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Fine Tuna Markets

Jeffrey Tucker reveals the marvels of the free market that are embodied in a can of tuna salad that he bought for $1.50 from a vending machine. A slice:

Just think of the core ingredient, the tuna itself. Somehow we think of this as no big deal. But I don’t know anyone who lives anywhere near a place where you can catch a tuna. You have to travel by boat to the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, or the Black Sea. If you time it just right, you might find them off the North American coast. This is because these amazing fish are always on the move.

You have to be in a boat on the high seas for weeks following these beasts around. And it turns out to be one of the most dangerous jobs. The Center for Disease Control lists commercial fishing of this sort as “one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.” To avoid injury and survived requires special training.

Even if you had a sea in your backyard, it takes special equipment to snag one of these beauties and reel in these. They weigh between 300 and 1,000 pounds! I have a hard enough time with a 3-pound bass.

(Jeff’s can of tuna salad can serve as exhibit several-gasillionth in the case against those who argue that “capitalism isn’t working.”)

Here’s a further point. Take as an example any of the many modern market ‘mundane marvels’ that you wish – for example, Jeff’s can of tuna salad; the availability in Boston of inexpensive fresh flowers in January; the many gasoline stations appropriately spaced out along the hundreds of thousands of miles of highways and roads in the United States, and always filled with gasoline for sale (and, increasingly, also with coffee, snacks, and other grocery items); fresh bagels in the morning; supermarkets packed with tens of thousands of different, affordable goods; pencils; whatever. Now cast your mind back to a time – not long ago in the great expanse of human history – when the mundane marvel that you have in mind did not exist. Imagine someone thinking of such a marvel (“Hey, wouldn’t it be great if residents of Boston could be regularly and inexpensively supplied with fresh flowers throughout the year, even in the dead of New England’s winters?!”) Imagine further that nearly everyone agrees that humanity would indeed be well-served were this imagined marvel to become a reality.

What conclusions would most people reach about how to turn this dream into reality? Most people would immediately dismiss the dream as an unrealistic, unrealizable fantasy. As for the others – those who believe in the dream – they would then propose some grand plan to make the dream reality. The most careful and realistic of these people would ponder all the countless steps that must be taken in order to make the dream reality. After much pondering, many of these people would join the ranks of those who earlier-on concluded that the dream is far too absurdly unrealistic to take seriously. The few people who continue to believe that the dream can become reality would continue trying to devise a grand plan to make the dream come true.

And nearly all of these people would dismiss with haughty laughter the weirdo who points out that the dream will indeed become reality, but it will do so only in the absence of any grand plan to make it so. The dream will become reality, as Jeff mentions at the end of his essay, through countless individual choices of literally millions of individuals, nearly all of whom are strangers to each other, coordinated overwhelmingly by market prices.