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A Particularly Silly Argument About Sourdough And Sourfaux Bread

Jobs are a cost, not a benefit

Actually, there are two silly arguments here about sourdough and sourfaux bread. One that is, admittedly, from the more gnarly and detailed shores of economics, the other being one of such simplicity that even Grandpa Death should be able to get it – not that he does.

The underlying here being that sourdough bread is becoming more popular and why not? Those who produce it the craft way want protection from the industrial bakers who, now that it’s more than a spit portion of the market, are trying to muscle in. So far so damn normal and the correct answer is that the craft bakers can sod off:

A row over “sourfaux” bread has erupted, as bakers claim plans to introduce an industry-wide definition will see cheat loaves wrongly labelled ‘sourdough’.

Campaigners from the Real Bread Campaign (RBC), run by food and farming charity Sustain, have criticised attempts by major trade bodies to get the government to introduce a baking code of practice which dictates what constitutes sourdough bread.

They claim it would mean loaves made with processing aids, additives and yeast – unlike traditional sourdough – will slip through the net and create a “sourfaux free-for-all”.

Well, if the consumer is getting more of what the consumer wants, for the expenditure of less effort on the part of the consumer, we generally think that’s a good thing. As with Henry Ford’s assembly line, sure, the Model T of sourdough bread ain’t a Rolls Royce but it’s still an advance in human wealth.

We could also gently suggest that “sourdough without additives” and “sourdough with additives” – and given that all additives have to be listed these days even that might not be necessary as another prescribed description – might be enough of a differentiation.

Which is where we also get to the gnarly. There is indeed a good argument for regulation where consumers can be tricked. But here’s the thing about us humans – we’re really very good at repeat iteration games. All of human society is, after all, a series of attempts at working out whether this other person is trying to trick us or cooperate fairly. This is what gives rise to that result of the ultimatum game, we will punish tricksters at cost to ourselves in order to gain the societal benefit of fewer tricksters.

The outcome of this is that regulation is justly needed in single or few iteration games. Say, purchasing a mortgage, or a pension. But not in purchasing toothpaste. Bread being at the toothpaste end. Simple reputation and the repeat structure of the game mean that cheats will quickly fail to prosper. Cheat here being defined as someone who offers what the consumer thinks is not worth it, not what a craft baker thinks they ought to desire.

Then we’ve the argument of abject stupidity:

“We work with hundreds of bakeries that create more jobs per loaf through crafting genuine sourdough and other real bread to nourish people in their local communities.

As it’s possible I’ve pointed out before, jobs are a cost of doing something, not a benefit. Human labour is a scarce resource, we thus face opportunity costs. If we use it do do this one thing here then we cannot use that same labour to be doing this other, second, thing over there. Thus our use of more labour in the first activity means we can have less of that second whatever it is.

Having more people sweating over the sourdough means we can have less NHS. This is not, despite the jokes about the NHS, an advantage to us.

Jobs are a cost, not a benefit, which is exactly why using the machines to make the bread makes us all so damn rich.

But then given that the entirety of the British left – not just Grandpa Death – can’t understand this does mean that we’re being a bit harsh in asking a mere baker to get it, no?

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4 years ago

You would expect sourdough producers to be *demanding* a rigourous definition of what sourdough is so that the labelling can be trusted to be describing the contents. Otherwise you get to the position of ordering a fishcake and getting three different products depending on which part of Yorkshire you’re in.

Bloke on M4
Bloke on M4
4 years ago

Of course, many of the existing sourdough consumers want this because it’s a signifier of being Eloi rather than Morlock. If the poors start eating sourdough, they’ll have to find a new status symbol.

Tim the Coder
Tim the Coder
4 years ago

Ah, First World probelms eh?
Stone Age: What can we eat?
Renaissance: Why do we eat?
Guardian: Is the sour dough orgasmic?

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