30
Aug
09

Backhanded surprises

Most of us have heard of the term “regulatory capture“: it’s the depressingly common phenomenon of state agencies favouring powerful special interests while claiming to serve the public good.  Farm subsidies are a common example: these bills are often sold as government interventions in a callous and destructive market to preserve good old-fashioned family farms or keep food prices reasonable, but end up favouring massive agricorps with legions of well-funded lobbyists or paying hog farms to slaughter 150,000 pigs to keep pork prices artificially high.

Perhaps a better example, in that it provokes a more viscerally satisfying cognitive dissonance when explained to anti-corporate state-interventionists, is the saga of Wal*Mart and minimum wage laws.  Since Wal*Mart generally pays its employees (somewhat) better than minimum wage, increases in the mandated minimum wage will only hurt its competitors — particularly the mythologized “small local businesses” beloved of said statists, which can’t take advantage of Wal*Mart’s strategies for reducing overhead and are often compelled to lower wages to compete.  This may lead a properly suspicious and appropriately cynical observer to wonder why Wal*Mart supports a health-care mandate.

Every once in a while, though, observers who expect to find this sort of straightforward incentive-based regulatory capture in market regulation are surprised.  Consider for example the pro-crotchfruit Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, rushed into legislation as a kneejerk reaction to teh ebil chemicalz found in children’s toys around Christmas 2008.  Under the CPSIA, children’s products must be tested for chemical innocuousness before they can legally be sold.  This imposes a significantly higher relative overhead on independent toymakers (like Santa Claus or craft carpenters in garage workshops) than it does upon large corporations like Mattel, so you’d expect Mattel to lobby for the CPSIA as written under the grounds of pious concern and watch its competition wither under regulatory load.

You’d be wrong, because you’d have been insufficiently cynical.

  • Wow. (The Agitator)

Toy-makers, clothing manufacturers and other companies selling products for young children are submitting samples to independent laboratories for safety tests. But the nation’s largest toy maker, Mattel, isn’t being required to do the same.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently, and quietly, granted Mattel’s request to use its own labs for testing that is required under a law Congress passed last summer in the wake of a rash of recalls of toys contaminated by lead. Six of those toys were produced by Fisher-Price.

That’s special. Read the whole thing.

Returning this post to its agricultural beginnings, we are pleased to discover that one of the world’s last Communist countries has finally realized what the rest of the fucking world knew for the last seventy goddamn years: rational self-interest makes better farmers than Party loyalty and ideological purity.

Looks like the kulaks are getting some of their land back:

Private farmers like [Alberto] Romero, who belongs to a 219-member cooperative near the eastern city of Holguin, were overshadowed for years by Cuba’s emphasis on large state farms. But the government recently began handing out idle state land to private farmers across the island in an effort to boost food production. “The government has put its faith in us, and we will show what we are capable of,” said Romero, whose 20-acre plot has been in his family for 103 years.

Further down the article, we come across this head-scratcher:

“The last 50 years have shown that private farmers are more socialist than the state. State farms are antisocialist. The only thing they socialized is loss-making,” said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a former state economic adviser who is now a vocal critic of the government.

Well, that explains the U.S. Farm Bill.  If state farms are antisocialist and private farmers are socialist, then we’d best nationalize the agricultural sector as quickly as we possibly can or risk turning into a bunch of pinkos.  Or something.

Sorry, the rich aroma of that steaming bullshit muddled my brains for a moment.  Let’s counter with some common-sense wisdom that, like most common-sense wisdom, is far from widely appreciated:

“The more independent you are, the more you push yourself,” [Javier Pérez] said. “Why work harder if you don’t get any benefit?”

Why indeed?


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