The Militant Libertarian

I'm pissed off and I'm a libertarian. What else you wanna know?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Revisiting America's Sugar and Corn Policies

by W.E. Messamore

With the recent news that US food companies are frantic about a looming sugar shortage, it's definitely time to revisit and rethink our entire sugar policy. It simply makes no sense. Not even a little. There is no good (non-lobbying) reason why the US should continue to impose quotas on the importation of sugar.

Restricting the sugar trade is an American tradition nearly as old as the Founding Fathers. Indeed, "The U.S. government has devotedly jacked up American sugar prices far above world market prices since the close of the War of 1812," writes James Bovard at the Future of Freedom Foundation in an article that chronicles the ugly history of sugar price and quantity fixing in America, concluding that, "Few cases better illustrate how trade policy can be completely immune to economic sense."

(Read here for an in-depth economic analysis that quantifies the effects of sugar quotas and their cost to the US economy.)

The fact is that capping the amount of sugar Americans are allowed to import is unambiguously pro (sugar) producer and unambiguously anti consumer (as well as anti producers-who-use-sugar like Hershey's or Coca-Cola). Why should sugar growers get legal benefits at the expense of other companies that are coerced into paying higher prices for the sugar they use, the employees of those companies who compete with raw materials for their wages, and the American consumers who are forced to buy goods at inflated prices from those companies?

Coupled with our absurd policy of subsidizing corn production, sugar quotas create even more problems for Americans. By giving subsidies to corn growers, the US government (aside from picking the taxpayer's pocket) artificially increases the quantity of corn produced and artificially decreases its price. Meanwhile, the quantity of cane sugar is forced down while its price is artificially increased. The result is that American companies use less natural cane sugar and more (of the less healthy) high fructose corn syrup to gratify America's notorious sweet tooth. Our sugar and corn policies work together to dramatically worsen the obesity epidemic. These policies are literally killing us.

The thing about these issues is that they aren't partisan issues. They're lobbying issues. Conservative Republicans should oppose these policies because they are an intrusion into the free market. Liberal Democrats should oppose these policies because they blatantly favor corporate special interests at the expense of workers, consumers, and farmers in developing and third world countries. Both sides must acknowledge the reality that these policies are making us fat and unhealthy- an important acknowledgment in a country scrambling for solutions to both its obesity problem and the associated soaring costs of health care.

The only people who have an interest in keeping these policies in place are American corn growers and American sugar growers. Why should the government buy them favors at the expense of other American companies and consumers? If you agree, please help promote this article on the Internet and feel free to leave comments about practical steps we can take to fix this problem. It would be really sweet if we could bring this matter to national attention and force an end to these twin policies in the year to come.

Got comments? Email me, dammit!
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