Efficiency is one of the core values of our economic system. We don’t care if we’re doing the right thing or not – or, more precisely, our economists assume we are – so long as we do it more and more efficiently. Hauling one big load of merchandise is far more efficient than hauling multiple, smaller loads. Thus whoever can configure their operation to take advantage of this efficiency should win, right?I'm indulging my theoretical bent here, or perhaps being more Jesuit than the pope, but there are two concepts of efficiency in play here. Hauling one big load of merchandise might appear to be productively efficient (the vulgar form of which is "doing more with less") albeit such a use of resources might not be allocatively efficient, which is the more restrictive condition that there be no further gains from trade to exploit.
That's something that's missing, even in as instructive a meditation as Frederic Bastiat's essay about Paris being fed. Without, back in the day, an Egg McMuffin.
One semi tractor trailer can visit dozens of egg farms each day, collecting their eggs and delivering them to a central facility where they can be turned into the egg for the McMuffin. Same with the ham and cheese, which can be acquired, processed and transported in bulk. These are then combined into the ingredients for the McMuffin and – this is where the magic happens – one truck can leave the facility each day and make deliveries to a dozen or more individual stores. One big trip instead of many smaller trips. Much more efficient.Again, I have to be the purist. The Soviet model also relied on One Big Factory, which worked well as long as the Wise Experts spelled out how many of each type of battery or hair pin or bottles of vodka had to be produced, but when the instructions were incomplete, all that productive effort was for naught.
And a more efficient supply line too, where prices are driven down across the entire production, processing and distribution system. Now we have one huge egg farm instead of many small ones. One huge cheese production facility and one huge pig slaughter house. Efficient. Efficient. Efficient.
Let me reiterate: It’s not like they don’t eat in Venice or didn’t eat in pre-Depression American cities. They did. They just acquired their food in a way that was less efficient.
The nail's use is irrelevant. The tonnage quota has been met. Image retrieved from here. Context here. If you fall into the rabbit hole of "productive efficiency" without regard to end use, that's where you are. A nightmare like the USSR. (And as P. J. O'Rourke had it, in a country where chess was spectator sport.)
So it is with the use of 53 foot trailers to provision the cities. Venice or Paris would not be the same with a road infrastructure designed for North American suburbs.
Here are the inefficiency losses that land on North American taxpayers.
How about the taxpayer? They get to pay more to “improve” the transportation system to accommodate semi tractor trailers everywhere. It’s not just enough that we can transport goods between cities on our major highways, but we also need to tap taxpayers to widen out our local streets and intersections to accommodate all that efficiency. Of course, that is going make local streets less safe – especially for those outside of a vehicle – but it will have the side benefit of allowing us regular folk to drive more places even faster.In that "make the local streets less safe" is the efficiency loss. The obligation is on the highway lobby to demonstrate that a monster-semi-friendly transportation environment is a Marshallian improvement. As there are less hazardous ways to deliver safe food, that's going to be a tough sell.
Plus, your community might express a preference to look more like Paris or Venice, or for that matter, like Norman Rockwell's America.
To receive federal and state transportation dollars, your city may be forced to design local streets so as to accommodate semi tractor trailers. For streets funded with local dollars, however, that decision is a local one. If you choose not to make accommodating the efficiency of tractor trailers your primary design criteria and perhaps decide that wealth creation, solvency and safety of residents are more important, just know that – while there will be some wailing and gnashing of teeth – nobody in your city will starve.That's not turning back the clock. That's reclaiming a state of good repair.