Posts tagged with: mercantilism

Blog author: John MacDhubhain
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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Turns out that cronyism hits more than just your pocketbook. There’s a good chance it’s hitting your waistline too.

That’s the takeaway from this editorial by Charles Lane. You see, cheese is one of the highest fat foods we eat, and our country overproduces cheese because of government created market distortions.

Charles Lane points out how price supports for milk lead to an overproduction of milk. We have more milk than we would ever drink in its liquid form. So where does all the surplus go? It gets turned into butter and cheese. Basically, because milk is overproduced, the cost of producing other dairy products declines, lowering prices for consumers and increasing the amount of cheese that is consumed.

Which sounds great, until you remember we have an obesity problem in the United States. And the fact that farmers are already better off than most families. Price supports, subsidies, and quotas all represent market distortions that benefit the politically connected, rather than representing what the people that make up the market really want. I guess we can be thankful the milk is at least used for something, unlike other cases of government managed food policy.

The point is, if we find ourselves concerned that the American diet is contributing to obesity, maybe we should first stop subsidizing it? As Lane concludes in his opinion piece:

When you think about it, the whole trillion-dollar farm bill amounts to a vast federal subsidy to this country’s sugary, starchy, cheesy diet, filled out with grain-fed beef, pork and chicken.

I love candy, pizza and hamburgers as much as the next guy. I just don’t see why businesses that profit by supplying that diet deserve an advantage over potential innovators and competitors. Still less do I see why they should get that advantage at taxpayer expense.

Last week, PowerBlogger Andrew Knot and I wrote posts about American sugar policy and farm subsidies, respectively. Now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the Catholic Relief Services and National Catholic Rural Life Conference, have come out with a joint letter on the 2012 farm bill that just passed the Senate. Among other things, they urge Congress to reduce agricultural subsidies, and limiting crop insurance to small and medium sized farms.

In 2010, the government gave out $96 billion in farm subsidies. As I pointed out last week, the median farmer’s income is already 25 percent higher than the median American’s. Furthermore, most of the farm money is going to a small number of the farmers. Big farms tend to get a much larger share of the handout than small and medium sized farms do. American agricultural policies represent welfare and protectionism for the already well off.

The USCCB’s letter can be read here.

This morning I found that a commenter on my post about government failure in feeding the poor in India had complained that we should not trust “corporations who own the government.” I think this is a point worth further consideration. After all, I would argue that in the United States we have lousy agricultural policy. We essentially still have policies from the Great-Depression era aimed at manipulating prices, and business interests predictably engaging in a form of regulatory capture.

Jordan Ballor and Ray Nothstine wrote a good piece in Acton Commentary on the issue of agricultural policy here. I particularly like their discussion on Abraham Kuyper:

What the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper said of the manual laborers of the nineteenth century is equally true of agricultural workers in the twenty-first. “Unless you wish to undermine the position of the laboring class and destroy its natural resilience,” he warned, “the material assistance of the state should be confined to an absolute minimum. The continuing welfare of people and nation, including labor, lies only in powerful individual initiative.”

When you look at the numbers, the simple fact is that most of the farm subsidies are given to large farms, not the small farmer whose image is used by those lobbying for welfare.  I highly recommend Veronique de Rugy’s Washington Examiner op-ed on this issue. She points out that the median farming household earns a wage 25 percent higher than the median American household. Are these the people who need welfare? (more…)