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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5999/markets-in-some-things-not-others/

Markets in Some Things, Not Others

December 11, 2006 by

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a page-one story describing a milk producer’s campaign against the federal government’s milk cartel, which prevents more efficient producers from undercutting government-established prices. The tone of the Post’s article indicated disapproval of the cartel and approval of free-market competition. It’s amusing, therefore, to see the front page of today’s Post advocate precisely the opposite approach. This time, the subject is food safety, where the Post reports the nation is in crisis because there’s too much competition among regulators and not enough central planning. Citing recent bacteria infections of onions and spinach, the Post’s thesis is “The patchwork of federal and state regulations that is supposed to ensure food safety has become less effective as the nation’s produce supply has grown increasingly industrial.” The Post cites numerous self-regulation and private inspection services, but ultimately the solution is more government regulation. This despite the Post’s acknowledgment that “government rules can take years to put in place” and, what’s left unacknowledged, the fact that bacteria “outbreaks” occur in even in industries that are strictly regulated such as beef.

Most of the article is spent lamenting the lack of a single regulatory regime. Yet such a regime was the subject of the Post’s scorn not 24 hours ago. In the case of the milk cartel, it seemed obvious even to the Post that the government’s suppression of price competition harmed consumers. But when it comes to product safety, competition is supposedly the enemy. That’s impossible to reconcile. If the government is capable of designing an ideal standard of product safety, then it should also know what the correct price of said product is. Conversely, if the market is capable of determining the price of a good or service, it is also capable of providing product safety. Certainly, the market’s track record far exceeds the government’s in both areas.

{ 6 comments }

George Gaskell December 11, 2006 at 11:06 am

As I was reading the sordid line of Commerce Clause cases for the first time during my first year in law school, someone in the class noticed that a disproportionate number of the FDR-era price-fixing cases concerned milk. Why? No one knew. Maybe a powerful senator or congressman from a milk-producing region, with bribe-friendly constituents, was in office at that time.

Milk socialism essentially paved the way for the regulatory state as we know it today. And chickens. And wheat.

Aakash December 11, 2006 at 6:02 pm

Milk cartel… wow.

By the way, who here still drinks milk, anyway?

M E Hoffer December 11, 2006 at 7:44 pm

GG,

Forget the ‘Powerful apparatchik’ motif, and start thinking symbolism. The “Milk=’mouths of babes’” thoughtframe is powerful, both in its imagery and ease of use to manipulate the emotions of the circumspect.

M E Hoffer December 11, 2006 at 7:45 pm

“the less circumspect”

Michael A. Clem December 11, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Hey! I drink milk. Milk is also useful for baking, pudding, hot cereal, eggnog, banana shakes, and other fun stuff.
But I should think that a campaign based on the harm to the poor children and their families might be a good way to shake up the legislators, although one risks the possibility that they would come up with some goofy way of trying to get cheap milk to welfare beneficiaries and not really doing anything about the current system.

M E Hoffer December 11, 2006 at 9:03 pm

M A Clem,

You might want to take a longer walk around. The “Gov’t” has been giving away, especially to ‘low-income’ folk, Milk, and milk-based products, for many, many moons.

The DoA’s network of commodity, including Milk, storage facilities is one of big reasons the “Gov’t’ is the largest user of Electricity in the country.

I do think there’s an obvious rationale behing the apparent flip-flop seen in WaPo’s editorial opinion. The Milk ‘Industry’ is already highly regulated, has been for so long that the regs themselves are beginning to threaten the wholesale vitality of that business sector. A rollback, introducing some semblence of competition, is needed to save it.

On the other hand, fresh field produce is hardly regulated at all, thereby, a plot ripe for the growth of more ‘Gov’t’.

Remember, the WaPo isn’t called “the Company Paper” for nothing.

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