Friday, March 28, 2014

Euvoluntary Marketing Part 4 of 4: Place

The EE project was born (in part) out of how people squabble over prices. Ordinary consumers get bent out of shape when prices increase in times of duress. And when anti-price gouging statutes are enforced, the predictable result is often that nobody gets what they want at any price. That's important and worth quite a bit of analysis, but it's an acute problem, one that comes and goes. It's painful whenever there's a hurricane or an invasion by a hostile army or a Godzilla attack, so it riles up the senses, raises the dander. In Bastiat's terms, it's "seen".

But Bastiat asked nicely of us to lend some consideration of the unseen. I'd like to oblige this request by urging you to think about the fourth pillar of marketing: location, location, location.

"Where shall we sell this" is usually a fairly benign question. Bananas go in the store, cars in the dealership, tumpety-tump. But how about high-energy radioactive waste? Sure, we need to get rid of that stuff, but just... please... not in my back yard.

Zoning is one of the bigger stealth wealth transfer tools in the kit. Zoning means that sleepy neighborhoods across America needn't worry about factory fumes or heavy trucks rumbling through lazy boulevards. Of course, the price of peace ends up being foisted on communities that can't afford political influence, so it's a transfer from the poor to the middle and the rich. But it's a popular transfer, so don't expect it to change any time soon.

More worrisome perhaps is that since zoning is political action, it can be employed coercively free of any meaningful accountability. This is why low-price emporiums like Wal-Mart end up shut out of locations where they might be able to actually benefit low-income consumers in city centers. Or how "food deserts" mysteriously erupt in thickets of humanity. Who would bother opening a grocery store (a notoriously low-margin business) in a place with rapacious rents hoist on the petard of the false humanitarianism of rent-controlled apartment living? There ain't no such thing as a free lunch... literally.

And this list parades on, putting Macy's at Thanksgiving to head-hanging, soul-shredding shame. You can't have gentlemen's clubs within half a mile of an elementary school, you can't sell food from a truck here here and here, you can't turn up the bass in the French Quarter anymore, you can't park here, you can't build a shed over there, and I'm sorry little girl, but you need a food handler's permit to sell that lemonade.

Price gouging is the court jester of public choice: loud and zesty. But commercial location allocation is the hierophant: silent and powerful. This is the primary tool by which the sullen public behemoth guzzles from the commonwealth of the poor, pinioning the destitute in thrall to a misguided public conscience.

Eudaimonia insists on harmony. Misbegotten zoning flaunts the natural limits of eudaimonia, of genuine community. It is the plebeian fantasy that tries to squeeze a 600 lb gorilla into a kindergartner's tutu. The result is not pretty and it usually ends up throwing poop at the audience.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?