Michael Hancock’s ‘Collective Farm’ Foolishness

Talk about great timing! Just as Grand Junction Free Press publishes an article from my dad and me on the economic harms of spending more for local goods, the Denver Post releases an article by Chuck Plunkett discussing the “buy local” proposal of Michael Hancock, who is running for mayor of Denver.

Hancock wants to “create thousands of new jobs for Denver citizens” by promoting urban farming, Plunkett quotes.

Thankfully, Plunkett also quotes somebody who actually knows what he’s talking about. Philip Graves, an economist at CU, told Plunkett that if such gardening were economical, “it would already be happening.” And, in the best line quoted so far this year by the Post, Graves said Hancock’s plan “is akin to the notoriously inefficient ‘collective farms’ of the old Soviet Union.”

Now, urban gardening might be fun and emotionally rewarding, and it might indeed save some people a bit on their grocery bills. But Hancock’s idea that it might generate many jobs and substantially benefit the economy is foolishness. Hancock needs to brush on on a couple of basic economic concepts. The first is economies of scale — in many cases larger operations operate much more efficiently, far offsetting the transportation costs. Second, some regions offer natural production advantages. It turns out that growing food usually is best done on (wait for it…) farmland, not in densely populated cities. Regional advantage is a subset of the more general principle of comparative advantage.

Now, there is something government can do to promote local, small-scale agriculture, and that is get the hell out of the way. A recent story at Big Government reviews a couple of cases of USDA harassment and intimidation of small-scale producers. Timothy Sandefur’s book The Right to Earn a Living contains numerous examples of how the federal government has trampled economic liberties, often harming especially small-scale farmers.

First came Hancock with his Creationist silliness, and now urban collective farms. I guess we’d better get used to the sound of “Mayor Romer.”