Tags: National Debt

Regulate Food With Markets, Not USDA

Friday, 22 May 2015 04:54 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Just think how popular you could be with the American public if your job consisted of giving away other people’s money with no strings attached. The fact the technique has failed to work for Hillary Clinton is not deterring other members of the political class.

More likeable Democrats have built an entire governing and electing system around the practice, beginning with the administration of FDR. The truly amazing result is that the loyalty of the subsidized class, and its cheerleaders, is strong enough to completely drown out complaints about the cost and negative impact on the rest of the country.

Take agriculture and the USDA for example. Democrats locked up farm state voting support for decades by the simple technique of making consumers pay twice for food: First with tax dollar subsidies to farmers, followed by paying again at the grocery store.

This will come as a shock to those who grew up in today’s government handout culture, but up until 1929 farmers grew crops for free. From the dawn of history landowners paid out of their own pocket to grow crops and then attempted to recoup their investment by selling the excess to consumers.

No government necessary. And yet this lack of meddling, top down experts didn’t result in mass starvation and death. Now we have the USDA essentially paying people to grow food and paying other people to eat it, all at incredible taxpayer expense.

A General Accounting Office report reveals the agriculture consumption programs don’t make any measurable sense, but that’s okay because the USDA’s production programs don’t make sense either.

Two stories from the ever–vigilant Washington Beacon have helped to move the USDA to the top of my list of cabinet departments to abolish in the event we ever elect a conservative president with courage. (If you’re interested in more USDA horror stories they can be found here and here.)

Elizabeth Harrington reports the feds spent $100 billion on food assistance to Americans, yet has no idea if the programs are effective. Part of the problem is how to define “effective.” The USDA would like to count bites chewed.

And it contends that if America’s bar ditches aren’t filled with bodies of the starving, the program is a success. While the Government Accounting Office wonders if having the most obese “poor” people in the world is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

Currently three federal agencies “manage” 18 food assistance programs, with food stamps alone costing $74.6 billion. The GAO suggested USDA do an analysis to identify and remove programs that overlap.

The bureaucrats at the USDA didn’t ride into town on a turnip truck. They could see that suggestion had budget cut written all over it. Instead they did a study on “the impact of participation in multiple food assistance programs on the nutritional status of participants.”

The answer to that is obvious: Participants look like Shamu, but the budget at USDA remains untouched, which is a win for the bureaucrats.

While one part of the USDA is force–feeding America, another is teaching baby farmers how to walk. Excuse me, that’s “beginning” farmers how to grow. This is another Democratic innovation. There is no program for beginning software programmers or beginning construction companies or beginning landscape companies (unless you count Obama’s “Dreamer” initiative).

These relatively modern enterprises will have to get along on their own, while an ancient career that literally made modern society possible requires government intervention for continued success.

The USDA spent $4 billion on “beginning” farmers and ranchers in only two years, but the program has been operating for decades. If my calculations are correct, USDA started teaching people how to plant about the same time Willie Nelson’s awareness of agriculture progressed from buying marijuana to singing at Farm Aid concerts.

In 1982 the GAO strongly urged the department to analyze the effectiveness of the program. After 25 years of waiting for news from the sod–busting front, in 2008 Congress passed a law that demanded USDA measure the effectiveness of the program.

Evidently USDA budget warriors have less respect for Congress than most voters.
Five years later the department can’t even determine how one defines a “beginning” farmer, although it’s pretty sure a beginner is someone with no more than 10 years of experience and whose never watched The Real McCoys. For comparison purposes one can become a doctor in less time than it takes to graduate from the USDA’s incubator.

Progress on even minimal oversight continues at a plate tectonics pace. The longer USDA can continue comparing apples to oranges (both subsidized, by the way), the longer it can stall reasonable oversight.

The best solution is to abolish the department altogether. The market’s invisible hand does an excellent job of regulating agriculture and even better, it only charges taxpayers once for their food.

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The market’s invisible hand does an excellent job of regulating agriculture and even better, it only charges taxpayers once for their food.
National Debt
Friday, 22 May 2015 04:54 PM
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