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Jewish World Review
Dec. 13, 2006
/ 22 Kislev, 5767
Lobbying and the way the world works
So reads the headline over a story on the front page of Sunday's Washington Post. It's well done, too, as one would expect from the lead reporter, Dan Morgan. It's about a Dutch-American farmer who figured out how to produce milk outside the federal subsidy system so as to undersell producers who are part of the subsidy system.
So what happened? The subsidized farmers got Congress to pass a law stopping the independent. There's a lot of emphasis on the campaign contributions of those doing the lobbying. And it notes that one of the leading members pushing the change in the law was Rep. Devin Nunes, from the No. 1 dairy-producing district in the nation, whose grandfather started a dairy business still owned by the family. That district, by the way, is not in Wisconsin or Vermont. It's near the southern end of the Central Valley of California, the milkshed of greater Los Angeles.
I suppose the reaction of many readers will be: We've got to stop these lobbyists from affecting legislation; we've got to stop them giving campaign contributions; we've got to stop members like Nunes from aiding their own economic interest. The problem is that lobbying is and campaign contributions should be protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Yes, I know, the Supreme Court has upheld some restrictions on campaign contributions, and Congress attempts in various ways to restrict lobbying. But free people are going to want to affect the outcome of elections. And free people with an economic interest in government action are going to try to affect that action. You can attack Nunes for his ties to the dairy industry. But given that his district is the No. 1 dairy district in the country, I imagine he would be only pleased if you did so. Bring it on!
The problem here is not free people; the problem is big government. More specifically, it's a big government program set up during the New Deal whose purpose was not to stimulate economic growth and competition but to freeze the economy in place and stifle competition. Remember that the New Dealers believed that the Depression showed that free markets don't work and that economic growth was a mirage.
Franklin Roosevelt on taking office in March 1933 faced a deflationary downward spiral, and, to his credit, he stopped its momentum with an otherwise cockamamie scheme called the National Recovery Act, which set up 700-some industry codes barring price and wage cuts. NRA was foundering in May 1935, since it was obvious that everyone was gaming this ridiculous system, and Congress was uncertain to reauthorize it when the Supreme Court unanimously declared it unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, Congress kept passing freeze-the-economy-in-place legislation, including the dairy provisions of the farm bill. One in four Americans then lived on farms; they were a big constituency, and they were hurting. Things are different now. Only 2 percent of Americans live on farms. Our economy grows and grows and grows, and we realize, thanks in large part to the late Milton Friedman, that the Depression resulted not from the inevitable defects of free markets but from certain specific policy mistakes that we can, unless we take leave of our senses, refuse to remake.
But we've still got dairy price supports, which keep the price of milk well above what it would be if we had free markets. The people who benefit from these laws will, as the Post shows, work hard to defend them. And those people include not only dairy farmers but also trade association executives and lobbyists who are very well paid out of the money extracted by the system from milk consumers-a group tilted toward young families with small children, a group with very little wealth and tending to have below-average incomes. That's big government for you.
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The New Americans
Now, more than ever, the melting pot must be used to keep America great. Barone attacks multiculturalism and anti-American apologists--but he also rejects proposals for building a wall to keep immigrants out, or rounding up millions of illegals to send back home. Rather, the melting pot must be allowed to work (as it has for centuries) to teach new Americans the values, history, and unique spirit of America so they, too, can enjoy the American dream.. Sales help fund JWR.
JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report. Comment by clicking here.
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