Zoe Williams and logic: never the twain shall meet

There are plenty of people who feel neutral about where they shop, who are busy, whose sense of belonging might be more rooted to their work than their street, who find it annoying (it is annoying) that you can only get longlife cream in a corner shop.

This is an argument against supermarkets. That lots of people quite like them……

8 thoughts on “Zoe Williams and logic: never the twain shall meet”

  1. It’s about different mental models. (“Classical”) liberals approach the world in an additive manner, Post-Calvinists in a subtractive manner. That is, liberals think the world is pretty good but would be better with more of this and that, PCs think the world can be made better by subtracting things from it; they see it as full of bad things that must be banned.

    So, if they take away e.g. supermarkets, something better will result. In this case, the implausible scenario that the absence of supermarkets will somehow force local shops to offer all the services (well, the “good” ones[1]) that the supermarket currently do, even though that makes no economic sense and they never did before. Liberalism allows individuals to add value to the world. PCism removes ill-defined “harm”. Ne’er the twain shall meet.

    [1] Why does she want greater availability of cream anyway? Doesn’t that make us all obese?

  2. Sounds like normal Progressive snobbery and status-waving to me.

    Supermarkets are quick, convenient and cheap. Ordinary people like them because of this. Zoe has the time to spend half a day mooching around specialist local shops, and she has the income to live in an area where simply splendid local delicatessens thrive. She also has the income to be able to do all of her shopping in these places.

    Of course, being a good Progressive she cannot express this prejudice against the peasants in a Guardian article, so instead she projects it onto what the peasants like: in this case, supermarkets.

    In other areas it is projected onto package holidays, football, anything which an upper middle class public school educated Guardianista can expect to despise, but the underlying cause of the dislike is not the target, but the people.

  3. @IanB,

    we liberals can still recognise however that the big boys already have a major advantage, i.e. the ability to compete on less than level terms. Granted, supermarkets are great things, they make us all better off etc., and contrary to popular (Guardian-reading) belief it is their low profit margins (as opposed to “grotesque” profiteering) that makes life hard for the little guys. But it all comes down to planning, among other regulations, that impose similar deadweight costs on all manner of businesses thus favouring the bigger ones.

    And here, not only can the supermarkets engage expensive lawyers to fight their corner but they can also ease their passage into a new market through directly, shall we say, ensuring the favourable assistance of the decision-makers by means of the usual bribery, nepotism, sinecures and such. Something a small outfit doesn’t have the cash to do.

    Another favoured trick, rather less employed in the UK than the US, is to open small local stores, wait for the competition to go out of business, then suddenly “discover” that the local operation is not profitable, shut it down, and suddenly everyone has to drive 20 miles to a mega mall. Bankrupt small businesses then no longer have the capital to reopen while the supermarket chain can come and go as they please.

    Of course the regulatory burden and resulting corruption is something us liberals can rightly blame on the state being too big and getting into stuff it shouldn’t be in. However the deliberate targeting of competitors for obliteration poses an ethical dilemma to liberals. The destruction wreaked by monopolists is never creative, thus there is a tension between the desire to prevent it and the liberal principle of having as small a state as possible.

  4. @JamesV: have you any evidence at all of any supermarket chain opening a smaller branch in an area, taking all the business from existing shops, then closing? Everywhere I look Tesco seem to opening more small stores rather than closing them.

    Anti-Tesco-ism is just snobbery pure and simple? Have you ever heard of anyone complaining about a new Waitrose or Co-op?

  5. @JamesV. That’s why us Libertarians want to abolish the things that big players can use to their advantage, like planning committees.

    It still doesn’t alter the fact that a big supermarket’s large customer base allows it to keep in stock a much wider range of perishables like cream, compared to Mr Patel, whose cream demand is so unreliable that he’d spend most of his time throwing away perished stock, then every now and again find ten customers he can’t supply.

    People shop at supermarkets because they supply a better service in many respects to local shops. You can’t alter that simple fact.

    You’d help local shops better by ending your “liberal” campaigns against the products they supply well; smokes, booze, crisps, confectionary, frozen pizzas, and so on. A Tesco is less likely to put Patel out of business than a ban on alcopops. And no, if you ban alcopops, he still won’t be able to supply fresh cream. It doesn’t work that way.

  6. It’s not me campaigning against any of those things! It’s the “liberals”. With distinct emphasis on the scare quotes!

  7. Hmmm… I really must let Sue in my local cornershop know that she is now responsible for going house to house, checking upon all her old-biddie customers next time it snows. I’m sure she won’t mind…..

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