Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Forgotten Daily Miracles of the Market

Don Boudreaux: It's become an article of faith among lots of people that recent events prove (or at least suggest) that markets don't work very well.

But the vast majority of market exchanges and relationships work smoothly and to the advantage of all participants. Indeed, the market works so well and so consistently that it creates ever-higher expectations among the broad populace. When these expectations are dashed, if only for a handful of persons and if only rarely, the market is deemed to have failed.

But despite the current downturn, the market continues to work well in its typical silence. Do you have trouble today finding gasoline to buy? Are your local supermarket's shelves not stocked with food, wine, and (watch for it soon!) Easter candy? If your cat eats your socks, will you have trouble buying several new pair? If your car's battery dies this afternoon, must you resort to bicycling or public transportation because you can't replace your dead battery? If you're bored this evening with nothing to do, is there no movie you can go to or no DVD you can rent? If you miss your mom in Minneapolis or your boyfriend in Boston, can you not call them on your cell-phone -- or even buy a plane ticket and go visit them?

Robert Higgs: I am writing this post on Sunday evening, and I have just finished my supper. For dessert, I had a fresh nectarine with vanilla ice cream. It was heavenly. The one I consumed this evening came close to perfection: It had just recently ripened fully and had gorgeous colors, inside and outside; its flesh was firm, yet juicy, very sweet, but with enough fruity tanginess that its taste still lingers lovingly on my tongue.

As I enjoyed this heaven-sent delight, I thought to myself: This fruit was grown in Chile. Here I sit, in my home in southeast Louisiana, in a rural area, fifty miles from the nearest big city. Yet I am enjoying the fruit (literally in this case) of someone’s labors in a land many thousands of miles away. It’s not the first time I’ve done so, either, and I fully expect to repeat this experience many times in the future, should fortune decree that my life continue. Indeed, this kind of consumption is a daily occurrence for me, as it is for nearly everyone else in this country.

Yet, how often do we pause to reflect on the near-miraculousness of this manner of living? Fresh fruits delivered in the middle of winter even to remote places all over this country! Who arranges this vast and complex distribution so successfully? How is it even possible to organize all the people who had to cooperate peacefully in order to make my splendid dessert possible. I have no idea who planted the fruit trees, tended them for years until they matured, picked the fruit, packaged and transported it through successive stages until it was ultimately placed on display in the grocery store I patronize. Of course, every one of these unknown people had to have the cooperation, directly or indirectly, of thousands of others, who manufactured the equipment and materials they used, produced the necessary fuels and lubricants, kept the accounts, insured the properties, arranged the payments, and so on and on and on.

11 Comments:

At 3/04/2009 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think many can appreciate the near- miraculousness of our market system. However, I think it is important to realize that there are a growing number of people who absolutely HATE the fact that you and I can buy a fresh nectarine grown on the other side of the world. Or that for a few weeks wages we can travel almost anywhere in the world. Hard to believe I know, but spend a few hours on a left wing blog and you will soon see that it is true.

Many, many people HATE almost everything about the modern world and will work overtime to destroy it.

 
At 3/04/2009 1:02 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> the market continues to work well in its typical silence.

Contrast it with Soviet citizens standing in line for hours to buy a few rolls of industrial grade toilet paper.

> Many, many people HATE almost everything about the modern world and will work overtime to destroy it.

Projection, me boyo. They actually hate themselves and everything they stand for, but wouldn't admit it if you put a gun to their heads.

 
At 3/04/2009 1:13 AM, Blogger xena said...

What a great post and perspective!

 
At 3/04/2009 2:16 AM, Blogger DaveinHackensack said...

I've actually had that thought about buying fruits in winter myself. A brief, related anecdote:

On vacation in Brazil once I tried a cashew fruit (there's a fruit attached to the nut). It was awful. Then I remembered that I could find exotic fruits such as mangoes and star fruits in supermarkets at home, and if the cashew fruit had been any good, chances are it would have been there too. So I shouldn't have been surprised that the cashew fruit was unappealing.

 
At 3/04/2009 2:29 AM, Blogger randian said...

However, I think it is important to realize that there are a growing number of people who absolutely HATE the fact that you and I can buy a fresh nectarine grown on the other side of the world.

The crazies in the "local food" movement, for one.

 
At 3/04/2009 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever Boudreaux.

When you can't service your debt, the cell phone is tossed in the dumpster.

Whatever, Higgs.

When you can't service your debt, less nectarines are on the supermarket shelves.

 
At 3/04/2009 12:20 PM, Blogger Windyridge said...

Randian,

You think the local food is not a good way to get groceries? What's wrong with fresher (unsprayed most of the time) cheaper (no shipping) food? You are also supporting local industries. How on earth can that be bad in any way? I also think it serves us better than supporting foreign imports and putting our farmers out of work. If we can get anything locally, why shouldn't we?

 
At 3/04/2009 1:21 PM, Blogger NoWhining said...

"I also think it serves us better than supporting foreign imports and putting our farmers out of work. If we can get anything locally, why shouldn't we?"

Trust me...farmers aren't starving and they aren't about to be out of work. If government subsidies don't continue to fill their pockets, perhaps this forecast will have them dry humping their ethanol corn crops for joy.

 
At 3/04/2009 1:33 PM, Blogger randian said...

Local food

Fresher: questionable
Cheaper: rarely
Environmentally friendlier: no

 
At 3/04/2009 3:19 PM, Blogger JimJinNJ said...

RE the local/imported food issue--
I have a wonderful idea--let me choose from as many options as some enterprising person or company can put forth. "shoulds" are for those who want to dictate to others what their behavior SHOULD be. I had 16 years of Catholic education that gave my my quota of "shoulds". Usually right after the should is some politician trying to pass a law to make the should the mandatory behavior.

 
At 3/04/2009 8:23 PM, Blogger Craig said...

"You think the local food is not a good way to get groceries?"

I live in Buffalo. The only locally-produced foods around here now are canned tomatoes, some moldy squash and snow. Locavores need to relax.

 

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