Sugar Racket’s Business as Usual

With sugar prices falling 18 percent since October, Yahoo! Finance is reporting that the federal government is in the works to intensify the welfare for the sugary industry.

The subsidy program was engineered, along with other corporatist protectionism, during the hay day of the New Deal. Sugar trade restrictions already double the price of sugar in America. It’s done for the alleged benefit of supporting American workers, but it costs consumers approximately $826,000 for every job subsidized, according to the Department of Commerce [PDF].

The sugar racket’s special interest pleading costs thousands of candy manufacturing jobs and leads to the overuse of farm lands. That means people’s ability to afford natural sweeteners faces additional challenges and farmers in developing nations struggle to compete in foreign markets. Abstruse control structures condense inscrutable power. Public choice theory would predict as much.

Understanding the Moral Rationalization for Foreign Interventions

Sen. John McCain in Afghanistan

Brian Larson of the American Conservative magazine dug up an old profile of Sen. John McCain’s stance on the use of military force abroad. The context is different, but the principle is the same used for the domestic intervention into the lives of Americans. It highlights a reason why the scope of government power continues to expand.

Quoting Justin Logan of the Cato Institute, “while most politicians looked at injustice in a foreign land and asked, “Why intervene?” McCain seemed to look at that same injustice and ask himself, ‘Why not?’”

McCain’s attitude reflects the dominant cultural attitude to accept the moral argument that we owe our lives to others, that our lives only have meaning to the extent that someone sacrifices for another. If you have the ability to stop an injustice, you have a duty to act, not because the person in danger is of any importance to you, but because your life is to be of benefit to anyone but yourself.

This idea is exemplified by McCain’s notion that we must have reasons not to go searching for monsters to destroy. To do anything less would be immoral, supposedly.

The Unemployment Rate and the Meaning of Society

Robert Reich

Robert Reich (Photo credit: victoriabernal)

Robert Reich calls raising the federal minimum wage “a no-brainer,” as he indicates that states with a higher minimum wage rate than the federal law don’t endure higher unemployment rates. He didn’t cite a specific source to validate that conclusion, so I can’t speak to that.

But implicitly granting that what the former labor secretary said is correct, there are some reasons to think why the unemployment rate might not change as conventionally expected if the minimum wage rate were raised. One reason could be that since the unemployment rate is measured by how many people are actively looking for work, if a relatively high minimum wage decreases the opportunities for work, people might become discouraged and just stop searching, lowering the unemployment rate. It might also be the case that increasing the minimum wage would encourage unemployed people, like teens or retired folks wanting a supplemental income, to look for work when they otherwise wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Another consideration is that states with higher minimum wages might also have higher standards of living, so a higher wage rate wouldn’t impact as many lines of work.

My point is that, contrary to Reich’s suggestion, we can’t just look at the statistical evidence and glean a policy proposal, let alone determine what the goals of that proposal should be.

Reich thinks that “Every society must necessarily decide for itself what decency requires. That’s the very meaning of a ‘society.’ ” But it’s not society deciding anything (at least not anymore than a market deciding anything). It’s individuals and voluntary associations of people thinking and acting, sometimes with conflicting purposes. At a minimum, a decent and morally just society is a free society. For people to behave decently and justly, they must be free to act on their own judgments for their decisions to have moral significance. For example, parents jailed for abusing their children wouldn’t deserve praise for not issuing beatings while locked behind bars.

Prospective central planners are prone to ignore that people should have the right to choose for themselves what at decent society looks and feels like.

If it’s we who are the government, as Reich refrains, why do we get so many policies that we don’t like, such as prolonged foreign conflicts, backward social agendas, drug war raids, restrictions on labor organizing, immigration controls, and invasive surveillance of people’s personal lives? Perhaps the expression that we are the government is not meant to hint that we can control the government as much as it is a psychological necessity to identify with abusers, to condone their actions, and — if called — to celebrate their oppression.

Progressive Against Progress

Robert Reich

Robert Reich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The future has the potential to be extraordinary. With technological progress in the area of 3D printers, robotics and computers, the standard of living for ordinary people could rise beyond any limit imaginable. But to ask former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, we should worry that these advances could reduce employment opportunities for people. He asks “who is going to buy that stuff” when production can be accomplished without the need of top-heavy, centralized manufacturing.

What Reich doesn’t appreciate is that, with labor-saving technologies, people will be employed to produce those things that there weren’t enough resources beforehand to produce economically, and we will be wealthier for it. Freeing up resources, like labor, makes it possible to produce more of the existing goods or services and to add to the catalog of products available. There can be short-term challenges to advances (as nothing is costless), but we experience more wealth, leisure and product diversity because of these inventions and the freedom to use them.