Alberto Mingardi  

A Charter to legislate better consumers

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Milan is hosting the 2015 Expo fair. I live and work in Milan, and thus I hope it goes well: that the fair attracts visitors (apparently some 10 million tickets have been sold) and brings many to enjoy the beauties of Milan.

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Most visitors will look for the pavilions and the excitement provided by an international, indeed global, exhibition. They will be little if at all interested in the ideological melody of the Expo--and yet there is one and it certainly doesn't sing the praises of markets, industrial progress or "market-tested betterment", as Deirdre McCloskey calls it.

This attitude is best epitomized by the "Milan Charter," a document upon which the organizers are trying to gather a wide consensus and to get signatories thereto. The Charter brings together a number of contributions from private foundations and international bodies. The result is a phenomenal collection of platitudes and nonsense, which are bound together by two distinctive features: (a) the commitment to a not clearly corroborated idea of "sustainability", (b) the complete indifference to the basic fact that we live, alas, in a world of trade-offs.

The Charter, among other things, maintains that:

everyone has the right to have access to a sufficient quantity of safe, healthy and nutritious food, that satisfies life-long personal nutritional requirements and enables them to lead an active life

Nice indeed, but what is a "sufficient quantity" really? And, if there is a "right", on whose shoulders does the corresponding obligation stand?
access to sources of clean energy is a universal right, for present and future generations

Impressive. Access to energy is certainly important, but to the best of my understanding it didn't quite make a declaration of rights yet. The "access to sources of clean energy" is all the more remarkable. But what does it mean? Do we have a universal right to buy energy from somebody producing it with solar panels and windmills? This right being universal, does this mean that we do have the right of benefiting from taxpayers' money, to access to energy produced with solar panels and wind mills?

I leave it to you to read the whole thing. It won't really be worth your time, if not for the fact that cultural events, like a global Expo fair, are a very good thermometer of public opinion. The Charter's writers seem to be convinced that by making grandiose statements you can legislate a better humanity. Conscious individuals who will "be aware of the kind of food they eat, informing themselves about its ingredients, its origin and about how and where it is produces, as to make responsible choices" and "make responsible choices when buying food, considering the environmental impact of its production".

The underlying assumption is that people are not so "wise" in making choices concerning what they eat--so either we force them to became wiser and more attentive, or we regulate the suppliers to comply with our vision of "sustainability", or--better yet--both.No effort is made to understand human behavior for what it is.

The Milan Charter is pervaded with the idea that food is scarce, so waste shall be limited and food, land, and energy should be "redistributed" according to some criterion based upon "fairness". The kind of "innovation" that the Charter preaches is about making available information "of consumption times that are compatible with the nature, quality, and means of preservation of food." The role of innovation in, well, producing more food is not even mentioned/scarcely entertained: biodiversity should come first!

But this sense of tremendous scarcity of food doesn't translate into a sense of scarcity of money and financial resources. Whenever you get endowed with a "right", you'd better ask: who pays for it? That's a question the Milan Charter doesn't answer at all.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
TMC writes:

Very good post.

vikingvista writes:
Whenever you get endowed with a "right", you'd better ask: who pays for it?

And when someone's rights are violated, as proven by the mere lack of access to somethings he as a right to, who suffers state retaliation as a violator?

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