Transferring the Cost; a response

The following was published in the May 2008 American Spectator in response to an article by Roger Scruton entitled Transferring The Cost.

Before Roger Scruton writes again on the relationship of liberty, private property and market capitalism, I advise he spend some time becoming familiar with his subject matter. Beginning from a set of erroneous presuppositions that Al Gore could wear comfortably, he proceeds to opinions and conclusions more likely to be found in a Michael Moore screed than the American Spectator. There is so much rubbish within the four corners of this article that time nor space permit a thorough cleanup, One fallacy however stands out.

With vincible ignorance, the author, labels supermarkets as “The most conspicuous example” of an industry whose very existence is based on externalizing costs! He scolds them for taking advantage of economies of scale, transportation networks built at public expense and zoning laws that he believes favor large stores in the suburbs over their smaller urban counterparts. He even gets in a gratuitous swipe at sprawl, that ubiquitous enemy of all things bright and beautiful.

Scruton fails to consider that taxpayer financed transportation systems are two way streets, benefitting the consuming public as much as the grocers. Absent the advantages of such facilities the great basket of fresh and inexpensive foods we enjoy in our homes every day would be an impossibility. Want of customers in the inner city [the most having left for suburbs] rather than BIG GROCERY explains the decline in downtown retailing. The sprawl which Scruton so maligns and which furnishes shoppers for supermarkets is the happily chosen lifestyle of the overwhelming majority of American families and represents a direct result of the exercise of liberty in property.

That exploitation and mischief exist in any arrangement where liberty is preferred to the jackboot is an unfortunate reality. Be it free markets or a free press, a general framework of laws is a necessity. Mr. Scruton seems to be an advocate of both kinds of freedom but just doesn’t quite trust the venal businessman and the unenlightened property owner to use them properly. Scruton suggests these sorts [unlike more principled writers and journalists] need a more vigorous nudge by Leviathan to see they do the right thing.

There is often little difference between the goals of the collectivist and the reactionary. Neither fears to oppress. Roger Scruton’s essay is a retreat from conservatism toward reaction and is unbecoming of a magazine that purposes to defend freedom.