Art Carden  

Helen Lovejoy Political Economy: Unregulated Secret Dinner Parties

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Via Scott Shackford, at Reason, we learn of "The Scourge of Illegal, Underground Dinner Parties." In short, people are paying to attend dinner parties featuring fancy food. And such transactions are unregulated.

Naturally, people are concerned. Presumably, some of those concerned parties are restaurants that are subject to heavy taxation and regulation that are nonetheless facing competition from the seedy purveyors of underground dinner parties. I don't think the people concerned about unregulated dinner parties are going far enough. You know what else is unregulated? The kitchen at my house.

Think about what the means for a second. It means that my children--children, mind you--are being fed food that's prepared in unregulated, uninsepected, and possibly less-than-sanitary conditions. The burgeoning field of Helen Lovejoy Political Economy demands that something must be done. For the children, of course.

There's another issue here, as well: jobs. I would also be remiss if I didn't point out that local restaurants are suffering, too, from the crippling competition my wife and I provide when we prepare meals for our kids. Yes, we have to pay for inputs, but my wife and I are willing to provide this service without expecting payment. We don't even accept tips (not that they've been offered, but still).

The kids do their part, to be sure, but they're doing so to the detriment of restaurateurs, waiters, waitresses, and dishwashers who are suffering because the kids are setting out their own plates, helping their parents fix parts of the meal, helping load the dishwasher, etc. My one-year-old might have looked cute when he was struggling to put the piece of silverware in the dishwasher a few days ago, but beneath that cute exterior there's a harsh reality: he's providing unregulated, bootleg labor that is undercutting the wages, working conditions, and standards of living of people who are perhaps unable to provide for their families at a standard of living to which they are accustomed.

You might balk at such a proposal, but consider the degree to which prohibiting home-cooked meals will encourage the national labour. First and foremost, it will create opportunities for restaurant proprietors, workers, and suppliers. The prosperity can only spread from there: poor James B. might consider himself ill-used by the fact that he is no longer permitted to cook his own food, but we shouldn't countenance such short-sightedness. Yes, James B. can no longer cook his own food, but the money he spends on restaurant meals will raise the income of the restaurateur who will, in turn, increase the incomes of the tailor and cobbler by purchasing new suits and new shoes. They, in turn, will spend their new incomes and encourage the national labour further.

In short, our very prosperity is at stake here, and those who wish to regulate underground supper clubs are making a mistake in that they are not going far enough. I suggest that the offended parties petition the legislature for immediate prohibition of home-cooked meals.



COMMENTS (24 to date)
Keith writes:

This is by a long shot my favorite post of yours so far. There is an awful lack of Bastiat-style satire in the world today.

liberty writes:

Beautiful post - but I do have to point out the obvious for a second:

Parents are people who at any income level are attempting raise dependent children. These children are clearly unskilled and generally unprofitable, are employed at a loss, today in developed nations. (This was not the case 100 years ago and is still not in parts of the world, of course).

Parents are a segment of the population who most people do not want to redistribute away from -- and of course most people voting and re-electing congress are parents, and to the extent they have an unfair advantage, they do not want to see their freebies taken away.

One side may argue that parents have the free labor of their children, and say it as an unfair advantage, even tho they also incur the costs of the children's upkeep; parents say the cost of upkeep should be deducted so they are therefore due the tax advantage, if you will, of not incurring regulation of that labor. etc.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

And as taxes and regulations proliferate, more 'non-market' transactions like this happen.

Steve Horwitz writes:

Gives Carden a standing ovation and kicks himself for not thinking of this first. :)

Hunter writes:

Hmm, this could actually work. If we outlaw home cooking we could take advantage of the economies of specialization and scale. Granted most restaurants will end up looking like school cafeterias. But instead of spending the time cooking and cleaning up you can spend an extra hour at work doing whatever your particular specialization/ job happens to be. In the case of Art maybe teach an extra economics class.

Aaron Zierman writes:

Well done. I love how you point out the absurdity in such a humorous fashion. Always a fan of "for the children...".

Sam Wilson writes:

Thank you for this, Art. Your thoughts have encouraged me to pen an apology to my own readers. It appears that I've misunderstood the operational meaning of public health initiatives.

Art Carden writes:

Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments. I should note too that anyone concerned about whether this would be *legal* or not should note that there's an obvious effect on interstate commerce a la Wickard v. Filburn: by cooking meals in our own home, we change the pattern of motion for commodities traded across state lines. Hence, there's an obvious "interstate commerce" rationale for government regulation.

