Want Some Cream and Sugar with that Coffee? Pay through the nose, thanks to the government

Legislators are currently trying
to overhaul two of the most bizarre and costly regulatory regimes in the
United States — the price support systems for milk and sugar. Unfortunately
a true free market in milk and sugar is unlikely anytime soon.

Milk prices are set by a complex
set of regional bureaucracies that regulate the price suppliers can pay
to farmers and that suppliers can charge the public. Since Wisconsin was
the center of the dairy industry when the current regulatory regimen was
enacted, the system is designed so the price of milk increases the further
away dairy producers are from Eau Claire, Wisconsin (imagine a regulatory
scheme for computers that cost PC prices to increase the further away
one went from Silicone Valley!)

Even with this system, however,
milk prices have been falling dramatically over the past few years, so
some politicians are finally talking about overhauling the system, albeit
at an extremely slow pace. Agricultural Secretary Dan Glickman earned
the wrath of Midwestern politicians when he suggested slightly lowering
the disparity of milk prices between the Midwest and the rest of the country.

Similarly, states outside
the Midwest are encountering opposition in their attempts to expand the
compact system which, convoluted as it is, would allow states outside
the Midwest to lower milk prices significantly.

What is not likely to go away
is the government price support programs that purchase excess milk and
dairy products from farmers. Although the program expires on December
31 it will almost certainly be reauthorized and perhaps find its funding
increased to compensate for the recent decline in milk prices.

Breaking the power of the
sugar lobby is even less likely but Rep. Dan Miller (R-Florida) and Sen.
Charles Schumer (D-New York) introduced bill in the House and Senate respectively
to phase out the federal price support program for sugar.

While sugar sells for about
5 cents a pound on the world market, in the United States sugar costs
22 cents a pound thanks to the government-imposed price floor. The total
cost to American consumers from the higher sugar prices is about $1.2
billion each year according to Tom Schatz of the Council for Citizens
Against Government Waste.

Jack Ramey of the American
Sugar Alliance had a different take on the proposed phase out, arguing
that “what they’re doing is kicking American farmers when they’re down”
— as opposed to the sugar industry which kicks the American consumer
in both good times and bad.

The sugar price support system
should be phased out and the sooner the better.

Attack of the NBC Luddites

Future histories
of the 20th century will have to devote significant space to
explaining one overwhelming influence of the last 100 years — the use
of technology to increasingly raise the living standards of human beings.
The application of reason and science to human problems produced marvels
undreamed of in prior centuries. Thanks to advances in medicine, the annual
death rate declined enormously, leading to a population explosion unprecedented
in human history. Improvements in transportation, communication and other
technologies increased wealth and income to incredible levels and gave
people in many parts of the world more options than kings and queens of
prior eras enjoyed.

And what happened
in the 20th century is just the tip of the iceberg compared
to what’s likely to happen in the 21st century. A study by
the McKinsey Global Institute recently estimated that coming improvements
in information technology could increase productivity a whopping 27 percent.
After stagnating in the 1970s, the rate of productivity has been accelerating
from an average gain of 1 percent a year in the 1980s to 2 percent a year
in the 1990s.

Already technologies
that were once science fiction such as genetically engineering animals
to produce drugs and even replacement organs and tissues are now a reality
and will likely be common place by the middle of the next century. We
are riding the crest of one of the most amazing revolutions in human history.

Not everyone
shares this enthusiasm, however, and NBC talking head Tom Brokaw recently
joined that group of semi-intellectuals who regularly blame technology
for robbing people of their souls as well as causing practically every
bad thing that happened over the last 100 years. Speaking at the commencent
proceedings at the College of Santa Fe, Brokaw told the assembled students
that technology left an “ugly scar on the face of history.” Brokaw went
on to explain that “an ideology designed to empower the masses became
one of the most ruthless instruments of oppression. It is not enough to
wire the world if you short-circuit the soul. Technology without heart
is not enough.”

Is this in fact
true? Was technology really the primary tool of oppression in the 20th
century? On the one hand, of course, this is trivially true since everything
from knives to guns to books are all technologies that were utilized in
various means by oppressive governments. But Brokaw seems to be arguing
that 20th century technological improvements have been at the
root of oppression and this is a patently absurd idea. In fact one of
the many things that stands out about the various repressive regimes around
the world, whether they be Nazi Germany or Communist Cuba, is the extent
to which such governments did all they could to keep technological innovations
out of the hands of their citizens. North Korea, China, Vietnam
and other oppressive countries understand what Brokaw and others choose
to ignore — the main affect of technology in the 20th century
has been to liberate the masses and expand freedom.

