January 24, 2012

The Jan. 20 Metro article “District to propose zones for food trucks” was instructive. One quote in particular demonstrated just how little the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs understands what it imagines it can design: “It’s not a good idea to have 18 to 20 trucks on Farragut Square on Fridays. There’s just too much there,” said legislative affairs specialist Helder Gil.

The amount of food trucks at any given location is the outcome of a decentralized process involving the interaction of thousands of people. Each customer in the Farragut area chooses between bringing a lunch, eating at a restaurant, going hungry or patronizing a food truck.

This individual decision takes into account factors like convenience, price, location, variety, tastes and other preferences.

Each food truck operator chooses which type of food to make, in what quantity and at what price, and he or she chooses a location. The operators make these decisions based on the cost of inputs, the location of customers, competition from restaurants and other trucks, opportunity cost, and — unfortunately — the diktat of local bureaucrats.

The interaction of preferences, local knowledge and incentives brings together consumers and vendors at Farragut Square. Supplanting this process with central planning will inevitably result in unmet needs, and hungry District workers.

Michael Hamilton, Washington