LONDON, ENGLAND—There is a famous, possibly apocryphal story of a Russian official travelling to the U.K. sometime around the collapse of the Soviet Union, and asking the British economist Paul Seabright to explain who was in charge of London’s bread supply. Economists like this anecdote because it’s a clever way of illustrating the dazzling complexity of the free market. Obviously, no Westminster bureaucrat decides how much bread should be baked, but like magic, the laws of supply and demand ensure that grocery store shelves are piled high with a vast selection. But pulling back the curtain on this sleight of invisible hand reveals a dizzying array of subsidies, taxes, trade barriers, tariffs and regulations at all levels of government on the way from field to fork.
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