Consider communication
technologies such as radio and television, which Western intellectuals
tend to deride and dismiss. Oppressive regimes of both the Left and the
Right have routinely nationalized radio and television stations and heavily
censored the information transmitted by such technologies. When they have
loosened those controls, such regimes often feel their full potential.
As Scott Shane notes in Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the
Soviet Union
, when Mikhail Gorbachev loosened controls on Soviet television
the result was an upsurge of thinly veiled anti-Soviet programs that eventually
led the Communists to attempt to reimpose censorship. But it was too late
— technology had already worked its subversive magic.

In fact the Soviet
Union is a paradigm of the liberating value of technology. As Shane points
out, the USSR actually required photocopiers and paper to be registered
with the state in an attempt to prevent the illicit copying of books banned
by the Soviet state. Nonetheless a thriving black-market in photocopied
manuscripts survived and numerous dissident commentaries were reproduced
and covertly distributed thanks to a technology most of us in the United
States take for granted.

That is
the real story — it is not the embracing of technology in the 20th
century but authoritarian governments often successful attempts keeping
technology out of the hands of their citizens that has been partially
responsible for the great tragedies of the 20th century. If
the technology available in the West had been in the hands of those living
under dictatorial regimes, the history of the 20th century
would have been vastly different.

More disturbing
than Brokaw’s misrepresentation of the role of technology is the vision
that Brokaw would like the United States (and presumably the world) to
emulate — the era of the Great Depression and World War II.

       Now the people
who fought and defeated the Fascists during World War II certainly deserve
the respect and gratitude of people around the globe, but Brokaw’s vision
is more than just an acknowledgement of the debt we owe that generation.
Rather, it is part of an ongoing glamorization and glorification of the
hard, often desperate times that war and economic crises bring contrasted
with the supposed laziness and lack of unity that emerge during times
of peace and prosperity.

In Brokaw’s version
of history, the generation that came of age in the 1930s and the 1940s
was the greatest generation because America was united to fight the Great
Depression and World War II. Brokaw contrasts this with today’s social
climate in which “we have political leaders to eager to divide [people]
for their selfish ?? rather than unify [people]. We have a mass media
much too inclined to exploit these interests.”

In this very
New Age interpretation of the era, Americans came together as part of
some grand collective experience, thinking and acting as One rather than
as selfish private individuals. To Brokaw and others this was the height
of human history that was unfairly destroyed with the end of the war and
the post-war return to private (and hence) selfish concerns. Other intellectuals
have made similar arguments for the 1960s, missing the collective experience
they felt opposing the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights. The
mass media, in Brokaw’s world, was largely responsible for this by appealing
to our crass interest to improve our own lives and the lives of our immediate
families and circle of friends rather than continuing with the ethic of
constantly sacrificing ourselves and engaging in personal denial to serve
some greater cause.

For Brokaw and
others the privation felt during World War II such as rationing of food
or energy was not a temporary hardship to be endured while facing a global
crisis but a mystical experience that united a nation.

Federal Commission: Stop Gambling By Gutting Americans’ Freedoms

       For the last two years the
National Gambling Impact Study Commission has been studying gambling and
recently began approving recommendations to send to Congress to increase
the regulation of gambling, all of which boil down to one simple proposition
— the only way to reduce gambling is to reduce people’s freedom.

       Among the recommendations
the commission will make include:

  • Establishing a minimum gambling age of 21 for all gambling, including
    state lotteries (the current minimum age in most states is 18)

  • Create a general ban on so-called “cruises to nowhere,” in which people
    board a cruise ship which leaves U.S. territorial waters long enough
    for gambling and then returns to port, unless specifically authorized
    by the state the cruise departs from.

  • Require governments to create “gambling impact statements” before
    approving any new casinos, lotteries, betting establishments, etc.

  • Ban donations from the gambling industry to political campaigns –
    this is modeled on a New Jersey law which bans donations from the gambling
    industry to state campaigns

  • Ban all gambling on collegiate sports

       The bottom line, of course,
is that a lot of people like to gamble — even my 80-year old grandmother
plays the state lottery (which in Michigan and other states funds public
schools) — and the only way to stop gambling is to impose draconian restrictions
on individuals’ ability to choose to gamble.

