Monday, September 24, 2012

Catch of the Day

One for Sarah Kliff for some very nice ACA reporting. She went to a McDonald's, where calories per item are now listed, and asked what people thought about it. Key bit:

I did find one customer who had noticed the calorie labels: Dick Nigon of Sterling, Va. He and his wife, Lea, had stopped by McDonald’s after seeing an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. Dick had ordered for the couple, noticed the calorie labels and liked them.

“I like that you have the information before you order,” he told me, when I asked about the labels. “It’s better than some kind of government health mandate in Obamacare.”

I told him that the calorie labels were, in fact, a government health mandate in Obamacare.

“Well that changes things a bit,” he responded. “I thought this was more of a voluntary sort of thing. Now I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.”
Which is a reminder of how difficult it is for anyone to talk about "Obamacare" as a particular thing because the ACA just contains so many different, and in many cases largely unrelated, pieces. It's also a reminder that one of the outdated bits of "I'm Just a Bill" is the idea that a "bill" is one specific idea written by one Member of Congress in response to one problem. Most things nowadays that pass Congress do so as part of larger, omnibus bills which contain many different bills, many of which began life as individual measures. Most of these bills/provisions (or whatever we should call them) never receive separate votes on the House or Senate floor, or even in committee. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but good or bad it's just how Congress does business.

Of course, this also makes the Tea Party demand that Republicans pledge to repeal -- and hate -- every single bit of the ACA into a terrible trap for Republican politicians, because even if one opposes the core reforms there are still plenty of consensus, wildly popular provisions. I mean, outside of the problem that many of the popular provisions are linked to unpopular pay-fors or enforcement mechanisms, which can at least be played both ways, and which Democrats are as apt to demagogue (by only mentioning the benefits) as Republicans are (by only mentioning the costs). 

Also: nice catch!


  1. 50% of Americans are of below-average intelligence.

    1. Isn't that the definition of average?

    2. Well, it's the definition of median, which is really a good form of average. (Which I'm pretty sure Scott knew, but the methodologist in me HAS to chime in)

    3. Well, it's going to be a bell curve, so the median and the mean will be about the same.

    4. Because of the zero bound, it won't be a perfect bell. :)

  2. I don't even understand that logic.

    It's so childish - I no longer want that because it's given - that it's hard to wrap my mind about it.

    So it's great the company did it. But the company wouldn't have done it without the mandate. So now it's bad. What?

  3. Which is a reminder of how difficult it is for anyone to talk about "Obamacare" as a particular thing because the ACA just contains so many different, and in many cases largely unrelated, pieces.


    Yes, ObamaCare was and is so difficult to talk about. Fortunately, we had a brilliant Congress at the helm in 2009-10, which had the good sense to NOT talk about it, or to even read it, and they just crammed all these wonderful but unrelated notions into about 2,700 pages of legislation, and rammed it up the country's behind.

    That marvelously efficient process saved everybody a lot of trouble and wasted thought, thankfully. They never had to think about it, and now all they have to do is whatever they're told.

    Except for those 60-70 lefty House members. They had to do a little more than that, as in pack their bags and go home for good. I guess the ever stupid voters didn't agree with all the simplicity of thought that ObamaCare had gifted them.

    1. Anon: You've said before that attempts to discern the intent behind folks' votes this year is an exercise in "fantasy" of the sort "Lefties" engage in. This was your reason for why a re-election of Obama is not an endorsement of the hard-left policies that you believe he holds and that you think most Americans believe he holds.

      So, why are you now discerning the intent behind voters' choices in 2010? What makes 2010 different from 2012 in terms of how much of a "fantasy" it is to discern the reasons for folks' votes?

    2. C'mon, he can't even mention anything wrong in the legislation that's real.

    3. Dude, don't bother fantasizing what I've "said before".

      I'm anonymous. You'll just have to go build your strawman and knock it down by your lonesome.

  4. Okay, I asked about this in the "question of conservatives" thread over the weekend, but I'll ask again over here: I'm thinking about zapping Anon for a while at least, and would like to get y'alls opinions about it.

