All Commentary
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coercion is What Makes the Difference

This past weekend, the New York Times ran a story on the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn, NY. It seems some of the members of the cooperative grocery store are hiring their nannies or other non-family members to work the occasional shift at the store as required by its by-laws. What follows is a series of short interviews with members who decry this practice as “unfair” and “elitist” while some merely shrug their shoulders.

But what really caught my eye was this assessment of the situation:

Some members conceded that having the nanny do the work was tempting. “In my fantasy, I’d have my nanny cover my shift,” Sarah Rivkin, 39, said. But she added that she knew that would be “inappropriate.” Anyway, she said she would be too intimidated. A friend of hers had married a Cuban immigrant, who summed up why Ms. Rivkin felt that way. “His assessment of the co-op is that the co-op is worse than socialism,” she said. “Because at least in a socialist country, if you know the right people, you can get out of it.”

While amusing, the Cuban immigrant is absolutely correct about socialism being a system which is unequal in its treatment, rife with bribable bureaucracy, and prone to allowing those in control (or their friends) out of the most heinous of privations imposed by the system. But he is absolutely wrong when he infers that socialism and the co-op are morally equivalent. Nobody held a gun to anyone else’s head and forced them to join the co-op. Further, there is nothing stopping you from leaving the co-op. As a private institution, they are allowed to have any rules they deem necessary. And you have every right to leave if you don’t like them.

Being denied access to fresh, organic fruits and vegetables in the middle of Brooklyn because you don’t like the rules may be an inconvenience, but it’s not coercion.

  • Carl Oberg was the Director of Finance for the Foundation for Economic Education.