Thursday, February 18, 2010

Whinging About Wal-Mart

Reason magazine's Katherine Mangu-Ward points to the tree-killing publication "The Atlantic" regarding writer Michael Pollan's utter shock that Wal-Mart might have good quality produce rivaling that of Whole Foods.

Now... Wal-Mart's produce section was well known to me when I was in college and actually lived within a few miles of a Wal-Mart.  Alas, I live blocks away from a Whole Foods (and an even shorter distance from another, even better gourmet grocery store called Bristol Farms) and the nearest Wal-Mart is at least 20 miles away.  Being in Los Angeles, I've got no shortage of acceptable grocery options, but Wal-Mart's fantastic supply chain has alway made them the cheapest.

I don't really care about the dismay and mental anguish Mr. Pollan experienced finding out his preconceptions about Wal-Mart were largely baseless and stupid, as I suspect that were he to break away from the never-ending cliché that is the existence of most of the media, he would find that many of his notions are childishly naive and often based on prejudice.

Speaking of which... The the whole reason I'm blogging it at all is because of this...

DMXRoid|2.16.10 @ 4:54PM|

How did you miss the money quote in this article?
"In an ideal world, people would buy their food directly from the people who grew or caught it, or grow and catch it themselves."
Really? In an ideal world, instead of specializing at all, every human should devote their labor to acquiring food? People should be forced to catch and kill their own houses and computers too. Then we'd be in utopia.

JD|2.16.10 @ 5:01PM|

In an ideal world, I wouldn't have coffee or chocolate (not being likely able to buy directly from the people who grow it, seeing as how they're in the tropics and I'm not)? Methinks the person who wrote that sentence didn't think it through very carefully.

John|2.16.10 @ 5:02PM|

Good catch. My God that is a stupid statement. I guess if you didn't live on the coast, you wouldn't be eating any seafood. Live up north? You better learn how to can and pickle because it is going to be a long winter.

JW|2.16.10 @ 5:54PM|

What do you guys have against famine and limited choice?

Personally, I found that exchange to be hilarious...

But it is depressing how many people don't seem to get that it is division of labor that does almost everything great for humanity.  It is because I don't have to buy my produce directly from the guy who grew it that I can enjoy Asian (aka: Korean/Japanese/Apple) Pears, Cilantro, and the assortment of deliciously spicy chili peppers that are in my fridge and I didn't have to pay but a few dollars for all of the above-mentioned list of foods.

I wonder if the people who say idiotic things like that have the slightest clue of the consequences.  I have metal bed frame - should I have purchased that from a blacksmith instead of

I hope not... Since I don't know any blacksmiths, for one thing, but more importantly because the price would have easily exceeded my ability to pay and then my limited resources would be sucked up on one purchase instead of many, as Wal-Mart offers.  We all have limited resources, so the inefficiency that Pollan is naively suggesting is a good thing would be a death-nail for prosperity across the board.  Human capital is about time, effort & skills... And I don't have the skills to be a farmer, the interest in becoming a metal worker or the time to produce every single thing I use each day.

This idea that we should all happily return to some mythically serene agrarian lifestyle is not only insane, but it's  bafflingly stupid to boot.

There is nothing good about working 20 hours a day doing back-breaking labor, all year - winter snow, summer heat be damned - all just to barely survive.  Technology & division of labor is what makes life in the 21st Century so awesome.  I can spend my days doing things like writing music because someone else, who enjoys farming produces more than enough food and the comparative advantage of having it shipped to me through several intermediary 3rd parties is so great, that I can afford to live the life I want and not starve.

This is amazing.

Don't let any sanctimonious jerk tell you otherwise.


Jeremy said...

Actually I think Wal-Mart's produce is awful, though I haven't been to Whole Foods, so it might be awful also. But if you want bruised overripe cheap fruit, Wal-Mart is your place!

Sean W. Malone said...

I'm sure it varies from store to store, but when I was in college, Wal-Mart was always the best place to go for produce. Now, I don't have much of a problem with produce anywhere, but then I live in Southern California where stuff grows year round.

That said, the point is really not about whether they have the products *you* like (or *I* like, for that matter) but whether or not division of labor better serves the needs of the population of the world than doing everything yourself. It would be a harsh, depressing world filled with starvation and short life-spans if we all reverted back to some DIY agrarian lifestyle.