       Some of these restrictions
would place severe limits on people’s liberty. Consider the recommendation
to ban contributions from the gambling industry. The New Jersey ban that
the Commission wants emulated bans political contributions not only from
casino companies but from their employees and “agents” as well. This simply
cuts people out of an important part of the political process simply because
they work at a casino rather than an engineering firm or a restaurant
or other business; firms which often also try to influence the political
process with campaign donations.

       Similarly the ban on “cruises
to nowhere” would represent a serious limit on Americans’ ability to freely
travel wherever they wish. This is the sort of restriction one would expect
from a two-bit Third World dictatorship rather than a nation founded on
the principle of individual liberty.

       Moreover, rather than reducing
gambling activity, the proposed laws would simply drive more gambling
to the illegitimate criminal enterprises responsible from much of the
corruption and crime the Commission nominally wants to prevent.

       Rather than create more regulatory
barriers to legitimate gambling establishments, the best outcome would
be to remove the mass of counter-productive regulations and bans on the
activities of the gambling industry. Eliminating existing regulations
on gambling would bring even more gambling activity to legitimate businesses
thereby reducing its attendant corruption and crime.

The Power to Regulate Is the Power to Destroy

For decades free market
advocates argued that the runaway regulatory state threatened people’s
freedom by excessively regulating almost every aspect of life. And for
years liberals and those on the Left generally dismissed such concerns
as mere pro-business propaganda. Now, though, conservative pro-life legislators
are turning the tables and it is the liberals turn to preach against noxious
regulations.

So far this year more than
a dozen bills have been introduced in state legislatures seeking to apply
the sort of excessively detailed, hard-to-comply-with regulations that
apply to most businesses to abortion clinics . According to the Center
for Reproductive Law and Policy, laws creating new regulations and reporting
requirements for abortion clinics were introduced in Arizona, Arkansas,
California, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska,
Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. What sort of regulations would these bills
create?

In February, Louisiana Gov.
Mike Foster called for unannounced inspections of abortion clinics following
a television report on unsanitary conditions at a Baton Rouge abortion
clinic. Some of the bills attempt to specify rules for lawn care the abortion
clinics must follow while others dictate the widths of doors or set minimum
staffing requirements that would be very expensive for most clinics to
meet. Additionally almost all of the bills add numerous additional reporting
procedures.

The Family Research Council,
a pro-life group, acted as if it was under the influence of Ralph Nader
earlier in the year when it called for Congress to hold public hearings
on the safety of abortions. The Family Research Council also wants abortion
clinics to keep better post-operation track of women who have abortions.
This despite the fact that only 0.3 women die per 100,000 abortion procedures
and the risk of major complications for abortion procedures is less than
one percent according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. How long will it
be until the conservative FRC demands a national registry of women receiving
abortion services?

As CPRLP staff attorney Bonnie
Scott Jones summed up the real purpose of the regulations: “This is clearly
a way to very seriously hinder women’s access to abortion by imposing
laws that on the surface seem innocuous.” Those last two words “seems
innocuous” highlights the problem that liberals will face defending clinics
from onerous regulation. For decades consumer advocates have essentially
told the American people that all regulation is “innocuous” and those
who oppose such regulations are motivated by greed and a coarse attitude
toward the safety, health or happiness of others. Now conservative pro-life
groups have come up with a method to use that weapon against abortion
clinics.

And the pro-life groups using
this tact should be ashamed. The FRC joins a long list of groups such
as Common Cause that, when it was unable to convince people based on the
merits of the argument, turned to the heavy hand of government regulation
to enforce its will and restrict choice for others.

Hounding to death a legitimate
business through execessive regulation is never admirable whether done
for a liberal or conservative cause.

Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic Calls It Quits

Gary Francione recently announced
that the |Animal Rights Law Clinic| would be shutting its doors. Although
Francione says he remains committed to the animal rights cause and will
continue to work and speak on animal rights-related issues, Francione
cited the difficulties in running a law clinic along with changes in the
animal rights movement for his decision to close the clinic.

On the latter claim, Francione
wrote in a prepared statement that:

…the American animal rights movement has collapsed and has embraced
a welfarist ideology in which I have no intellectual or professional interest.
I openly (and quite happily) acknowledge that my views are out of step
with a “movement” many of whose leaders and members are not even vegans
or vegetarians, and that seeks primarily to make animal use and treatment
more “humane” … if the “movement” does not embrace as part of its baseline
ideology that the property status of animals is morally indefensible,
then it seems unlikely that the legal system, which has also become more
conservative over the past decade, will conclude otherwise.

