Scott versus Hayek

by Henry Farrell on September 10, 2010

James Scott is at “Cato Unbound”: this month, talking about problems with the state. I’d have _much preferred_ to have seen him stirring it up a little bit, by arguing against markets along the lines that he does in a recent interview elsewhere on the internets.1

bq. It seems to me that large-scale exchange and trade in any commodities at all require a certain level of standardization. Cronon’s book _Nature’s metropolis,_ which is a kind of ecological history of Chicago, has a chapter on the futures market for grain. There exists a tremendous natural variety in the kind of corn, soya and wheat that were grown, but they all have to be sorted into two or three grades in the great granaries, and to be shipped abroad in huge cargo ships–the impetus to standardize in the granaries found its way back to the landscape and diversity of the surroundings of Chicago, reducing the entire region to monocropping.

bq. It’s the same principle at work as I describe in _Seeing like a State_ with regards to the _Normalbaum_ in German scientific forestry. Agricultural commodities become standardized as they move and bulk in international trade. If you build a McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, they tell you architecturally exactly how to construct it, you have to buy the equipment that is standardized, it all has to be placed in the same relationship to the other things in the floor plan, so it’s all worked out in detail, and it is worked out in such detail to produce a standardized burger or standardized fried chicken. And because it is standardized, the person who comes from the corporate headquarters can come with a kind of checklist in which every place is more or less the same, and they can check on cleanliness, quality, productivity and conformity to the corporate standard. This is the kind of control over distance that is required for industrial purposes. In the end, what is the assembly line? It is an effort to standardize the unit of labor power. The processes are not so different for grain production, burgers, or cars—as are the effects on diversity. Contract farming is then an instance to adapt agriculture to post-Fordist conditions with a higher emphasis on demand.
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