Thursday, February 14, 2008

Government Regulation Gone Amuck, Three Examples in One Day, No. 6: Farming

6. Farming. Due to high prices, food producers are going to ask the government's help to "allow" (?) farmers to increase production of wheat and other grains, according to this article at the Wall Street Journal, written by Lauren Etter and David Kesmodel.

This example is a regulation comedy in reverse.

Everyone knows that a rise in prices causes production to go up, and prices for grains have more than doubled in the past months. Yet farmers are having to beg the government on bended knee for permission to cultivate more food.

How could this be? What is preventing them, you ask?

Did you know that farmers are required by contracts they signed with the government to hold quite a bit of their land idle "to preserve wildlife habitats under an effort called the Conservation Reserve Program"? The Endangered Species Act literally confiscates land from farmers without compensation.

Government officials must have assumed that there would never be a need for more grain, so to protect the habitat of certain animals they forced the farmers not to cultivate on some of their land.

[Thanks to for the image.]

Conservationists and environmentalists will applaud. However, they forget two things. First, as economist Richard L. Stroup has demonstrated, these laws backfire, because when a farmer sees a spotted owl on their land, they quickly destroy the habitat so that the animal goes away before anyone sees it.

Second, our kind-hearted brethren forget that the result of having less land to farm is that poorer people in other nations will have either to fork up more money (and they already have very, very little) or go without grain foods altogether, some of them to the point of malnutrition or worse.

Marie Antoinette's descendant might answer, "No bread? Let them eat meat." But remember, that attitude is what started the heads rolling.

Do we really want our government and organizations like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever to be accomplices in international hunger? Isn't this the opposite of what philanthropists like Bono and Bill Gates have been trying to do?

* * *

In this and the last five posts, I have described a dangerous tendency in this country to call on Daddy Government at the slightest itch. Hopefully, these and other regulatory efforts will get nowhere; but if they do get anywhere, we voters will be one step closer to central planning.

If you haven't read Von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, please do it now. You can find a Reader's Digest excerpt here or a cartoon version here. You can also buy the original book at Amazon by clicking on the Amazon "Road to Serfdom" link to your right.

Hayek's book explains why these little baby steps towards bigger government must end eventually with a totalitarian state.

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Blogger Chip said...

There are plenty of criticisms that can be leveled at the CRP. Forced participation, however, is not one of them.

Farmers bid to participate. It's voluntary.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Katy said...

Thank you, Chip, for this comment, which has allowed me to clarify my statement. Is my new phrasing a more accurate description of the situation?

9:51 AM  
Blogger Chip said...

Only other thing I'd change is in the next paragraph.

The farmers are not "forced" they are "paid."

5:51 AM  
Blogger Katy said...

Chip, my understanding is that the farmers are indeed "forced" by the Endangered Species Act, without compensation as of February 2008.

9:25 AM  

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