An opinion columnist suggests that the next time you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, you should give thanks not only for the turkey on your plate but also for the economic system in which you live.The topic is Thanksgiving dinner and the argument is that we owe our Thanksgiving turkey to the division of labor, supply chains, and the pursuit of private gains. Of course, the article -- an opinion piece from the Boston Globe (does that count as "In the News" to you?) -- is meant to support the "argument" laid out over the previous 13 pages that "the price of turkey at the supermarket is fair", from a social efficiency standpoint, as long as free markets are the means by which scarce resources are allocated. Central planning would require vast amounts of information and time to do what a free market economy does completely on its own.
Fair point about central planning -- but why bring it up in the first place? Why does the author's argument about the coordinating miracle of the free market have to be compared to the extreme opposite of a completely centrally planned economy?
While we can never be certain of the author's intentions, let us offer a response: perhaps elements of a planned economy trickle into the author's story in ways overlooked or simply ignored by him. In other words, it appears to us as though the tactical use of attacking the "central planning" argument is to divert attention from more important and empirically relevant matters, such as the following:
Who determines the price of gasoline used by the trucks delivering the turkeys to the store? Oil cartels play an important role in determining prices at the pump.
Who coordinated work at the factories which produce the feed and raise the turkeys? Most likely, these tasks were performed by a manager and other centralized authority figures.
Who regulated the quality of the Turkeys or facilitated their transportation? Government laws and statutes were necessary for these things.Upon reflection, it seems that there does exist an essential economic planning element to your Thanksgiving dinner. Imperfectly competitive markets and the organization of economic activity which takes place in the firm are important examples of cases in which economic agents act collectively to plan and alter economic outcomes.
So this year, give thanks to capitalist social relations for the meal on your plate. While Mankiw has tried time and again to assert the universality of the "free market" model and its relationship to Thanksgiving, a simple look around at how economies actually function suggests otherwise.