The media are in a kerfuffle about a short-term egg shortage caused by Target and other supermarket chains dropping a major supplier, Sparboe Farms, following reports that workers at its production facilities abused chickens and failed to follow the company’s animal welfare policy. The revelations were punctuated by a graphic undercover video released by animal rights group Mercy for Animals, which showed workers stuffing chickens into cramped battery cages, pulling rotting carcasses out of cages, “torturing” birds by swinging them around by their legs, and so on. No matter how you feel about animal rights, it’s not pleasant to watch.
Sparboe, for its part, has shifted its damage control into overdrive, posting updates about steps it has taken to “rectify problems” and pointing out that it is the first egg supplier to receive USDA certification. Which, given these reports, provides some insight into the worth of government certifications.
I expect a government response will be forthcoming, and Sparboe may face fines and possibly a regiment of FDA inspectors swarming over its farms in the months to come. But anything the government can do in its enforcement role pales next to the punishment which can be meted out by the market. Even if millions of consumers haven’t suddenly adopted veganism in response to the video, they still have let their displeasure be known, and the result is that Sparboe has lost significant business and is now forced to reevaluate its practices in order to regain consumer trust. Which is exactly as it should be. No amount of regulatory oversight will prevent every problem in our food supply (this year has also seen the deadliest listeria outbreak, from tainted cantaloupe, since the 1920s), but with the ease with which information disseminates online, the market will help ensure such problems do not go unnoticed by consumers, who are then free to vote their conscience. If only the market was free to punish every business, no matter how large or small, for bad decisions and unethical practices.
Auburn, Alabama, experienced some tornado damage the other day, and the place was just a mess. Trees were down. Houses had collapse. Fences were in tatters. Yards were trash heaps. The damage was not major by any standard but there was plenty to do in the wake of this one.
As happens, enterprise was there to make a buck fixing things up. Contractors came from all states in all directions. The unemployed suddenly had work. Skills that had been dormant were suddenly needed. This isn’t the Broken Window fallacy; it is just a reality that new kinds of work needs to be done and enterprise jumps at the chance. Good for enterprise and good for those who need help repairing the damage.
So get this. The following note appeared in my inbox this morning, from the Chamber of Commerce:
The chamber would also like to remind those of you who have damage to your personal property to ask for proof of a license to do business in Auburn as you are negotiating with contractors and other businesses for cleanup, roof repair and other services. Additionally, we as a chamber encourage you to use your local chamber members first. For your convenience we have provided you with a list of chamber members who could offer their service to you.
What’s the priority? Getting the job done or preserving the cartel of favored businesses? We know where the Chamber stands.
Laissez-Faire Books was founded in 1972 when issues of intellectual property hadn’t been worked out in detail in the libertarian world. There was of course the Randian view, which took IP to the most absurd extremes. Then there was the Rothbardian view, which had a very strict view of what is and what is not property and because IP doesn’t pass this test, the Rothbardian perspective tended toward the open model.
LFB itself never questioned the statist conventions on this topic. In fact, it even went through a period in which its owner worked to send take down notices to sites for posting old books to which it claimed the rights. How well I recall my own disgust! LFB uses the state to stop the spread of libertarian ideas! That’s just incredible.
Well, Agora Financial took over the institution this year and it immediately became obvious that they were Kinsellaites on this question. While working at the Mises Institute, I had worked with the new LFB to do some co-publishing in the commons. So when I accepted the position as publisher and executive editor, I made it a condition that, wherever possible, we always publish into the commons.
Management readily agreed, and even wondered why I was making such a big deal out of this. After all, this is a gigantically successful company and they have learned that the most important way to sell a product is to market it as widely and broadly as possible. If by putting something in the commons, you stand to reach more people, isn’t this a great thing? Isn’t this what commerce is all about? And from a mission point of view, isn’t this what libertarian education is all about?
Indeed it is! I immediately felt that we would soon be running an important experiment: a large scale publisher in the world of commerce would soon be publishing with Creative Commons and eschewing copyright in every way. This is a massive step for the libertarian world and even for the world of publishing in general.
I’ve written on the phenonenon before, most recently, while examining the trite hate-fest that pretends to be media coverage surrounding LeBron James. And frankly, I’ve found myself disagreeing with Bryant Gumbel on a number of salient points throughout these discussions. This time though, Gumbel is on-point. Recently he made these comments, regarding the NBA Lockout and how NBA Commissioner David Stern is handling it:
Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code and the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.
His comments have drawn a lot of ire, much of it from black media members. (In full disclosure, I tend to discount white media member’s discomfort when a black person uses a supposed slavery analogy. Call it a personal failing.) Try though I may, I can’t find what is incorrect about Gumbel’s statement.
It seems that Nobel Prize-winning economist and reliable regime apologist Paul Krugman thinks he can wave away the Solyndra scandal with a reference to an iconic business failure from the dot-com era:
But it is indeed a terrible scandal, because the private sector never ever puts money into ventures that end up failing:
No truth to the rumor that he's Obama's new campaign manager.
He then punctuates his point (oh so pithy!) by posting an image of Pets.com and its sock puppet. I’m not sure if the sock puppet is equivalent to President Obama or Solyndra backer George Kaiser, who raised significant funds for Obama’s campaign, in this context.
What I’m also unsure about is if Krugman is an idiot, or just disingenuous, if he believes he can refute the criticism leveled at the Solyndra fiasco – not just from media, but from House investigators wondering how the company secured half a billion dollars in loan guarantees and made it all go up in smoke – merely by pointing out that private investors screw up, too. He cannot possibly be oblivious to the huge difference in moral hazard presented when government throws taxpayers’ money at private business versus when private investors use their own money.
It isn’t that private equity is never lost in business ventures. It’s that there’s a level of accountability when it happens. And there is little doubt that venture capital investors learned a lot from the dot-com bubble. Government will never learn the same lessons, because it throws stolen wealth at the ventures which are best connected politically, not those which it thinks will succeed.
Coyote Blog has a few more salient points in a response to Krugman.