    I hold a high standard for "troll" -- to me, a troll is someone who deliberately writes comments for the purpose of starting fights, pissing people off, or generally disrupting a conversation. The problem is that once you define it (properly IMO) that way, it's hard to prove that someone is in fact doing it deliberately. And so I've been hesitant.

    However, I think it's just too disruptive, on three counts: 1. incivility, as Anon engages in name-calling; 2. blatant factual inaccuracies (which come w/out citation while corrections are ignored); and thread-jacking. The main one, really, being the third; Anon has a dozen or so riffs, and returns to them regardless of the topic at hand.

    Whatever the motivation, I'm basically at the point of calling "strike two" for the various comments posted today, and to start zapping if there's (as expected) no change. But if anyone wants to speak up for Anon, please do, and I'm open to changing my mind.

    1. As a practical matter, can you ban an anonymous poster?

    2. You know, I'd mount the following semi-defense of that poster: its somewhat difficult to be a regular, minority-opinion commenter in a political blog. Politics ain't beanbag; it makes us all extremely emotional, and we're all pretty sure that our particular partisan view is the correct one. Ranting in response to something upsetting from the opposite side is comparatively easy for a liberal back here; there's plenty of back up for those types of rants.

      I know that I've posted several things back here, hepped up because some liberal did or said something that made me mad, and the rant seemed reasonable as I composed it, but then coming back later - especially since no one ever jumps in - it looks really trollish. The people back here are mostly gracious about all that, but you know how human nature is, if I catch myself writing something that later sounded trollish, its probably your fault :).

      So in order to build a politically diverse community back here, it seems to me that you have to give your minority opinions more rope to hang themselves. And yet, in this particular case, I'd still say you should quarantine this poster, at least for a while.

      That's because, pragmatically, you have to keep your equity in mind, and while it may not be great to have some ignorant person saying you're dumb because of some misreading of Neustadt, its much worse to have to caveat the commenter who says you're dumb because, well, liberals just are.

      That's just not a brand-building experience, Jonathan, and it seems to me rather foolishly indulged.

    3. Jonathan, what anon says above is on topic and factually correct, if somewhat impolite. Of course, there’s a lot that our government does that’s rather impolite… and as we’ve learned from the Bloomberg administration, the slippery slope between regulating fast food and compromising women’s health freedom is surprisingly slick.

    4. I'd say leave it be. Anon is obviously an unbalanced person; and his/her comments don't hurt anyone, they only reveal anon's lack of sanity.

      But what is difficult is other posters also calling themselves 'anon,' several seem, from the tone, to post regularly. I really wish they'd pick a name to post, to making the sorting out a bit easier. And on most blogs, it's better to let the trolls be and not respond, but here? The responses are typically funny and insightful. If you ban anon, we'd miss out on those witticisms. They're worth the crazy.

      That said: you run a pretty serious discussion here, I'm out of my league, just a civilian, not a scientist, and honored to participate. If you want to improve the tone, ban away. And don't be afraid to ban peons like me, either.

      I'm grateful, Jonathan. Thank you.

    5. Over on the conservative thread, Jesse pointed out the difficulty of just skipping Anon's comments because there are other Anons who are worth reading. That relates to TN's practical question. Sometimes it might be hard to tell which Anon is which. But it's the behavior that people object to, not the person per se. If this Anon writes a civil and pertinent comment, then there is no need to zap it just because of suspicions of which Anon it might be. So the choice of being truly banned or not would be Anon's. Participation is possible if you remain civil and on the topic.

    6. While far from a fan of Anon's antics, I also fear that the costs of policing his posts may be too great on you. If you're spending time every day having to decide if posts are out of line, that adds up.

      Is it possible to just drop the ability to be anonymous? I'm not sure that would do too much good, as Anon's style is unique enough that we all know who we're talking about, so this person might feel free to keep posting with a "name." But, it might solve Jesse/Scott's issue.

