I brought basic economics up in my Deviance class today, on the topic of corporate deviance.
I talked about how organic milk is expensive up North because there is little demand for organic products. Demand comes before prices, not the other way around—demand is value-driven, not price-driven. That is to say, I ‘value’ my health over the monetary price differential between nonorganic and organic milk (whereas, if purchases were exclusively driven by price, as many people conceptualize it, markets would not emerge or dissolve or evolve—they’d stagnate and things like deodorant and tire pressure gauges wouldn’t exist). The argument for the ‘race to the bottom’ relies primarily on a 100% competitive economic model, with absolutely no differentiation, which doesn’t exist (we even have differentiation in the smartphone and car industries, which indicates pretty heavy differentiation, frankly). The FDA’s sanctioning of hormones in milk (with legally required labels indicating no significant difference between organic and nonorganic milk) has the effect of reducing differentiation, as differentiation relies primarily on information about the products being available to consumers; it doesn’t matter how different two products are if they are legally disallowed from informing the consumer about the relative advantages offered by their product.
So the chicken and egg question my peer asked, about whether a healthier diet needs to start with corporations supplying healthier food or the consumers themselves, is just that: a chicken and egg question. Just as anyone who understands basic economics can recognize that supply changes with demand, anyone who understands evolution can understand that the egg came first (excluding the possibility of unethical laboratory experiments resulting in severe genetic mutation).
The rhetoric of self-interest and greed needs to be thrown out in favour of a richer, more illustrative language of values and preference. Humans may be rational, but they aren’t robots.