Unhealthy agricultural subsidies
On Wednesday night, PBS broadcast the P.O.V. (Point of View) documentary "Food, Inc.," and I caught most of the second half. Like Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle from a century ago, it is an expose of the unsavory and downright unhealthy ways that big meatpacking and poultry processing companies do business. See pbs.org. You could tell there was a not-too-subtle leftist bias from the rhetoric about "greedy corporations" (as if none of us are greedy), but for the most part their critique of public policies that encourage gigantic-scale agribusiness operations was on target. It is not a "free market" system, it is a heavily subsidized system that puts the public health at risk. If it weren't for the current polarized political climate, it wouldn't be too hard to mobilize a coalition of health-conscious people from the right and the left to push for reforming this country's agricultural policies.
I missed the part of the documentary with Michael Pollan, the author of the controversial book The Omnivore's Dilemma, but I did see and hear Joel Salatin, who operates the organic Polyface Farms just a few miles west of Staunton. He really knows how to butcher chickens, and he does it in the open air, where it's cleaner. He is acutely conscious of the uphill economic battle he is waging against an agricultural establishment that is propped up by artificial subsidies. You have to admire his visionary approach and hard work to change the way American farms are run. So, of course, I looked at the P.O.V. Facebook page, and entered the following comment:
Great documentary! If more people knew about the hormones and filth involved in producing meat and poultry in mega-facilities, they would be willing to pay the extra 25%-50% for locally-produced organic products. I was glad to see Joel Salatin on the show, as he farms in my area. What a visionary!
Crops subsidies rarely have the desired effect, and a lot of that money goes to corporate farms that don't need it. Sugar subsidies discriminate against exporting countries in the Caribbean. European countries waste huge amounts of money for farm subsidies, and there's no reason for us to emulate them.
Coincidentally, the issue of public subsidies came up on Facebook, as Shaun Kenney lamented how much it costs to take AMTRAK to Washington compared to a passenger automobile. This sparked a debate about whether it's appropriate for the Federal government to spend so much money to keep the trains running. My comments:
The eternal bugaboo of cost-benefit analyses is deciding which expenditures to include or exclude. If the cost of maintaining the U.S. military presence in the Middle East were included, the results would be drastically different. Does anyone think we could drive cars so cheaply if our troops weren't guarding the source of our energy? As good libertarians who favor a restrained foreign policy, Cato folks would probably be sympathetic to this implied value judgment.
BTW, I'm deeply conflicted on this issue. In general, I detest public subsidies, but I love trains!
But that's not the last word on subsidies!
Radio & TV subsidies
Just two days ago, I gave a cautious thumbs-up to subsidizing public broadcasting, which I believe does fulfill a vital public interest, much like public schools. (The way public schools are supposed to operate, that is.) Yesterday, fortunately, the Virginia General Assembly voted to reject the cuts in state funding for public television and radio which Gov. McDonnell had proposed in a budget amendment. See the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Shad Planking 2010
Once again, other obligations prevented me from participating, but Republican blogger Steve Kijak was at this year's Shad Planking political schmooze-fest in Wakefield, Virginia, and has a boatload of photos. Maybe next year...