Monday, November 22, 2010

Junk Food Counter-Economy

I once went to high school. It wasn't too long ago, before the Financial crisis but after 9/11. Days when everything – even in Canada – could be blamed on Bush and I could convince my mom to buy me cigars whenever she was in the city. And not just a few for personal consumption but a whole bunch I could sell to my classmates. The high school I went to was in rural Canada and items like Cuban cigars were in demand. For whatever reason it seemed like the more authority told us that smoking was dangerous and disgusting, the more appealing it became. And nothing said bad mother-fucker than a big fat Cuban cigar hanging out of your mouth.

Selling on and off school property was routine. There were weed dealers, hard drug dealers and fake IDs/older siblings/parents that were of age and could buy you alcohol. But Cuban cigars were unavailable unless one was willing to drive thirty to forty minutes out of town. Even adults would be hesitant to do this if it was in the middle of harsh Canadian winter. So with the entrepreneur spirit in mind I quickly realized that teenagers were willing to pay inflated prices for cigars. Thus my venture into the black market. I made a decent profit, enough to buy cafeteria food most days rather than bringing a lunch to school.

How did I know cigars were high in demand and that selling them for profit could work? I didn't, but I took a risk and it paid off. Wherever there's demand there will be supply, even if it's unofficial – entrepreneurs will always prevail. One doesn't have to look very far to see this process at work.

Around the country school boards are enforcing food laws on their students. The schools are trying to conform the students into becoming healthy eaters by banning and refusing to offer 'unhealthy' foods. While some may encourage this approach, if authority in our 'adult' society did the same thing... well some may encourage that as well. But liberty minded people would be upset. Perhaps readying the country's children for tyranny at a young age will make them unsuspecting of tyranny in adult life. If that's the case it seems to be working.

Regardless, students were altered from their normal course of action by coercive force. This force came in the form of teachers, principals and other bureaucrats. But students weren't going to let this deter their demand for chips and pop. In spite of the ban students in some schools have access to 'unhealthy foods' by way of the black market. Simply, students have started buying and selling junk food from each other. Authorities, fearing the worse. are decrying “the illicit sales … a stepping stone to kids' selling drugs later in life,”

Putting aside the unfounded emotional aspect of this, what's happening here in Canadian (and American) schools is a real market phenomenon. I like the term counter-economy better then black market. Black market fosters up images of drug dealers and prostitution, the counter-economy is more akin to what emerged in the former Soviet Union. Although both terms apply to basically the same thing.

Samuel Edward Konkin III, a great Canadian libertarian, described the counter-economy as such:

“Nearly every action is regulated, taxed, prohibited, or subsidized... everyone is a resister to the extent that he survives in a society where laws control everything and give contradictory orders. All (non-coercive) human action committed in defiance of the State constitutes the Counter-Economy.”

A place where “everyone is a resister to the extent that he survives in a society where laws control everything and give contradictory orders” reminds me of life in high school. Especially the part about contradictory orders, the hallmark of any great bureaucracy. Since selling junk food is against school rules the students are really just acting in “defiance of the State.”

Unique is this black market being confined to tax-payer funded school property. Unlike broader counter transactions the counter economy in these schools consists of common goods no longer accessible due to laws that inhibit freedom of choice. Schools that only provide 'healthy' menus actively shut down practices that offer other choices. Some schools even encourage parents to only pack healthy lunches.

Clearly, liberty plays no role in the student's lives. Searching lockers are so common place that the very thought of a student having some privacy rights becomes laughable. Consider what some parents and teachers are saying in regards to this junk food counter-economy:

“anyone not cracking down on kids’ filling lockers with cheesy puffs is teaching lawlessness.”

Whether the tax-payer's locker is considered his own or the property of school highlights the underlying socialist tendencies of the modern-day public school system. There is no privacy for the student, yet he or she is forced against their will to attend this bureaucratic system five days a week. If one decides to opt out, one finds it difficult to make a living under the apparatus of the State. Apparently for youth, freedom takes backseat to education.

Eventually the State replaces the school authority once the student graduates. The level of privacy increases, but not by much. When the entrepreneurs graduate they must watch their counter-business go belly up. But the possibility of growth is there. Incentives to dodge overbearing authority can make the counter-economy more resilient and suspect to fraud than official markets. Outside of school, in the "real world" Sam Konkin believed State employees would eventually abandon their work and join the market and the State would whither away.

It's nice food for thought. Let's just hope Big Brother doesn't deem it 'unhealthy'.

As for the schools – eventually the ban will be lifted or the school authority will enforce even more draconian measures. Either way if future entrepreneurs can compete with the school cafeteria, then the counter-economy will continue to thrive.

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