David R. Henderson  

David Friedman on Eggs and Quality

Why I Still Think I'll Win My ... Thomas Sargent, Master Macroec...

I had missed David Friedman's post last week on eggs and quality. The whole thing is worth reading. He points out that even though the British government doesn't require vaccination of hens against salmonella, 90 percent of egg producers have their hens vaccinated. Why? Because for their eggs to qualify for the industry-sponsored label "red lion," they must be from hens that are vaccinated. Moreover, notes the New York Times, "The country's major supermarkets buy only eggs with the lion seal."

David also notes that although the tone of the NYT piece by William Neuman is that the U.S. government should regulate, and the piece cites British experience as back-up, it isn't until about halfway through that Neuman tells you that the British government doesn't regulate either.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
david writes:

The British government used to require vaccination under the same label, so what exists is probably the institutional remnants of a practice too costly to change. The 90% may decrease to the American two-thirds in time.

Tom West writes:

I'm not certain this is a good case to make for more economic freedom. It essentially comes down to "in order to allow some very small portion of the population to purchase eggs from unvaccinated chickens, (or worse, to save a few cents on the eggs they put into the food they later sell you), you now have to check the certification of every egg you purchase, plus the certification of any egg that goes into a product you consume."

That certainly doesn't make economic freedom look very appealing for anyone who doesn't value freedom for it's own sake. (I think most of the population values freedom for the benefits, not just because it's freedom.)

Bill D writes:

It seems you are exchanging one "signal" for another. Voluntary association may be better, but it's not necessarily so.

I would bet there are farmers that can make eggs with hens that do not require vaccination. How do these farmers fit in?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Tom West,
But what you're leaving out is that if the government has the power to require vaccination, you lose a check on government power. The government can then go on to, for instance, require minimum egg sizes, require other kinds of testing, etc. Then it can make the benefits of freedom look large.

Dan Weber writes:
you now have to check the certification of every egg
Ugh, what a bother. If freedom is that much work, I'm not sure it's worth it.
Tom West writes:

you lose a check on government power

Agreed. And for industry, that's important (camel's nose, and all that).

The trouble (and the reason why I think government grows), is that if you want popular support, you need an appeal to voter's immediate self-interest as to why they're better off without that particular intervention.

If freedom is that much work, I'm not sure it's worth it.

I'd say for 95% of the population, that particular freedom is *not* worth it. As so it goes for each piece in the edifice.

If you want to successfully promote freedom politically, you need to come up with examples where the loss makes people's *immediate* lives *worse*. This example seems more about the fact that the cost of freedom in this case doesn't have to be all that high.

You can't sell freedom, if it's only perceived as freedom to do things you don't want to do.

I should note, the article is interesting in terms of industry cooperation (although david's (not Henderson) first post indicates that this may have been driven by government intervention).

I was simply pointing out that if you want economic freedom promoted as a policy, you need examples where the consumer feels they want the freedom for more than abstract reasons.

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