    7. Anon's comments are mostly name-calling and taunting, with little or no substance. There's no point in responding, because there's nothing to respond to ("I know you are, but what am I?" or "Your mother wears Army boots" lack the sophistication we hard lefties aspire to in all our communications). So, you're left with a guy (or gal) who posts in a vacuum. I don't know why that's entertaining to Anon, and can't think of anything we'd miss if he left the building. It seems that his/her mission is simply to be disliked by the pusillanimous pussy-footers who've driven the US to ruin in the past 40, 50 or 60 years, and then use our dislike as evidence that we fear engagement with hard-headed, self-evidently true conservative ideas. But the failure to actually bring conservative ideas undermines the mission.

    8. I agree that the only really irritating aspect is the use of "anonymous," rather than a distinguishing tag, which leads one to still at least glance at the comments, even after having written off this particular taunting "anonymous."

      Anyway, I'm sure you hard lefties will come up with a solution -- a final solution ;)

  5. The ACA conundrum is an extension of the "we're against anything that Obama is for" policy of the rabid right and the Republican Congress. It has a partisan justification, a logic, but it pretty obviously has become a channel for strong emotion and unconscious motivation. That's clearer in talk radio etc. but it has led to such failures of governance, to R's opposing bills they wrote or once sponsored, that the irrational stands out. It's like the frenzy of the Clinton impeachment circus. Personally I don't believe we can any longer discuss politics without exploring psychology. It's just become too consequential a factor.

  6. Listen up kids:

    Now when you’re enjoying your government-subsidized petro-corn-burgers, be sure to count those calories!

    1. For what it's worth, my own anecdotal experience is that the calorie counts help, because the fries are the really terrible thing. They're high in calories, and just not getting them really doesn't hurt my psychic enjoyment of the bad cheeseburger.

      However, I trust that the research Kliff cites is valid, and that my anecdotal experience isn't shared by the wider public. Which is a shame.

      That said, if it doesn't affect choices made, it's really not that much government intrusion. If it does, and people eat better, isn't that GOOD government intrusion?

    2. Matt, my point is that our food supply is unhealthy largely because of government policies, policies that go back decades. We’re slowly learning that the omega-6 fats in foods such as McDonalds’ french fries contribute to many of the “diseases of civilization”… even behavioral problems like violence and depression. Beef is a problem because cattle are force-fed grain just like we are (ruminants are designed to eat grass and hay) and so their meat is not as healthy as it could be.

      And not only is the production of unhealthy food subsidized, but the production of good food is made more difficult. Farmer Joel Salatin, a trailblazer in natural meat production, wrote a book entitled _Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal_. That pretty much says it all.

      Regarding this specific regulation -- I have no idea how intrusive and/or expensive it is to business owners. But if you have to force them to do it, then I imagine it's not something everyone wants to do.

    3. Oh no, I'd imagine they wouldn't like it, because, if it works, it means lower sales, and if it doesn't, it means a cost in new menus at least.

    4. I think it would be worthwhile if it really made people think about what they're eating and cut down on the fats, etc. That would mean lower sales for a while, but restaurants would adjust their menus. (Hey, markets adapt.) But I think the New York example suggests that listing the calories doesn't make much of a difference. In my more cynical moments I suspect that's why it's being more widely adopted, so as to feign concern and look like you're doing something.

    5. Couves, I think its a bit facile, if predictably libertarianish, to blame the low quality of our food supply on misguided government intervention. Indeed, the 'real' cause of poor food quality comes straight out of the libertarian canon: the free market laws of supply and demand.

      There's a mountain of credible scientific data showing that a diet solely focused on the perimeter of the grocery store has extraordinary capacity to prevent/reduce cancers and other terrible diseases (See, for example, The China Study or In Defense of Food, among others). Those foods on the perimeter of the store are vastly more expensive, poorly marketed and sporadically merchandised because of inherent supply chain challenges, not because of something evil the government did.

      Seriously, if you're in the center of the grocery store, seeing box after box of shelf-stable products, filled with high-fructose corn syrup and other cheap preservatives that are great for the supply chain and hastening your early death, and you see an evil government scheme...

      ...sometimes, maybe not often, but certainly sometimes, the problem is that the government isn't doing enough. I daresay this is one of those cases.

