "locavore" and a pair of libertarians; the first defends "eating and buying locally," the latter attack it.

Quiggan's point is an interesting one: the libertarians make a wonkish argument based on efficiency that has nothing to do with market preference. They're attacking locavorism for its inefficiencies. Their point may be one to seduce locavores out of their caves by pointing out that "eating locally" will not save the planet; it's a convincing argument, but they go off the rails when they claim that eating locally is "a marketing fad that severely distorts the environmental impacts of agricultural production."

But so what? Isn't the point of a free market to give the customer what he wants, the rest of the planet's arbitrary will be damned?

The locavore, on the other hand, makes the market argument, arguing that locavores make and eat what they want, and the economists should keep their meddling noses out of the conversation.

Neither side actually makes a point consistent with the ideology they begin with: both end with talking up their favorite marketing gimmick, regardless of ideology. Quiggan calls this "tribalism," and rightly so.

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atheorist From: atheorist Date: July 9th, 2012 08:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's an aspect of locavore-ism, where the food's material doesn't necessarily contain within it any markers of whether it is local. The locavore is expressing preferences about the path that the food took. Of course, that preference is as reasonable as any other, but we can anticipate that the market mechanisms that have worked moderately well in the past with satisfying path-independent preferences will deal less well with general path-dependent preferences, since markets (unlike economists and particularly libertarians sometimes think) are bounded in their computational capacity, and the path-dependency makes the task much, much harder.

Of course, it's entirely likely that the locavores and similar are not expressing general path-dependent preferences, but something more tractable; I don't know what that might be or what market mechanisms take advantage of that tractability, if it exists - I look forward to finding out!
gromm From: gromm Date: July 14th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually, there's a far better argument from the economists for large-scale monocultures. And that's that everyone should sell only that which they are *best* at. This applies to companies large and small, regions, and even countries.

So when a region has a particular soil and climate that best suits a particular crop, the farmers that own that land should basically grow that one crop and nothing else. They would be able to produce more of a higher quality product , and the equipment they need for that one crop would be specialized to harvesting it. As well, they would be able to do so cheaper than any competitors and at a higher profit.

That is, so long as said farmers are able to ship their product any distance to any market. That's the big stumbling block, and one which actually favours the locavores. That's actually the whole point of their philosophy.

See, the price of oil is going up, and its supply is running out. Locavores are attempting to prepare their own local economies for the day when it's just too expensive to ship cauliflower and peas a thousand miles to a wide market - or worse - that the supply of oil gets scarce enough that it actually becomes impossible with current technology.

There are other ways around this, of course. But today's infrastructure is hopelessly dependent on oil, and today's economy is hopelessly dependent on it being cheap. While economics I'm sure will change that in the end, it's better to be prepared for this eventuality in advance.
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