Tuesday, 17 September 2013


This is a quick reaction to Matt Yglesias blogpost about 'underground dinner parties'... The original article that lead to Mr. Yglesias's post is here.

And he concludes: Food service is one of those weird areas where the exact same thing (cooking food for other people) is done on both a commercial and non-commercial basis, except with totally different regulatory schemes. The moral of the story here should almost certainly be that we're over-regulating commercial food production, not that we need to clamp down on underground dinner parties.

This is, I suspect, a libertarian inclination gone wrong. We can trust in a private chef, not being paid for his work, to NOT poison his friends, colleagues, buddies or contacts.
We canNOT make the same assumption about a chef or restaurant owner who is trying to make a living off feeding other people. Here, with a profit motive involved, there is a clear tension between public safety and the food quality & cost. If a for-profit chef can get away with using unsafe (and thus cheap) ingredients, he will.

The interest of the chef and the consuming public aren't nearly so strongly misaligned in the case of private parties...

Never ever trust anyone once money's involved.


  1. If I were a restaurateur then I’d be keen to avoid a situation where dozens of people were posting negative reviews about my restaurant online, claiming to have suffered from food poisoning after eating there. Therefore, it would be in my own best interests to avoid serving anything which was actually unsafe. The existence of a government regulator might actually be to my benefit, if I could use the accreditation which it issued to my restaurant to deflect any potential smear campaigns.

    However, if I was unregulated, then I might feel that I could get away with serving battery chickens as being free range or horsemeat as beef. Government regulation might therefore benefit customers if it ensures that the food they order is exactly what it is meant to be.

    And, of course, being shut down by a regulator for non-compliance might be a more effective deterrent than the risk of reputational damage or of being sued.

    1. Hi, James

      Nice to have you back! Hope you're doing well...

      As to your comment, well, all of the above applies, depending on specific circumstances?

      But the first point - bad feedback/loss of consumers - is usually used by free markets apologists or people arguing for lesser regulation(s).

      It makes intuitive sense but, in practice, bad consequences from poor or unsafe products are diffuse enough to rarely allow such a direct mechanism to work.

      See the scandal in Europe with Romanian horse meat. Millions ate horse meat thinking it was beef for years without realising it. Same thing with supermarket recycling their old unsold meat into minced meat. Some people might get sick but plenty won't and there is no way for the consumers to actually know what's what and what they are actually buying...

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