Back just after the collapse of communism in Poland but before I came back to see what was going on, I heard about and went to a talk on someone who had just been in Poland on a trip talking to aspiring dairy farmers (they were from the College of Agriculture). They had been in a number of places around the country interviewing people as they were starting businesses and hoping to making it in the new capitalist reality they were getting (rather than the Scandinavian welfare state they’d hoped for, a story for another day).
A Polish woman in the audience also mentioned that there wasn’t much of a market for milk (as a drink) and that Polish people didn’t like the taste of fresh uncooked milk. As it turns out this was due to the wonders of communism (which produces and institutionalizes incompetence on a level that has to be experienced to be believed). The communist distribution system wasn’t able to reliably get milk to customers before it went sour and so people immediately cooked it (if it had gone sour, but not spoiled, it was used to make a kind of white cheese). This was also why most people drank coffee black and tea with lemon.
The speaker said that many of them had no realistic shot at success given the infrastructural realities and the number of cows needed and transport to get the milk to market and the prices they could realistically expect. Yet they were all ready to try and someone suggested this is the old rule of capitalism (and why it outperforms every other system). “Only one in ten will make it but each is convinced that he’s that one in ten”.
It took a few years, and lots of experimentation in packaging (as a customer base had to be built more or less from scratch) but ultimately at the collective level things worked out and now high quality fresh milk (an erratic product you could never be sure of) is easy to buy. As it turns out some Polish people now like drinking fresh milk when there’s enough to go around (not the case under communism) and many like putting milk in coffee and hardly anybody makes white cheese at home when it’s also so easy to buy. People still are suspicious about people who put milk in tea though… some things just don’t change.
Basically that’s the strength of capitalism, it’s tough on the individual (I’m sure those early dairy farmers went through hell trying to keep their heads above water) but it works better than anything else at making like easier and more pleasant (in some ways) at the collective level. That’s why the temptation is to extend that magic to every possible sphere of life including those like education or infrastructure or human relationships or governance where problems can’t be solved by just throwing more products and consumption at them. But it’s a temptation that needs to be resisted. Figuring out where market style approaches work and don’t work is rational, simply treating every possible area of life as a market problem for capitalism to solve is a recipe for the same type of incompetence grown and nurtured by communism. Or rather a different and equally horrible type.