    6. CSH: It’s government policy to encourage the use of grain-based products, including grain-fed animal products, that we now know are bad for human health (You’ve read Pollan, right?). Have you ever had milk from cows that actually eat grass? It’s pale yellow and its flavor changes with the seasons -- it’s the milk our ancestors drank for thousands of years until certain government interventions that began under Nixon drove it completely off our store shelves. Like many Real Foods, it’s starting to make a comeback. And if you’re lucky, you might find a local dairyman who will sell it to you. And if he’s lucky, he won’t be subject to an armed raid by federal and state law enforcement.

      The produce departments I see are much much better than they were 20 years ago -- that’s due to consumer demand. There’s exactly zero government subsidies for produce. The same goes for the farmers’ markets that are popping up all over the place.

      Federal policy is of course not the only reason we have diets that are making us sick, but it certainly hasn’t helped any.

    7. CSH: To respond directly to your point about processed foods in the center of the market -- they are cheaper and more unhealthy thanks to gov't grain subsidies. The difference of a few grams of "bad fat" here and there adds up to an increase in the health problems we all know about.

    8. Couves, the foods in the middle of the isle are unhealthy because it's profit driven; same as the rent-seeking in the farm bill.

      It's not that the government is involved, it's that the rent seekers are the market drivers. Without that government interference, as you call it, the profit motive will still not function on healthier food choices, because healthier food choices just don't have the long shelf lives.

      But really, you're making the same mistake a lot of conservatives make when the call for 'smaller' government; it's not the size, it's the competency, that matters. Food labeling laws, food safety laws that focus on industrial processors are necessary. But I do agree, they should leave Joel alone, he's working directly with his customers; not through layers and layers of industrial processing that deflect the chain of accountability.

      This said from a proud participant of the food underground; someone who seeks out raw milk and cottage-made cheeses and non-nitrate laden smoked meats.

    9. zic, we have a market economy -- the profit motive dictates the production of healthy and unhealthy foods alike. But to use your lingo, it's an incompetent government that gives in to the rent seekers, who are perfectly happy to produce the raw materials for foods that are now even cheaper, more numerous and more unhealthy than they otherwise would be without government involvement.

      Yes, there would still be quite a bit of unhealthy food produced and consumed even without subsidies, but why make things worse?

      And I find it funny that you and CSH are attributing my concerns to some kind of libertarian or conservative agenda. Most of the people who seem concerned about this stuff are lefty-liberals.

    10. Couves, from your commenting history, I presume/assume you're Libertarian; certainly not liberal.

      Do you remember the big brohaha the (liberal) media made over Sarah Palins Turkey pardon, with slaughtered birds bleeding out behind her? I actually loved that, because there are many evangelicals also concerned about the food supply, and I felt it was a great signal to those folk. While they're vegetarian, Seventh Day Adventists were responsible for keeping many a health-food store open during the 1980's and '90's, providing some market for organic growers as the techniques developed to actual consumable products.

      Food -- real food -- is one of those topics that actually cuts across ideology; and I'm thankful for that.

      I grew up farming; I spend a lot of time with farmers now, and I spent a decade working as a freelance writer with a speciality in land use.

    11. zic, I agree that this issue cuts across political beliefs. And I've enjoyed growing my own food and fishing before I had any interest in politics. I am a libertarian, although I don't think you have to be one to oppose corporate welfare, or believe that individuals should be free to make their own food choices. There are libertarians who have no problem with factory farming, just as there are lefty-liberals who have greenwashed their lives but have no idea what any of it means.

      I'll have to look up the Palin-Turkey thing. Animals are usually bled after slaughter and even bleeding chickens as a method of slaughter (the traffic cone method) is considered humane.

      You said you're in northern New England -- what state? I'd like to move north one day.

    12. zic, ok I saw that Palin turkey interview. It's an odd (and, dare I say, funny) juxtaposition, but I don't think there's anything cruel about it. This is how it’s done. It’s not pretty, but if you've ever seen poultry slaughtered, you know there can be quite a bit of struggle long after the animal is already dead. There are many how-to videos of hippy backyard farmers doing the exact same thing, so this isn’t a practice that’s only found on cruel factory farms.

