Last night I ate at “Ted’s Montana Grill” located in the Arena district of Columbus. Ted’s is a small chain that has the very interesting tagline “Eat Great. Do Good.” The idea behind the restaurant is simple. To save buffalo and bison in the USA from extinction people need to eat them. By eating this relatively exotic food you are doing good for the world. I did my part by eating two bison burgers (medium rare) for dinner. The big question is can eating a burger (or two) help save the buffalo and bison?
The restaurant chain was created by Ted Turner, the media mogul who also created the giant cable stations CNN, TNT and TBS. Mr. Turner owns a ranch in Montana and loves watching buffalo and bison roam around his lands. He believes that if buffalo and bison aren’t protected then only a few of these majestic animals will be left in a few years. Buffalo and bison are expensive to feed and need a large amount of land to roam. Mr. Turner believes expensive, protected animals will only remain in zoos, national parks, and on the ranches of rich people who keep them around as novelties.
However, Mr. Turner believes if he can create a market where buffalo and bison are valuable as a food source for people then many ranchers will raise, feed and care for the majestic beasts, increasing their population over time.
Over two hundred years ago a famous French economist, Jean Baptiste Say, stated something similar. He formulated “Say’s Law” which is that supply creates its own demand. Say believed if factories hired workers to produce things (generate supply), then the workers would use their wages to purchase items such as what the factory produced. Simply paying workers to produce would generate enough demand to jump start the economy. Say’s law has been very controversial. Many economists do not believe it works. However, it still has an important impact on the world since many politicians believe in the law as a means of helping their country exit a recession or depression.
Ted Turner is clearly a believer in the converse of Say’s Law, which is “demand creates its own supply.” In Ted Turner’s mind the economics behind the restaurant is simple. If there is no demand for a product, there is no supply since it is unprofitable to ever raise buffalo or bison. Once there is some demand, supply will appear to handle this profitable enterprise.
Is Ted Turner right? The answer will not be known for many more years since it takes generations to change people’s eating habits. What I do know is that my bison burger was delicious and I will be back again for more.