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The Following Appeared In A Letter To The Editor Of A Batavia Newspaper - GRE Argument - With A Free Essay Review

Prompt: 'The following appeared in a letter to the editor of a Batavia newspaper. "The department of agriculture in Batavia reports that the number of dairy farms throughout the country is now 25 percent greater than it was 10 years ago. During this same time period, however, the price of milk at the local Excello Food Market has increased from $1.50 to over $3.00 per gallon. To prevent farmers from continuing to receive excessive profits on an apparently increased supply of milk, the Batavia government should begin to regulate retail milk prices. Such regulation is necessary to ensure fair prices for consumers." Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation is likely to have the predicted result. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.'

While it is indisputable that consumers deserve fair prices, the argument rests on questionable assumptions, suffers from vaguely-defined terms, and contains numerous logical flaws that make it impossible to validate this recommendation.

The speaker claims that the supply of milk has “apparently increased” but fails to provide any convincing evidence to prove it. The mere fact that the number of dairy farms throughout the country has increased by 25 percent throughout the last 10 years says nothing about the productivity of these farms, average size of the farm, and the overall supply of milk. It might be the case that the overall production of milk has actually decreased during these years. The argument could have been stronger had it provided reliable information concerning the volume of milk produced and consumed in the country. Even then, the speaker would have to further prove that supply of milk exceeds the demand. Otherwise, according to the law of supply and demand, rise in milk price could have resulted from the shortage of milk supply. Moreover, the argument doesn’t provide any information about the population of Batavia. It could have significantly increased during the last 10 years. It might even be the case that 10 years ago the ratio between the dairy farms and the population was much higher than now.

The argument goes on to contend that since the price of milk has increased at one particular market, the government of Batavia should introduce retail milk prices regulation. However, the speaker fails to provide any reliable information about milk prices in other stores and the average retail price of milk in Batavia. The price of milk could have risen at the local Excello Food Market only; consequently, there is no need to impose any price restrictions throughout the country. Moreover, we can not be sure that this particular store is supplied by the local farmers. It could import milk from New Zealand, in which case the store’s price has nothing to do with the Batavia farmers.

Even if this market is supplied by the local farmers, the price has doubled during 10 years. If it is a real world country there has to be a non-zero inflation rate. Let us assume that the average inflation rate has been 7 percent per year. Then the price of milk has adequately increased compared with the rate of inflation, which renders the conclusion, that Batavia farmers continue to receive excessive profits, invalid. While it might hold true that the price of milk has been steadily increasing during this time, it could also be the case that the price has been stable for all these years and has increased only recently. The only thing we know for sure is that 10 years ago the price of milk was 1,5 dollars per gallon and now it is 3 dollars per gallon. At the same time the speaker wants to “prevent farmers from continuing to receive excessive profits”. While it is a minor detail, the author fails to prove that farmers have been receiving excessive profits during this whole period of time. The price increase could have occurred yesterday and a citizen indignant at this increase has decided to write this letter.

Another thing to point out is that the argument confuses retail and wholesale prices. As we all know retail prices are established by stores and markets, and farmers are dealing with the wholesale prices. Even if we agree with the unwarranted assumption that the farmers do receive excessive profits (although this fact is not proved by any evidence), how can restrictions imposed on the retail prices prevent farmers from gaining this profit? Regulation of the retail milk prices will affect the stores’ profits only.

Finally, the author fails to prove that current prices are not fair; not to mention the fact that the term “fair price” is rather vague. Were there any complaints from customers? Is there any evidence that consumers find the current price unfair? The argument could be improved by proving that customers are unhappy with the current milk price and want it to be lowered. The author could carry out a survey concerning these questions.

The speaker’s contention that the Batavia government should introduce retail price restrictions in order to prevent farmers from receiving excessive profits and establishing fair prices for consumers is sadly misguided. Thus, the recommendation is not likely to have the predicted result. The argument could be improved by providing reliable information about the overall production and consumption of milk in Batavia, the average retail price of milk in the country, and the dynamics of the inflation rate throughout these years. The argument would also benefit from using more definite and clear language.


Essay Review

Your essay does quite a good job of identifying issues relevant to the task of critiquing the original argument, and you carry out that task elegantly and cogently. The only real problem here is that that is not quite the assigned task. Of course, it is close enough to the assigned task (i.e., the task of discussing the questions that would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation is likely to have the predicted result) that one might think the essay an adequate, albeit implicit, response to the assignment. I think you take an unnecessary risk, however, in not responding to that assignment directly. You evaluate the recommendation on the basis of your analysis of unwarranted assumptions; you need to evaluate it on the basis of your analysis of possible answers to relevant questions that you identify. In some cases there will be very little difference between the two tasks, but that's not a good reason for responding indirectly. So instead of saying, "it might be the case that the overall production of milk has actually decreased during these years," one could say, and should say, "the first question that needs to be asked is whether the supply of milk has actually increased, and whether it has increased relative to demand." Your second paragraph, as it stands, already explains why that is an important question to ask (so I’m not suggesting that you ought to scrap everything you’ve written). What you also need to do is explain the implications of the possible answer to that question directly. What if the answer is that supply has in fact outstripped demand? What would be the implication of that fact for the evaluation of the recommendation?

If you look through the list of GRE "analyze an argument" essay topics, you will see that sometimes you are asked to discuss assumptions, sometimes to discuss needed evidence, and sometimes to discuss relevant questions. The ETS folk obviously think of these as distinct tasks and expect different types of answers to different types of prompts, even if the tasks are often related (insofar as discussing a relevant question will often entail identifying an argument's assumptions, for example). Make sure you give the right type of answer for whatever prompt you encounter.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: elenad3d


Dear EJ,

Thank you so much for the review of my essay and for pointing out the flaws in addressing the assignment.

July,30 2012

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