The Anarchism of Milk and Cereal


Julie Eva Borowski has done it again with a solid video on the issue of libertarian in-flighting. The caricature has me saying something wonderful about the decision to pour milk in my cereal. “Beautiful anarchy!”

Well, it’s not entirely absurd. The decision to pour milk or not to pour milk is an illustration of human volition that is embodied in all our decisions. There is no police present at the moment of choice. There is no plan in place that makes us pour or not to pour. Even if there were a plan, it is likely to be ignored. It would be destined to fail.

Actually, as I think about it, there is something of a plan. According to the government, cereal is only part of a “nutritious breakfast.” You know, the pictures on the ads. There is a big glass of orange juice, a piece of toast with butter, probably another glass of milk, and probably a half slice of grapefruit. It’s absurd. I’ve never seen anyone eat all that on a regular basis with cereal. On the contrary, we shake the box in the bowl and eat. We are defying the plan, even that urged on us by manufacturers.

So yes, there is a core of anarchism in the decision to pour and eat.

And it doesn’t just stop with the pouring and eating. The anarchist dimension of production is illustrated in the very existence of milk and cereal.

Humankind lived 6,000 without a reliable source for milk. Milk spoils. It must be transported before that happens. Before trains and refrigeration, you were pretty much out of luck, unless you owned a goat or cow, or someone close by did. We underestimate what a seminal moment it was in the history of civilization for milk to be delivered to your doorstep back in the 1930s and 1940s. It was wonderful practice and culturally significant commercial institution, displaced only with the mass spread of electric refrigeration in the 1950s. If you think about it, we are only a few generations into a period in which people could reliably keep things cold in all months of the year. Milk was and is a luxury good.

There was no plan. There was no government push. It happened because of private enterprise operating in the spirit of freedom: “people need stuff so let’s get it to them.”

Now to the source of milk itself. It comes from cows. Modern socialists hate cows because they seem implausibly inefficient. They eat vast amounts of grain and grass, take up huge swaths of land that could be used for farming, and otherwise consume an enormous amount of resources. To keep one alive just to milk is a big expense, one requiring the accumulation of capital and long-term planning.

Think of this: no central planner, a person who assumes that he or she knows better than the market, would ever approve of a cow. On the face of it, there would be no way to know for sure, in absence of market prices and a profit-and-loss system, that a cow should be allowed to live.

Now to the cereal question. The variety and brands have delighted generations. No one person can make a box of cereal. It takes thousands, with ingredients that can come from all over the world. But there is an additional point here worth considering. Many brands have been around for decades and generations. They persist and persist. It is point of unity between us: we’ve all had Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Sugar/Honey Smacks, Cap’n Crunch.

I was in the car the other day with some people I had not met and we were all fishing around for topics. Finally I brought up cereal, and the whole scene came to life. We talked and talked about the changes in Crunchberries, the shifts over the years in Lucky Charms, the yuckiness of puffed wheat, and much more. It was pure delight.

So within the cereal industry, we have authentic tradition at work. That’s an interesting observation about a market institution. Markets are said to be in constant upheaval and thereby always in a war against tradition. This is not actually the case. Cereal is a persistent tradition, even down to the original brand names. It has been done without any plans from government, any preservation boards and bureaus, or even hectoring traditionalists warning us against abandoning the permanent things.

We can therefore see how anarchism isn’t really about unrelenting unpredictability. Within cereal markets, we can see that anarchist-like production can preserve valuable traditions insofar as consumers — the real power behind the market — want it to be this way.

What the milk and cereal market needs is more anarchism, not less. Raw milk should be completely legal here as most everywhere else in the world. People should be allowed more choice. It is the same with the regulations and taxes that make entry into the cereal market more expensive than it ought to be. Let there be more brands, more producers, ever more choice.

And yet, let’s return to Julie’s original example of the decision to pour milk. In the end, it is ours and ours alone. There is no force of the state that can successfully enforce a single choice in this area. States aren’t that powerful and they never will be.