    13. Couves, mountains of Western Maine, not to be confused with the ME coast, not to far from the NH border, and on the southern boundary of the Great Northern Forest.

      I grew up in a very poor farming family, we lived with my grandparents when I was a small child. My grandmother grew/preserved most of our vegetables, they had chickens and cows and pigs. My grandfather smoked his own bacon and hams, and I still remember what it tastes like. I have a small garden, support several local farmers, and as I said, am an active participant in the local underground food network. (Let me tell you about the goat cheese!)

      I also grew up on the banks of one of the 10-most polluted rivers in the country (paper/tanning industries, and sewage). My liberalism roots soundly in the revival of this river after the Clean Water and Air acts were passed. And I mourn that virtually every lake and stream in this state have fish warnings -- only eat one or two a month, in some cases a year, because of the mercury. And that mercury is not from local activity, but from the mid-west. My liberalism is soundly rooted in the belief that we don't have the right to piss on our natural resources, we should conserve them. Ironic, isn't it?

      I attempt libertarian; over and over (particularly on McArdle's Atlantic blog) I questioned folk on it. I just can't reconcile it working without an activist judiciary; yet I've never heard a single Libertarian, big L or small, recognize that. So I pretty much resign it to a notion that would be good with smaller populations and plentiful resources, but ineffective in this crowded world.

    14. Zic, thanks for sharing. As a fisherman who likes to eat his catch without getting poisoned, I’m very aware of the mercury contamination problem that plagues much of the country (and even the ocean), largely from coal-burning power plants. I know that mercury emissions have been reduced by law, which I’m thankful for, but I wonder if it’s sufficient to allow the contamination to subside with time. There’s also major PCB contamination in areas near where I fish… the responsible businesses are funding a cleanup (although the money is running out) with EPA oversight, which is also something I’m thankful for.

      As you can see, I’m not at all against environmental regulation -- it’s a necessary and important function of government -- but I am against excessive regulation. If I dig a ditch in my backyard that turns into a wetland (as someone interested in permaculture, I’d actually consider doing this), I shouldn’t be worried about prosecution for later altering it. And if I choose to raise chickens, I shouldn’t be subject to any more regulations or prohibitions than someone raising dogs or cats (suburban boards of health seem to think chickens have enriched uranium coming out of their butts). Given your relationship with the food underground, it sounds like we’d have some common ground here.

      It’s also not uncommon for environmental regulations to force business to waste their resources. The coal plant near me recently built two huge cooling towers to improve the local winter flounder habitat (a fish that is neither endangered nor of much interest to local anglers). The cost was over $100 million and half the city’s view across the river was spoiled. The environmentalists who forced the issue wanted to force the plant to close -- now, after that huge investment, closure seems unlikely and everyone seems to regret the whole thing.

      I don’t read McArdle, so I can’t speak for her, but libertarians are not generally against environmental protections, even if they're more concerned about excessive regulation than excessive pollution. It’s true that the more extreme libertarians, like Ron Paul and some of the almost-anarchistic Austrian economists, believe in zero government regulation of pollution. Instead, they talk about stronger protections for property rights, which are then enforced through court actions against polluters, just as you suggest. Ron Paul alludes to this when talking to Jay Leno and even concedes that this is one thing his libertarian and conservative fellow-travelers “slip-up on.” In such a society, I imagine that insurance company regulation would totally replace government regulation. It’s an interesting idea, that’s probably not as absurdly unworkable as it sounds.

      Ron on Leno (environment part begins at 7:45):

      I know I've read about this in some detail, but I just can't find anything at the moment (I'm not generally so interested in the super-theoretical stuff and I'm fine with just modifying the environmental protections we already have.) Incidentally, I also understand that Ron Paul is an enthusiastic gardener and has a farm that he just built a his new home on.

    15. Zic, one more thing -- are the western mountains a good place for local food? I've heard great things about the movement in Maine, but mostly in places closer to the coast.

