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Cry Little Girl, Cry

July 13, 2009

To much horror and outrage, it appears that WalMart has begun underselling the Girl Scouts. I want to be clear: This is fair and desirable. Of course both sides benefit from monopoly privileges and artificial economies of scale, both through the usual diffuse effects of the state and, more broadly, through our market’s general indolence. But while this action may be characterized as unfeeling or rude on the part of WalMart — violating an implicit social and cultural agreement to uphold the Girl Scouts’ cookie monopoly, an act of charity through inaction — I’m going to take the classic Libertarian position here and say that such disrespectful greed is an unqualified good thing.

Blah, blah, blah, before going into the details obviously more dynamism is always a good thing in the long term as it promotes evolutionary fitness among all parties and the most efficient and democratic satiation of desires. Betraying my Austrian dalliances, in any given situation my default allegiances tend to lie with the consumers and $4 for a box of samoas once a year is arguably quite exploitative of those of us laboring under their cruel addiction. But more specifically monopolies corrupt and while Girl Scouts of America may not be rolling tanks under the Arc de Triomphe, the centralized production and sale of said cookies (an incredibly profitable branch of the Kellogg empire, thank you for asking) is pretty much the sole force holding up the GSA’s council system and national hierarchy.

And here we get to the root of the problem. Retaining the hierarchical notions of the progressive movement from whence it was born, the Girl Scouts are not the loose free-forming federation of cooperation and mutual aid one would assume. The centralized corporate structure of their cookie business holds the reigns on a centralized empire that brokers almost no alternatives in scouting (the coed Campfire alone serves as the perennially struggling exception) and tightly controls the practices of local clusters of parents and children. While not as profoundly and militantly deist and homophobic as the Boy Scouts of America, the GSA’s monopoly status nevertheless forces the suppression of queer girls and the valorization of religious faith in every troop. Without local entrepreneurial deviation and experiment in such basic areas there is simply no way to efficiently deliver the experiences parents and girls desire, much less maintain or develop the scouting tradition.

The current cookie system works well for the Girl Scouts because their centralized national body is able to utilize Kellogg’s economies of scale to produce them en masse (Kellogg’s in turn sells more thanks to their “charity” branding), then the girls themselves (forbidden by the arbitrary strictures of child labor laws from earning cash through other operations) do the delivery, promotion and general retail footwork. But, as the emotionless market calculating machine of WalMart has figured out, Kellogg’s and the GSA aren’t the only ones with access to an optionless cheap labor pool or the ability to exploit state-created economies of scale. The only thing they don’t have is the brand — or, less cynically, the public goodwill. The logical response for the Girl Scouts is to re-tailor their business model to fully utilize this advantage. And, if I may be so bold as to offer some Left Libertarian advice, the best way to do that would be to embrace the autonomous nature of the scouting tradition, localizing and personalizing their efforts where WalMart homogenizes. There ain’t nothing wrong with a bake sale. The possibilities for work are endless, from native-plantlife restoring landscaping to bike repair. Of course the government actively suppresses such wildcat production and commerce, but imagine how awesome it would be to be greeted at the supermarket doors by scouts selling just-burnt smores from portable gas stoves that they made themselves.

That’s why WalMart’s greed is a good thing. Not because callous disregard for others is a virtue, but because the vigilant application of self-interested rational thought and direct action — even among evil constructs of state-capitalism — allow us to collectively negotiate varying wants and desires towards a conclusion that best satiates everyone: S’mores.

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