Saturday, October 01, 2005

Helping Big Business

It's easy to point out the obvious case of government conducting charity, i.e. helping the 'underprivileged' at the expense of the 'privileged.' With as much self-righteous indignation as they can muster, politicians make their caring, charitable nature (with other people's money) as much of a public display as possible. It is also pretty easy to criticize this form of government intervention as a matter of principle, at the risk of appearing to be unsympathetic to the plight of the underprivileged.

However, it takes far more sophistication to decipher government intervention that helps the 'privileged' at the expense of the 'underprivileged.' Such intervention is far more subtle. Politicians do not engage in the same self-righteous public display of this behavior. Instead, they cloak their intentions in the titles "consumer advocacy," "protecting Americans," and making information available "for the public good."

The USDA's National Animal Identification System follows the usual consumer advocacy/protection defense, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. The USDA website touts it as, "a national program intended to identify specific animals in the United States and record their movement over their lifespans. It is being developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and State agencies—in cooperation with industry—to enable 48-hour traceback of the movements of any diseased or exposed animal. This will help to ensure rapid disease containment and maximum protection of America's animals."

Note the phrase, "in cooperation with industry," contained in the above quote. Ironically, they present it as though 'industry' normally would not cooperate with such requirements. However, it is 'industry' that supports it the most! What better way to put your competition out of business than to raise its cost enough so that it goes into another business altogether?

Read this article at National Hog Farmer. To summarize the conclusion: because the NAIS would "boost consumer confidence" in meat quality, it should be adopted. But how much "consumer confidence" is enough? According to the article, consumer confidence (according to a survey, the reliability of which I discussed previously), would rise from 6.5 to 7.4 on a scale of 1-10. Sure it would -- but at what cost? We could raise consumer confidence by having veterinarians inspect each animal every day. We could house animals in immaculate facilities and feed them only certified organic vegetables. We could hire personal trainers for them so that each animal had the proper amount of exercise. I'd be pretty confident that the meat that was produced was completely healthy. I'm also pretty confident I wouldn't be able to afford to have my filet mignon quite so often either.

This is why industry must go to government to mandate higher quality. Consumers such as myself are not willing to pay for it. But government, on the other hand, can forcibly take consumers' money to pay for programs such as the NAIS.

The NAIS doesn't make me better off. It does not make the small farmers or the people who raise animals for themselves better off. Politicians, catering to the special interests of large industries, make 'industry' better off at our expense.

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