So, yes, let us eat cereal, pour milk, and consider the great lessons of this event. It really does illustrate a beautiful anarchy.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • And, of course, the real “anarchy” does not appear until you get Jeffrey to discuss adding fruit to the cereal … the possibilities are endless, as are the decisions!

  • I like the idea but, isn’t the corn and wheat used in cereals subsidized? Milk subsidized? Regulations?

  • Then please, by all means, write a piece tearing this apart, deconstructing it. All in the space of an hour or two, and based off of a 3 minute Youtube video of which your premise is a 15 second clip.

    Seriously though, if your knowledge is so much more vast than Jeffrey’s, by all means start up a blog about it, write an article about it. Create a class that teaches the difference between marketing and branding. Because bashing him for his lack of knowledge didn’t add anything to the conversation. It didn’t even take anything away from the conversation. It literally had no value.

    I’m not a business expert. But I got what he was saying, and it doesn’t require exact business knowledge to understand. But if you want to expound on the technical nitty gritty of what he was saying and how what he said or the words he used weren’t the proper choices, please chime in. Edify. Denigrating Mr. Tucker has no value.

    • I really enjoy reading Jeffrey Tucker’s writings. I usually agree with him on everything. I actually agree with him on this article too. He just didn’t address my concerns about the possibility of these cereal/milk industries being propped up by government subsidies. That’s all. So chill bruh.

      <3 Taylor.

      • Wasn’t you, was a troll that posted originally just being an A-hole overall that I replied to.

    • And of course the reply I replied to was removed, making my topic completely out of place. Lovely.

      • Sorry about that Nathan. The server crashed in the middle of submission and I couldn’t fix the piece for like an hour. Very frustrating. I took the comment down because it addressed the post-crash version that is now fixed.

        • I see you’re reading the comments Jeffrey! Address my concerns!!!!!
          Also I love you.

        • Not a problem Jeffrey, he knows who he is now and can respond if he cares to. I probably shouldn’t have been feeding trolls anyway. Back on topic though, I have to say that this article was GRrrrrreeat! 🙂

  • Great article and great video by Julie.

    All I can add to this is:

    My City Smells Like Cheerio’s! (Buffalo, NY – They’re made here)

    Please Pass the Subsidized Milk!

  • “Humankind lived 6,000 [years] [before refrigeration]…” Not to go off topic but is that still the position of the Catholic Church?

    • I really don’t know. I could have said 50,000 years but 6,000 is a conventional placeholder that I picked up from Rose Wilder Lane. It is more of a metaphor for “a very long time.”

      • That covers all of recorded history so it is not a bad convention.

  • Perhaps one should instead pour Bourbon on one’s cereal?

  • Typically overreaching anarchic characterization of an issue. Newsflash – anarchists do not own emergent orders or self-organization, so the claims Jeffrey makes here for anarchy apply to classical liberalism as well. Ooops…

    • anarchists do not own emergent orders or self-organization

      Of course “anarchists” don’t own spontaneous order–that’s the whole point. People, any group of people, will engage in spontaneous order if an existing order does not already exist. Which is exactly why an anarchist society is possible in the real world. Anarchists aren’t needed to tell people how to be self-emergent–they just need to be aware of the possibility.

  • I actually prefer my cereal without milk, I like it crunchy and flavorful, not soggy and…blegh.

    Grape Nuts are the exception, milk, honey and a little fruit over the top is pure awesomeness.

  • If I actually ate cereal, I would prefer it without Julie Borowski or milk. Maybe I’m just a crazy radical, but I reject the subsidized miracle of 10,000 crappy corporate cereals to choose from. Give me a buttered bagel, or if I’m feeling extra radical, some plain old-fashioned cake doughnuts with no sugary glaze. Black coffee. No sugar, no cream, no libertarian statists. Also, give me a large order of anarchy, no hyphens.