Software is Lettuce, not Gold

I’ve been listening to The World is Flat on audio book, as part of my summer run through of popular non fiction of the last couple of years. One phrase really struck me on the way home, which was the assessment by Brian Behlendorf that

“software is lettuce, not gold”

Software is both a commodity and perishable if not consumed in a timely manner. For the doubters out there, check out the ranks of abandoned software on some time. My proud collection of shirts from software companies that don’t exist any more is a less compelling, though more close to home, reminder of that fact.

Dubner, do some research next time.

I really enjoyed Freakonomics, as it provided a much more interesting look at the world. But I’m quite sad that Dubner posted this Chewbacca argument on local foods. Some how, the fact that he can’t make sherbert effectively, means that local foods don’t make sense.

The logic is flawed all over the place. From the fact that “my sherbert sucked, so locally grown food definitely isn’t tasty”, to the complete gloss over on nutrition (which has a USDA study behind it), to using meat production cost vs. transportation to say that producing anything locally has the same balance (think for a second that most apples sold in NY state come from China, when one of NY’s big crop exports is apples). It’s really a hack all around. It’s pretty much the classic “I’m sounding really smart, so don’t actually try to follow my logic” kind of post.

While there are some good arguments against localization of food production, Dubner doesn’t actually state any of them. There is also an assumption that behavioral patterns don’t change when you start localizing your food, and that you are still buying tomatoes in the winter. That really isn’t true. Even going back to store bought lettuce in November was depressing, as it’s really that much worse. Nothing that’s supposed to have as much flavor as a tomato is even bearable off season.

I do realize he’s not actually the economist part of the team, he’s just the writer. But it would be nice if he did some actual research before posting stuff like this. It’s just embarrassing. 🙂