On the problems involved
in maintaining the law clinic, Francione complained, “The burden is
exacerbated in these reactionary times as I am forced to waste more and
more time responding to the efforts of animal exploitation organizations
and conservative legislators who do not believe that a state university
ought to have such a Clinic.”

Being one of those people
who questions whether a state university should have such a clinic, it is
good to see pressure against animal rights activists paying off (and legitimate
pressure at that, as opposed to the threats and acts of violence favored
or condoned by so many in the animal rights movement).

On the other, hand Francione’s
claim that the animal rights movement has become a bunch of wishy washy
animal welfarists does not seem to square with recent events. On the one
hand, of course, the most successful animal organizations have always
been (or at least been perceived as) welfarist organizations. But this
has not stopped the most vocal and most fanatical of the strictly rightist
groups from intensifying their activities. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is certainly as strong
as ever, and Animal Liberation Front activity seems to be on the upswing
with the widespread attacks on fur farms and the recent attack at the
University of Minnesota.

If Francione’s view were correct,
it would certainly be something to celebrate but I think he is being a
bit premature in declaring that the animal rights movement in America
has “collapsed.”

Jacques Ferber, Inc., Files RICO Lawsuit Against Animal Rights Groups

Jacques Ferber, Inc., a Philadelphia
furrier, recently filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, the Animal Defense League, and Vegan Resistance for Liberation charging the groups with illegally conspiring to shut down
the furrier.

In its lawsuit, Jacques Ferber,
Inc., maintains that the furrier has been the subject of weekly protests
since 1995 by the three groups. Ferber maintains the protests have escalated
to a campaign of vandalism including incidents where windows have been
smashed, the store’s doors glued shut, and its customers and employees
threatened and harassed.

Ferber’s lawyer, Bruce E.
Rodger, also outlined several other actionable incidents including the
printing of “wanted” posters that depicted a Ferber principal with the
text “Wanted for Murder” and “Considered Extremely Violent.”

John Paul Goodwin, executive
director of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, told the Philadelphia
Intelligence
that the suit under the |Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization| statute was a threat to
civil liberties. Goodwin also predicted Ferber would be unable to prove
the charges saying, “The fact is they don’t know who’s doing that. Any
lawsuit that says the (the individuals named in the suit) did is grossly
inaccurate.”

Whether or not RICO lawsuits
threaten fundamental civil liberties is still a hotly debated question,
although the Supreme Court so far has upheld civil lawsuits under RICO
(for the record, I think at a minimum the RICO statute needs some additional
clarification or it could just as easily snag anti-animal rights groups
as it will pro-animal rights groups).

As for the factual requirements
under RICO, however, they are rather minimal. Goodwin is mistaken if he believes
that in order for Ferber to win it must show that the defendants committed
specific illegal acts. In fact, if the precedents from the recent RICO
suits against pro-life groups apply here, all Ferber will need to show
is that the groups named in the lawsuit engaged in an organized way in
advocating or aiding the harassment or vandalism.

The recent verdict against
a pro-life web site that displayed “wanted” posters of doctors who performed
abortions, for example, found that the mere online posting or physical
distribution of such a poster could constitute an actionable act under
RICO. So could speech that merely suggested or described the creation
of such posters.

Similarly, even if none of
the three groups had members who participated in the vandalism, if it
can be shown that any of the three groups held strategy meetings at which
any of the vandals did attend, the groups might be liable.

Realistically a lot depends
on how the animal rights activists and the furrier are perceived by a
jury. Clearly, for whatever reason, the pro-life activists were seen as
very unsympathetic by juries, especially in light of the spate of physical
violence up to and including murder perpetrated by some fanatical pro-lifers.
Whether a jury will see animal rights activists as more like the pro-life
movement or more like the civil rights movement (albeit misguided) remains
to be seen.

Clearly a suit like this has
the best chance of winning if it were filed by a research institute against
groups that advocate or condone acts of violence against important medical
research. Unlike furriers, which many Americans seem ambivalent toward,
medical research still continues to enjoy a lot of support. Besides which
almost all Americans, and certainly every member of any conceivable jury,
would have benefited directly from medical research. It is hard to imagine
those who would condone or advocate for “direct action” against medical
facilities would be the receive much sympathy from a jury considering
a RICO charge.