How Marketplace Encourages You to Punch Hippies

kai.ryssdal.marketplaceI’ve never been quite as ardent a listener of American Public Media’s program Marketplace as I have been to other public radio programs, but I do appreciate it as a well-produced program with the laudable mission of making dense and esoteric topics understandable and sexy. I also greatly enjoyed host Kai Ryssdal’s collaboration last year with PBS Frontline on campaign finance in Montana, “Big Sky, Big Money“. I also enjoyed listening to last night’s episode of Marketplace, especially the segment “How Doctors Die“.


My understanding that Marketplace revels in hippie-punching was reinforced last night. It is common for Ryssdal and others on the program to be flippant or sarcastic about initiatives and topics that are important and serious. Last night there was a piece on new labeling laws for meat in the US, and it followed in this trend:

Bad for industry, consumers don’t care

There a lot of implications I take issue with in this report.

  1. Ryssdal leads by implying that knowing where your food comes from is mainly valuable if you’re “the curious type” rather than interested in local & ethical food sourcing.
  2. After describing the new rule, he jumps straight to how meat-packers don’t like the rule. That implies we should be concerned about industry’s aversion to regulation before we think about the reasons for the regulations. Of course they don’t like having to reveal the details of their operation! There’s a lot of unethical stuff going on; that’s why it needs to be regulated.
  3. “But really, are the rest of us really going to notice?” Ryssdal implies that it’s not worth it, because consumers don’t care. But putting the information out there means that people will start thinking about it more, which can make them care more.
  4. The first interview they play is with a lawyer for grocery stores, who focuses on how the language required by the regulations is “unappetizing”. If people have forgotten that an animal was slaughtered to create their meat, they absolutely should be reminded of it.
  5. The second interview is with an economist who says there’s little evidence people will pay more for better products. I would respond that it’s still worth doing even if it doesn’t lead to higher profits.
  6. The reporter closes with a flippant “Even if the new labels are more prominent, they probably won’t affect shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. They hit beef, chicken, pork, lamb and goat. But turkey gets a pass.”
  7. And that’s it! There’s no defense of why these regulations are a good idea, just “oh look at that silly government, imposing unnecessary and ineffective rules on the meat industry.”

Recycling is stupid

Then there was the report about recycling, called “Recycling? Don’t overdo it.

This one is just as bad. It focuses on how recycling is more expensive than throwing things away. It even warps what an interview subject says:

“These external benefits are actually very substantial,” [Bucknell economist Thomas Kinnaman] says. As in: They do make recycling a good deal for the planet, even if it’s a money-loser for cities.

First of all, Kinnaman seems to be saying that a holistic view of recycling costs is not as clear cut as Marketplace is making them out to be. My own town is facing the reality of our landfill (and all those near us) filling up, which creates gargantuan costs as our trash needs to be shipped farther and farther away.

Also, every time a reporter talks about “good for the planet” my alarm bells go off. The planet is not the issue. The issue is how our culture’s ravaging of the world around us makes life worse for humans. The biocentrism of 1970s framing of environmental issues is outdated, and reporters should get with the picture. Waste is a problem for people and reducing it is good for everyone; that’s why we pay more for it.

The implication is that recycling is not worth it and liberals who fetishize recycling are deluded. Marketplace, get your act together. While you’re punching hippies, you’re ignoring good policy and harming our future.

As I stated above, I think it’s great that Marketplace works to make dull topics more fun and accessible. But some journalistic standards of balance and a perspective that acknowledges the problems with the status quo would not go amiss.