Secretary of Food

Now usually I am against any type of change for bureaucracy unless it is eliminating them. This is because their budget incentives are not like to save and make a profit like business. Instead, they must spend as much money as possible so that they will not lose their funding. Nicholas Kristof in the International Herald Tribune makes a good case for a change, here:

“As Barack Obama ponders whom to pick as agriculture secretary, he should reframe the question. What he needs is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed “secretary of food.”

A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.

“We’re subsidizing the least healthy calories in the supermarket – high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil, and we’re doing very little for farmers trying to grow real food,” notes Michael Pollan, author of such books as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food.”

This is not unlike what will happen if we subsidize the car industry. When the government grants protection to an industry they do not need to listen to demand as much. For example, farms do not need to make more healthy foods even if people are demanding them. Instead, they make the cheapest food and rake in the big bucks. They know whether they grow things with crazy pesticides, it will not matter because they will get there money at the end of the year. When it comes to the auto industry, they will have no incentive to continue with their costly hybrids in the same way.

Some may then argue let’s hold them hostage and tell them to only make organic food or we will not give them their money. This also is a bad idea because maybe the pesticides are not that “crazy” or that people prefer it. The consumers have sovereignty and if you allow them to demand what they want. We will get the right amount of organic and non-organic food.

Funny part of this article:

“One measure of the absurdity of the system: Every year the American taxpayer sends me a check for $588 in exchange for me not growing crops on timberland I own in Oregon (I forward the money to a charity). That’s right. The Agriculture Department pays a New York journalist not to grow crops in a forest in Oregon.”

Of course, this author continues to complain that we are subsidizing fatty foods. When really the problem is the subsidy itself.

The rest of the article is here.


Published in: on December 12, 2008 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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