Supporting small-scale artisans and the free market

Regulations, even when well-intended, can hurt small-scale production.

By , Guest blogger

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    Bosnian potter, Dzevad Delic spins an unfinished clay pot on a potters wheel in January. Guest blogger Tim Worstall writes that some government regulations can make it hard for some artisans to make a living.
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This might surprise some: I'm all in favour of small scale artisanal production. The usual image of a ravening free marketeer like myself is someone who wants to insist that everything be made in one factory in China on efficiency grounds.

But efficiency, while useful and desirable in itself, is not the whole story. What we're actually trying to do is maximise human utility. If you enjoy purchasing or using things that have been hand woven from groinal alpaca hair then good luck to you: if you enjoy rootling around alpacas and weaving said hair and can connect with that similarly inclined user then the world is a happier place that you can each make and use as you wish.

Free markets do, after all, imply the freedom to do as you wish rather than the freedom to do as you're told.

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But as this story from Virginia Postrel makes clear, the true enemies of your being able to fumble artisanily with camelids are not those planning that single factory in China.

Although big companies like Mattel could spread the extra costs over millions of toys, Mr. Marshall's small-scale suppliers couldn't. Unable to afford thousands of dollars in testing per product, some went out of business. Others moved production to China to cut costs. Many slashed their product lines, reserving the expensive new tests for only their top sellers. The European companies that used to sell Peapods such specialty items as wooden swords and shields or beeswax-finished cherry-wood rattles simply abandoned the U.S. market. The survivors jacked up prices.

No, it's those who would impose regulation upon you that are the enemy. for said regulation always, but always, favours the large above the small producer. There are costs that have to be bourne and they are easier to bear if they are amortised over hundreds of thousands of millions of a product than over the three or five that a dedicated crafstman might be able to make.

The regulations might be well intended, they might just be the usual political stupidity (What? People are doing what they want? There should be a law about that!) or they might be justified in the name of the children/elderly/poor/Uncle Tom Cobbleigh. But the effect is always the same. The small producer gets the shaft and the larger now has a barrier to stop upstarts entering his cosy industry.

This is true of artisan furniture, of hand made cheese, strangely pickled vegetables and every other product that you can think of.

Certainly, markets do require some regulation (Who owns it? How is that transferred? Who is responsible if something goes wrong?) but beyond that it's actually true that regulation stifles the free part. And that is, sadly, why William Morris' dream, the supposed dream of the localists of today, won't actually happen. Because of the ever increasing regulation largely supported by exactly the same people.

Free markets do actually require some freedom.

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