It appears that the hidden hand of Adam Smith has claimed another aspirational enterprise that lacked economic viability. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a restaurant was opened to offer vegan cuisine through a “Marxist” “collectivist” “worker-run” establishment called Bartertown. Employees were guaranteed a “living wage”,” no bosses, and a strong union. The problem was complaints about rising prices, unreliable service, and unpredictable hours. The restaurant changed its name recently to the Garden Diner and Cafe, but the business collapsed this month.
While I found very positive comments on TripAdviser for its vegan, vegetarian and raw food menu, there were complaints that it was difficult to get meals or even a sandwich. Employees would reportedly set the shop’s hours by collective decision and would reportedly close as unpredictable times.
Despite the attraction of side dishes of “Che Guevara,” the hassle proved too much for some. The lack of tipping allowed undermined rewards for exceptional service. As previously discussed how France’s poor reputation for service in cafes is generally attributed to the lack of tipping. Then there was controversies like the one caused by the restaurant admirably offering a free meal to Grand Rapids police officers as a “thank you” for keeping their neighborhood safe, customers complained that the restaurant was supporting “nearly all-white police force in this era of police violence.”
The epitaph for Bartertown might be found in The Wealth of Nation:
“Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily, leads him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to society… He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was not part of his intention”
― Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations