Thursday, June 7, 2012

Corny Capitalism II

It was about a year ago that I published a post entitled Corny Capitalism, which discussed the advertising efforts of the Corn Farmer’s Coalition and other associations.  Their form of advertising is obviously not an effort to get people to buy their product.   Their target audience is not individual consumers, but rather elected and bureaucratic officials, with the hope of influencing law, policy or regulations to favor their industry.

Well, they are at it again.  Huge wall murals and floor decals are again gracing Washington’s Union Station and informing me and my  fellow commuters that:

  •  95% of all corn farms in America are family owned.
  • America’s corn farmers are by far the most productive in the world, growing 20% more corn per acre than any other nation.
  • An acre of corn removes 8 tons of harmful greenhouse gas, more than that produced by your car annually.  (Source: EPA)
  • America’s corn farmers exported $10 billion worth of corn last year – one of the few American products with a trade surplus. (Source: USDA)
  • More than 30% of U.S. farm operators are women. (Source: USDA)

And on and on it goes.  It kind of makes you want to go out and buy a bushel of corn, doesn’t it?  No, I don’t think that is their intent.  Their website makes it abundantly clear that the target audience is policy makers, not consumers of silver queen sweet corn in the summer time:

WASHINGTON, DC – The nation’s top crop and the farm families who grow it will return to the U.S. capital this summer for the fourth year in a row as part of the Corn Farmers Coalition educational program that debuts June 1, at Union Station, an important venue for reaching policymakers inside “The Beltway….
The Corn Farmers Coalition is launching its major advertising campaign by taking over every available ad space at Union Station. The effort will also put prominent facts about family farmers in Capitol Hill publications, radio, frequently used websites, and other Metro locations in June and July.

Again, if all these things are true about the industry in general and corn farmers in particular – and I am not suggesting they are not – then, wonderful!  Hooray for farmers as another example of a great American success story and positive contributor to our culture, economy and environment!  But the fact that their target audience is policy makers at the federal level suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong.

Why should corn farming and family farms be a concern or fall within the purview of federal policy makers?  It certainly was not the intention of the founding fathers when they drafted the Constitution, which gave only specific and enumerated powers to the federal government, and these definitely did not include passing laws or regulations having anything to do with farming, or any other industry for that matter. 

Just in case there was any doubt that the framers did not intend for the powers of Congress to go beyond those enumerated in Article I, the various states considered and passed ten amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, Amendment 10 stating specifically and without a hint of vagueness:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
In other words, the federal government in general and Congress in particular were to keep their nose out of people’s personal business or anything affecting their daily lives.  The founders envisioned a very small federal government, reserving most legislative powers to states and localities, which would be closer and more accountable to the people, who could in turn boot them out of office if they got out of line; and failing that, they could easily vote with their feet by moving to another state.

Alas, those days are gone now, and we have a behemoth federal government that has managed to find a way to regulate and intrude on some of the most intimate details of our lives. As the founders feared would happen despite their best efforts to avoid it, the size, scope and intrusiveness of the federal government has steadily grown over the years, and the states have become a mere appendage of the federal government.

The primary area where Congress has gotten its foot in the door is by abuse of Article I Section 8(c), which specified one of its enumerated powers “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”.  The intent of the clause was clearly to have a coherent, uniform and sound national policy to (1) regulate commerce with foreign nations, and determine the tariffs and regulations by which foreign nations would trade with the United States and (2) to keep individual U.S. states and territories from unduly interfering with free and open commerce across state lines.  There was nothing to suggest that the framers intended to give Congress the power to regulate individual industries and businesses.  In keeping with the tenth amendment, that would be the purview of the individual states where those industries were located.

But that is precisely what the federal government and Congress began to do, imperceptibly at first, but undergoing a major crescendo in the 20th century.  In keeping with today’s post, one of the major turning points had to do with agriculture—not so much corn, but wheat.  As I explained in a previous post,

The most infamous Supreme Court decision which opened the floodgates to the abuses of the interstate commerce clause was Wickard v. Filburn(1942). When a chicken farmer named Roscoe Filburn, had the audacity to grow more wheat than was allowed by federally imposed limits, he was ordered to pay a fine and destroy the excess amount of his wheat crop. Mr. Filburn took the government to court by claiming, quite sensibly, that the law was unconstitutional because he was using all of his wheat to feed his own chickens and was not selling any of it, and it certainly was not crossing state lines. Therefore the law went beyond the powers stated or implied by the interstate commerce clause. 
Unfortunately, in a classic case of twisted and tortured logic, the Supreme Court, feeling some very public threats and pressure from President Roosevelt (sound familiar?), ruled against Filburn, stating that the fact that he grew enough wheat to not have to purchase any on the open market somehow affected interstate commerce, so therefore Congress had the right to regulate how much wheat he was allowed to grow.

Since that infamous decision, there has been little or nothing that Congress or the federal government has not felt empowered to do, regulating any and every industry.  Now they have even attempted to  regulate our own individual healthcare decisions.  (We shall see later this month whether the Supreme Court finally says that the abuse of the commerce clause has gone too far, or whether they will use the same twisted logic of Wickard v. Filburn.)

But I digress.  I started out talking about a major symptom of the problem:  major industry and trade associations such as the Corn Farmers Coalition spending advertising dollars—not to promote their products, but to influence federal legislation and policy in areas that were never intended to be the business of the federal government.  The increased size, scope and intrusiveness of the federal government has not only  curtailed our individual freedom, but has fomented a cottage of industry of associations and lobbyists all lining up at the federal trough for subsidies or favorable treatment. The end result is that we no longer have a free market system, but rather corrupt, crony corny capitalism.

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