    16. Couves, well, all of Maine's rocky and the winter's long. All of it.

      That said, small farms are spreading again, though there are many grown back to wood. And there are a variety of agriculture: wood products (paper fiber, building materials, fuel, maple syrup, Christmas trees and wreaths), cattle for beef, fiber (sheep, alpaca), crop (potato's the big crop up north, southern Maine has mixed vegetables), flower/herb. Most farmers do multiple things. Eco tourism is also a growing sector.

      Even a visit to Portland, with day trips from there are worthwhile. Portland banned franchises several years ago; no new McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, etc. And as those business sort of fade away, they're being replaced with a variety of local mom&pop places. And it's one of the best eating cities I've ever been in, absolutely amazing food available there.

      Land near the coast is expensive but closer to your customers. Farms inland are much cheaper, but it's a good idea to understand what you're looking at; southern/southwestern exposure that's not a cold sink and both water and good drainage are pretty essential.

      And if you're not familiar, read the books by Eliot Coleman.

    17. zic, thank you for all the information, that's exactly what I wanted to know. Coleman is definitely on my reading list. I was last in Portaland 15 years ago and it was a really cool town back then -- I definitely need to make it back there.

  7. New subthread: I concede, Couves, that irrational govt subsidies have a negative effect on markets. I also concede that the produce sections of many grocery stores, plus the rise of outlets like Whole Foods and Fresh Market, increases the opportunity to eat "what looks like food" as Pollan puts it. Nevertheless, the vast majority of us don't eat "what looks like food" the vast majority of the time. It takes an incredible leap of ideological faith to blame that on the government.

    Classic illustration: check out your options for maple syrup over in the breakfast section of your local Kroger. There you will find several brightly-packaged, familiar brand skus, several of which (e.g. Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima) awkwardly evoke politically-incorrect images of "the help". But I digress. Those brightly-colored skus are at eye-level, with colorful (if, er, "colored") and comfortably-familiar packaging, and costing maybe $3 or so for 16 oz. Turn Mrs. Butterworth around and notice the ingredients list on her ass: a long line of preservatives and artificial this and that about which research, cited by Pollan, has shown is not good for your longevity. Want a Pollan-approved maple syrup? There's one lonely sku - store brand and drably packaged - that is actually maple syrup, its up at the top shelf, where no consumer looks, and it costs about $8 for a mere 6 fl oz.

    The government didn't build that, Couves. The Quaker Oats company is not filling ol' Aunt Jemima with shit because of government subsidies. Quaker does so because it improves Aunt Jemima's shelf stability, it allows them to manage their supply chain with less scrap, it allows them to put a product on the shelf that costs them less, and thus, costs you less. At least in terms of your grocery bill.

    (Indeed, say whatever you want about government, but the maple syrup category is one peculiar place to see the heavy hand of government: those skus are terribly politically incorrect, and big govt doesn't typically roll that way, no?)

    Beyond the costs, there's also the fact that eating a Pollan-approved diet, shopping at the perimeter of the store, is a giant pain in the butt. We all know that it is far easier to pick up a Stouffer's prepared dinner from the frozen foods section, pop it in the microwave (and enjoy all the toxins therein) then actually to prepare your own meal the way Pollan recommends. Do you really think the giant Nestle corporation, owner of the Stouffer brand, needed big govt to tip them off to the marketing power of convenient, reasonably tasty, if really-bad-for-you, foods?

    1. CSH, as a resident of northern New England, I am honor bound to correct you: Aunt Jemima is not maple syrup; it's corn syrup flavored with fenugreek.

      Maple syrup is the condensed sap from maple trees; it's a wholesome sweetener, high in minerals. Real maple syrup production is an important part of the economy for small farmers in this region; without it, many could not afford to continue farming. They're producing a good, natural, and relatively healthy product that's got nothing to do with what you're calling maple syrup.

