In Slayer’s song Blood Red, singer Tom Araya bellows forth a challenging and powerful lyric that cuts to the core of today’s debate between a managed, centralized economy and a free market system where the “invisible hand” balances the wants and needs of the consumer against the production capabilities of the market. When he shrieks “Honest validation of unfair cheese” at the 41 second mark of the song, it is clear that he is undercutting a basic free-market premise posited by thinkers the likes of Milton Friedman and Frederick Hayek. The words are enlightening and deeply meaningful, particularly for an electorate on the cusp of deciding what sort of financial decisions it plans to make as it marches forward into a new millennium.
In order to understand the meaning behind Araya’s lyric, it is first critical that we understand the meaning of “unfair cheese”. Nothing is more disappointing to a lover of cheese than when, upon returning from the supermarket, a shopper finds moldy, poorly preserved cheese in their bag. Who is supposed to ensure the consumer is safe from a flood of this “unfair cheese”? If the supermarket is left to its own devices, it might well sell all the out of date cheese it could possibly get away with. After all, as Buddy Holly said in his 1981 hit song “Who is watching the detectives?” In this case, maybe we need someone to even watch the people who are watching the detectives. Or, it is possible we may need to hire detectives to watch the detectives who are watching the detectives.
Back to the cheese thing. If it weren’t for the Better Food and Cheese Act of 1938, under the esteemed and underappreciated Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, humans would be consuming pounds upon pounds of rotting, vile cheese. The Act empowered the police to arrest and jail any store clerk found selling “unfair cheese” for a period no less than five years in prison. Higher quality cheeses began to appear. Productivity flourished. It was during this period that Gorgonzola cheese was first produced in a laboratory. It was originally meant to be used as a weapon against the Soviet Union, but later it became appreciated for its velvety texture and tangy flavor. In the preceding two hundred years, America’s cheese growers had not produced as much as a single new breed of cheese.
So, when Araya asks for “honest validation of unfair cheese”, he’s really questioning whether a purely free market can produce the quality goods needed in a modern economy. Sure, it’d be nice to believe that the market is such a perfect force that can correct itself and keep the desires of its members in line, but it’s this sort of utopian thinking that caused the Great Wall of China to fall in 1990.
We cannot simply rely on market forces to purify the market. Human nature tells us that humans, in a perfect state of nature, will do some really unnatural things. In short, only a neutral arbitrator with no stake in the outcome can possibly make decisions that protect the consumer.
Only when the positions of these regulators are depoliticized and not influenced by corporations or individuals with expensive cars will we truly see an “honest validation of unfair cheese”. Only then will children of all races and all creeds, of all nationalities and all socio-economic backgrounds, of all hair styles and all blood types be able to sit down at the table of friendship together and eat the same safe and healthy cheese. Only then will we truly be free.