Daniel Artz writes:

Nice channeling of Bastiat. In the interest of adding an observation based on Bastiat's The Seen and the Unseen, think through what happens to industries which rely upon home cooking if all home cooking were banned. Will grocery stores, butchers, bakeries, farmers' markets all become unnecessary? If I am prohibited from cooking at home, I have no further need for Krogers, Albertsons, Tom Thumb, or the Neighborhood Walmart, or even Whole Foods, Central Market or Panera. And I have no need for my oven, my range, my refrigerator or my microwave, or my dishwasher. Goodbye Amana, GE, Kenmore, et al. Even my garbage disposal becomes redundant, and, while I might like a sink in my kitchen (if I decide to even keep a kitchen, just for the sake of anachronism), I certainly don't need a big double sink designed to wash & rinse pots and pans, in fact, I don't need pots or pans (goodbye to Cuisinart and all the other makers of pots, pans and kitchen utensils), or any of the prepared foods that I cook (goodbye to Campbells Soups, Del Monte, Hunts, Green Giant, Birdseye, etc.). And I don't need plates or glasses or stainless steel silverware. Nor do I need fancy Granite countertops. So, yes, this might work. And kill dozens of industries at the same time.

David R. Henderson writes:

Bravo, Frederic, er, I mean, Art.

Hazel Meade writes:

We all need to stand up against the narcissism of the "do-it-yourself" (DIY) ethic. Just another artifact of America's hyper-individualistic culture. We're all interdependent. This notion of doing things for yourself shows a distinct lack of caring for the welfare of others, especially those you would otherwise be paying to do stuff for you.

When you clean your own house, do you think about the lost wages of the maid? When you weed your own garden, do you consider the lost income of the landscaper? When you drive your own car, do you consider all the taxi and limo drivers who are losing out?

No. Doing things yourself just proves that you're a selfish narcissist that doesn't care about anyone but themselves!

Mark Brophy writes:

You earned a tweet for this one; I agree that it's your best post. As Reason notes, the parties are merely unregulated; they're "completely" unregulated, implying that "unregulated" alone merely means that the activity is regulated to a lesser extent than preferred by the author.

GM writes:

I can envision a new role for "Home" Land security here.

MikeP writes:

But instead of spending the time cooking and cleaning up you can spend an extra hour at work doing whatever your particular specialization/ job happens to be.

Hunter nails it.

The cost to the economy of hundreds of millions of people cooking and cleaning for themselves instead of spending that time on their comparative advantage points to a clear market failure.

This effect is so bad that, in order to save the opportunity cost of even picking up food -- e.g., leaving work an hour early -- governments should subsidize delivery trucks that carry orders to people's homes for free. In fact, people should be mandated to use this service for all meals unless they carry a chef's license, administered by the American Chef's Association of course.

GM writes:

In all seriousness, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (a state government entity) is subsidizing food trucks in Michigan.

MingoV writes:

The problem with this satire is that too many people in the target audience won't get it, and a few people in the target audience will think that regulating home cooking is a good idea. After all, it is just one step up from preventing homeowners from adding decks, replacing water heaters, installing electric outlets, etc. without getting government approval and paying a fee. Regulation of home cooking also isn't much more intrusive than requiring homeowners to replace, at their own expense, regular toilets with low flush volume toilets and then sending government inspectors to see that it was done. Regulation of home cooking has the added appeal (to governments and unions) of increasing government employment and decreasing joblessness.

JohnC writes:

See also, The rise of the secret supper club.


I have it on good authority that in order to combat this menace, the VA Department of Health has a continual monitoring request for Tyler Cowen's cell-cite data.

liberty writes:

This is also closely connected to the issue of GDP measurement, because housework is not counted in GDP, so GDP goes up when people eat out and hire others to do what they could do themselves. On this point, I recommend this article in Forbes ("Why it's all been downhill since 1978"):
http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2013/07/11/why-its-all-been-downhill-since-1978/

Robert Nix writes:

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Gene Callahan writes:

"Presumably, some of those concerned parties are restaurants that are subject to heavy taxation and regulation that are nonetheless facing competition from the seedy purveyors of underground dinner parties. I don't think the people concerned about unregulated dinner parties are going far enough. You know what else is unregulated? The kitchen at my house."

This is pretty silly Art. These people are running restaurants, not having dinner parties. Now, perhaps restaurants needn't have any regulation. But while we have these laws, it is obviously not right for the people who follow them to be penalized while those who dodge them to benefit. And it is obviously nothing like cooking in one's own kitchen, unless you have started charging your kids for dinner.

ThomasH writes:

By merely satirizing the idea of regulating dinner parties instead of showing why it is a bad idea, we pass up the opportunity to show what is wrong with certain regulations other kinds of food preparation.

Captain Profit writes:

The bit about the state cookshops in Richter's Pictures comes to mind.

Mike Rulle writes:

Perfect parody. I do have a superstition about such parodies. There is no parody so ridiculous that it still cannot ultimately be taken up as a cause for the control minded. In fact, I think they get their ideas from parodies.

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