Sunday, November 8, 2009


One recurring trope on this blog is Von Hayek's teaching that government ought to garden more and sculpt less.

I was watching The Botany of Desire on PBS, based on the book by Michael Pollan. The film argues against monoculture. According to the film, people want, for example, their french fries, to always taste in a similar manner, what Pollan labels "monoculture-on-the-plate". The film faults free markets for too efficiently meeting this desire via "monoculture-on-the-farm". In a state of nature, crops evolve immunities to pests. In monoculture agriculture, where biological diversity, and so natural adaptation, is suppressed, pesticide is required in increasing quantity. This is expensive, creating demand for genetically engineered crops. As pests, unrestricted by monoculture, continue to adapt, a little genetic engineering creates the need for ever more genetic engineering. All to replace, but not really improve, a function that nature more respected well serves.

It is worth noting that diners tend to choose diversity-on-the-plate. The closer the food people eat is to the farm, the greater the economic pressure for diversity-on-the-farm. The economic pressure toward monoculture stems, in part, from consumer preference for the bounty of technology and, in part, from monoculture in the markets.

The analogue between all this and economic/financial-services regulation is self-evident, if likely missed by folks like Pollan given that, within our politics, evolution and free markets are placed in opposing corners. Von Hayek teaches that Darwin actually liberally applied ideas from Smith. Conceptually and historically, Von Hayek would seem right. The competing political alignment points to the limit of his otherwise brilliant work.

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