Thursday, September 30, 2004
So here’s the deal: I write one measly article three years ago criticizing sugar import quotas, and suddenly I’m branded the resident subject matter expert by certain friends. But on the bright side, in this dubious role I recently stumbled across a little piece [hat tip: Jacob] that’s stirred up some of the old agitation that got me writing on sugar tariffs in the first place. Now I largely agree with Ben Muse’s position, and I’m not really bent out of shape by the unsurprising news brief he references from the International Sweetner Symposium. However, check out the website of the American Sugar Alliance, the primary lobbying body for the sugar industry. I couldn’t begin to fisk all the misconceptions advanced by this site… but for one brief paragraph I’ll certainly amuse myself by trying :)
First, I don’t see how arguing that protection should exist because of 372,000 sugar-related jobs is valid after saying that the growers, processors, and refiners directly represented totals 146,000. The remaining 226,000 must be highly indirect jobs who are either going to continue to rely on sugar at higher prices without protection (thereby not needing protection) or who are going to turn to a lower-cost alternative instead (thereby not needing protection). Now, let’s set aside for a moment the fact that inflating their scope of dependants essentially invalidates all their other statistics, and turn instead to the ridiculous statement that American consumers pay 22% less than “consumers in other developed countries”. Why are we concerned about only the price of sugar as compared to the few nations that are as senseless about protectionism as we are? I’d be far more concerned about the fact that we are boxing the most significant cash crop of many populous underdeveloped nations out of the primary market for sugar products with trade restrictions, which, by the way, results in a sugar price for domestic consumers that nearly triples the world price. I also like how the website implies that Americans producing 85% of their sugar domestically is a rationale for protectionism after it was protectionism that created such a high percentage in the first place. I could go on but the attacks would get increasingly bitter. Let me instead say that what disturbs me about the ASA isn’t the fact that they are a lobbying group — lobbying is commonplace and skilled lobbyists are capable of fantastic arguments — it’s that the pitiful justifications the ASA advances can be so easily dismissed by anyone who took tenth-grade statistics and an introductory economics class.
In a somewhat related story, shortly after reading this article I followed an interesting mini-debate between Todd Zywicki and Matthew Malewski on the extent to which the specific chemical structure of high fructose corn syrup can be attributed to weight gain as compared to the chemical structure of sugar cane. Now, if it can be proven that HFCS is to blame for making all those kids fat that are supposedly drinking too many soft drinks between classes, wouldn’t that make the battle cry for the government to help make us thinner decidely ironic? Story line: (1) government protects sugar (2) resulting sugar price increase drives soft drinks to HFCS (3) HFCS makes kids fat (4) the public demands that the government help make kids thinner.
Well, in the activist interest of using government intervention to protect us against our own poor choices and curb increasing obesity, allow me to propose a gesture that even the most ardent classical liberals might consider: let’s eliminate sugar protection and thereby encourage the market to reconsider sugar cane beverages as an alternative to HFCS. Let’s do it for the obese. Let’s do it for those poor souls who are helpless against what their hand transports to their mouth. Let’s do it for the children! Who could oppose such a humanitarian gesture?
If anybody hears about an alliance between anti-obesity activists and libertarians that stems from this post, and nobody down in Hell has reported a frost, do let me know…