    2. CSH: I don't disagree with any of that. Without subsidies though, it's really hard to say how much things would have turned out differently. But I think we can confidently say that the price of these non-foods is lower because of our Ag policy. The government also made ths unfortunate choice of hitching its wagon to some particularly unhealthy substances such as high-omega-6 vegetable oils, which now proliferate every part of your grocery stores, even the supposedly healthy parts (Read: blindingly white non-milk). The price of corn is so low we're even burning it for fuel. You mention the problem of healthy foods being too expensive, but it's really the reverse -- unhealthy foods are too cheap. Nixon's specifically tried to lower the price of food because he was worried about millions of mothers with hungry families filling the streets.

      To use your fake maple syrup as an example, the product is cheaper than it otherwise would be because of corn subsidies (it's mostly corn syrup).

    3. Don't know whether anyone else is reading, so I won't add to the ferrous food thread, but I know you're always there, JB, and will just say quickly:

      (1) Naming no names, previous trollishness has tended to disappear more or less on its own. You had to zap something that the Anonymous sometimes known in former days as Anonymous Prime wrote, I know, but even there, he -- well -- self-deported. Also naming no names, people have gotten MUCH more ad hominem than this Anonymous seems to get without getting zapped. Obviously, what you'll put up with is the ultimate criterion, but it seems to me we don't yet have to declare a market failure and intervene.

      (2) Gmar chatimah tovah! (checks watch)

    4. Why do you think corn syrup is cheap, if not for government subsidies?

    5. (1) Good lord, how did autocorrect turn "terrific" into "ferrous?" this is so typical of Apple: ruining a convenient feature with arbitrary decisions and then making it impossible for the user to modify anything.

      (2) @Crissa -- corn syrup is cheap for lots of reasons besides direct farm subsidies. For one, indirect government subsidies! We grow a lot of that type of corn here, while sugar beets and sugar cane are largely imported -- meaning the economic nationalists have a stake in this too. Of course, this is not a recent thing: we've had tariffs on imported sugar since before independence. Another thing is that because corn is so cheap farms grow more and more and more of it, which naturally makes it yet cheaper.

      That said, all of that builds on, and has grown out of, some genuine natural advantages that corn has. It's much more flexible in what you can do with it than sugar beets. It's more easily planted and maintained, and less finicky to process and (I think) to harvest, than sugar beets or cane. Further, corn syrup is a lot sweeter than granulated sugar -- such that you need less of it to get the same bang -- therefore inherently cheaper (per sweetness-unit) than regular sugar, let alone honey, agave, peaches, berries, and any other kind of naturally sweet thing you can think of. It's also almost as neutral-tasting to the palate (wrt any flavor beyond sweetness) as is granulated sugar, a property that is exceptionally difficult to come by. It tastes a little different, and soda made with it doesn't fuzz the same way, but it's a remarkably good substitute. So little advantages become big advantages as the market develops. You might have to repeal every corn subsidy retroactively for twenty years before you started seeing farmers switching over to beets.

    6. The classicist: Crissa cites some numbers on corn subsidies in the thread below.

      If you’re suggesting we should end the sugar tariffs as well, I agree. Without the subsidies and tariffs, there’s no way corn syrup would compete with sugar. Calorie-per-calorie, cane sugar is far more efficient to produce than corn. In Brazil, cane sugar ethanol is even competitive with petroleum.

      The fact that corn can do a lot of things if you spend enough money processing it is hardly a feature, it’s a bug. Not only could the resources wasted in subsidizing corn be more efficiently used elsewhere, but there a benefits to using more natural products and techniques in place of what corn is used for today. For example, grazing animals on natural pasture is far preferable to feeding them corn or soy. New rotational grazing techniques imitate sustainable natural systems in which herding animals fertilize and replenish perennial grasses with little human intervention aside from periodically shifting animals to fresh pasture and providing them with drinking water. No herbicides, no chemical fertilizer and the soils actually build-up over time rather than eroding away. The meat is healthier, the animals aren’t force-fed soy and corn in confinement and the whole system is much less dependent on petroleum and other industrial inputs. It’s very cool stuff -- check out what Joel Salatin is doing on Polyface Farm.

      You’re right, the change can’t be made overnight, but why not begin now? Only politics and myopia keeps us from stopping the degradation of our health, economy and farmland.

