Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

The cheapest food on the planet

Posted by Richard on July 6, 2012

Here’s something else from Mark J. Perry, the cockeyed optimist of the dismal science:

Relative to our total household spending, Americans have the cheapest food on the planet – only 6.6% of the average household budget goes to food consumed at home.  European countries like Spain, France and Norway spend twice that amount on food as a share of total expenditures, and consumers in countries like Turkey, China and Mexico spend three times as much of their budgets on food as Americans.

Another measure of food affordability, total food expenditures in the U.S. as a share of disposable income (see chart above, USDA data here), shows that food has become more affordable in the U.S. over time.  Spending on food has fallen from more than 25% of the average American’s income in 1933 to only 9.4% in 2010, an all-time low.  Between 1980 and 2010, the share of disposable income spent on food in the U.S. fell from 13.2% to 9.4%, which is equivalent to almost a 4% increase in the average American’s disposable income over the last 30 years.   And a number of countries in the list below spend more on food as a share of household expenditures today than Americans spent on food during the Great Depression.

Americans spend less on food as a share of our household expenditures than consumers anywhere else in the world.

Most goods and services have gotten cheaper, better, or both over time. It’s called progress. I can think of two main exceptions, which keep taking a larger and larger share of the average American’s income. Both are largely under the control of the government, with lots of regulations and subsidies (!): education and health care.

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The war on raw milk

Posted by Richard on March 13, 2012

In California, dairy farmer James Stewart is being prosecuted for selling unpasteurized milk to unsuspecting consumers. No, wait, I got that wrong. He sold it to consumers who eagerly sought him out and stood in line for the opportunity to buy it.

In France, you can buy raw, unpasteurized milk in vending machines, and Mark Perry noted the irony:

… We always hear about France being an example of heavy-handed government bureaucracy and “European-style socialism,” but that seems to more accurately describe California’s approach in this case while France takes the “laissez-faire” approach.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is putting pink slime in school lunches.

Because the government knows what’s best for us.

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Congress overrides veto of bloated farm bill

Posted by Richard on May 22, 2008

Yesterday, President Bush vetoed this year's 673-page, $300 billion* farm bill, which is even more of an abomination than most farm bills:

While it continues and, in some cases, expands traditional farm subsidies, the 673-page measure is stuffed with billions of dollars of new money for anti-hunger programs, conservation programs, fruit and vegetable growers and the biofuels industry.

"Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "People are not going to want to see their taxes increase."

She added, "Congress is asking families to pay more in subsidies to wealthy farmers at a time of record farm profits."

Not only that, but Congress is also paying farmers to keep land idle and to devote more of their acreage to corn for ethanol at a time of record commodity prices, rising grocery bills, and international warnings about hunger and famine. 

Nothing better exemplifies the hypocrisy and corruption in Congress than comparing their treatment of Big Oil — they grill energy company CEOs and self-righteously chide them for their record profits and tax breaks — versus their treatment of Big Agriculture — they lavish tens of billions in direct subsidies on ADM and its fellow feeders at the public trough (who are also making record profits).

The House overrode the veto within hours, and the Senate followed suit today. Both did so by lopsided margins — there's no shortage of Republicans eager to join the Democrats in keeping the pork projects and special interest subsidies flowing. 

But hold your horses! The current Congressional leadership is not only extremely liberal, it's also inept. The version of the bill that they sent to the President is different from the one they actually passed:

Due to a printing glitch, the version that Bush vetoed was missing 34 pages on international food aid and trade _ a mistake that may require Congress to send the White House yet another bill.

The printing error turned a triumphant political victory into a vexing embarrassment for Democrats.

The party's leaders in the House decided to pass the bill again, including the missing section in the version that Bush got. That vote was 306-110, again enough to override another veto from Bush should the need arise.

Democratic leadership aides said the Senate will deal with the problem when Congress returns in June from a one-week vacation.

House Republicans used the error to plead Democratic incompetence. They complained that Bush vetoed a different bill from the one Congress passed, raising questions that the eventual law would be unconstitutional.

Well, at least there were some Republicans who actually objected to both the bill and the travesty of a process. Most of them seem to have embraced bipartisanship. You remember what bipartisanship means, don't you? It's when the members of the stupid party and the evil party get together and do something that's both stupid and evil. 

* I've seen price tags ranging from $289 billion to $330 billion, apparently because of some sleight-of-hand and gimmickry in the bill that makes the actual cost hard to determine.

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The world that works

Posted by Richard on July 23, 2007

In just the last seven years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid over a billion dollars in farm subsidies to dead farmers, according to The Washington Post. That's apparently on top of the $15 billion in "wasteful or redundant spending" on farmers reported by WaPo last year.

Farm subsidies are a terrible idea, period. As Don Surber noted, they're bad for the environment, the Third World, and the economy:

Farm subsidies are a disaster. They artificially keep in farming people who do not need to be farming, which increases supply, which drives prices down, which increases the demand for subsidies.

But set that aside for the moment. For the short term, at least, we're stuck with this abomination of a program. Can't we at least run it with some minimal degree of competence?

Apparently not. Despite the fact that there's nearly a one-to-one relationship between farmers and USDA employees, the USDA said it was just too busy to look into the 40% of cases that weren't reviewed at all. The GAO offered a suggestion:

Making database checks against a list of people reported as dead to the Social Security Administration "to verify that an individual receiving farm payments has not died is a simple, cost-effective method," the GAO said. The Agriculture Department said it has asked all field offices to review the eligibility of estates and plans to begin conducting database checks

Yeah, I'm sure they'll get right on that and work through the backlog. According to the WaPo, it includes farmers who died in the 70s and 80s.  

The USDA is the poster child for the dysfunctional bureaucracies that Newt Gingrich calls "the world that fails." Today in Washington, Gingrich is presenting a briefing about how to change that:

I am inviting you to join me for a briefing on how we can make our government bureaucracies work more like UPS and FedEx and less like, well, bureaucracies.

Please join me on Monday, July 23, from Noon to 6:00pm (EDT) for a briefing on "From the World That Fails to the World That Works: The Coming Transformation of Government." The briefing will be at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. It will also be webcast at

If you can't join us on Monday, the briefing will be available for viewing anytime at

This is likely to be both informative and entertaining, as evidenced by the following 3-minute Gingrich video on the subject.

FedEx vs. Government Bureaucracy — Newt Gingrich 

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