  8. If it were up to me, I would let him continue, but only under the condition that he uses a profile name that would allow us to recognize him before wasting our time reading his posts. Doesn't have to reveal his identity, and could be as simple as Anon451 or something similar.

  9. Two other thoughts, mostly for Couves:

    First, it seems to me that Couves is overstating the product cost component of food; as an illustration, while the Midwestern drought will have a dramatic impact on the cost of Couves' fresh corn, it will have almost no impact on Couves' obese neighbor's Mrs. Buttermilk. This is because the corn in the high-fructose corn syrup is a vanishingly small part of the "cost of goods sold" for Mrs. Buttermilk, while the cost of corn is (virtually) the only product cost in the produce section.

    Indeed, I earlier made the observation that 'real' maple syrup costs, on a price per ounce basis, 10X the fake stuff here in flyover country. I am no expert, but I'll bet a lifetime's supply of real maple syrup that difference is not attributable to government subsidization of some small component of Aunt Jemima. zic is right - fake food in the middle of the store has serious, inherent cost advantages, a much larger factor than whatever fiddling the govt does at the margins.

    Finally, why do we call out libertarians on this issue? Who screams bloody murder when Michelle Obama encourages children to drop the chalupa and eat kale instead? The research cited by Pollan has been widely available for many years; our national diet has gotten progressively worse over the last 30 years, even as the data has been freely available showing how dangerous that is.

    Libertarianism is anchored on an unswerving faith in human rationality supporting self-interest; our food choices - especially in light of the research Pollan cites - certainly calls into question the extreme faith in self-interested rationality that defines libertarianism.

    1. Why do you think corn syrup is cheap?
      "it takes about 2,300 litres of corn to produce a tonne of glucose syrup, or 60 bushels (1524 kg) of corn to produce one short ton."

      In other words, 5056 pounds of corn grain (a variety that's actually hard for us to eat, so it'd have to be processed anyhow, admittedly) becomes 2204 pounds of corn syrup. The corn syrup should cost two times by weight what raw corn does.

      Why is it such a small part of the cost of a syrup that is primarily made from it? Subsidies.

    2. CSH: Sure, to say exactly how much overeating is due to government intervention would be speculation. (To make matters worse, our current Ag policy has itself influenced eating habits for generations now, so it would be hard to exactly disentangle cultural mores and personal habits from policy at this point.) Of course, the context of our debate here is the imposition of a new regulation that no one seems to think will make a big difference. So I’m not sure why you’re so offended by my suggestion that we first stop making the problem worse. That seems like common sense unless you expect government policies to work against their purported goals.

      But my bigger concern here is that government policy degrades the quality of food, both junk food and non-junk food alike. In the case of fake maple syrup, which I would put in the junk food category, it is made from corn syrup rather than cane sugar because corn syrup is significantly cheaper thanks to federal policy. (Obviously the cost difference with real maple syrup is due to the fact that maple syrup is itself very expensive to produce.) The real question is, would farmers be growing corn to make everything from pancake syrup to cow feed to fry oil to ethanol fuel if it weren’t for government inducements. In most cases, I think the answer is “no.” Eliminate subsidies and processors would use foods more naturally suited to their intended use, as opposed to what Pollan calls the “food-like substances” our brightest scientists have learned to extract from corn and soy.

      Regarding your last two paragraphs -- you’re responding to a libertarian straw man.

  10. 1. incivility, as Anon engages in name-calling; 2. blatant factual inaccuracies (which come w/out citation while corrections are ignored); and thread-jacking. The main one, really, being the third; Anon has a dozen or so riffs, and returns to them regardless of the topic at hand.


    No, I don't call names, sorry, so your statement is false. I use descriptors, certainly, as in describing this site as a hard Left site, but that's no surprise to any of you, I'd hope.

    Secondly, you can go ahead and correct the "blatant factual inaccuracies" you allege, and you can start with the above first post I made, but it doesn't seem you have done so. They must not exist, then.

    I'm having difficulty understand what it is you mean by "thread jacking". I assume it means you want to censor my posts, but that's the closest I can figure. I ignore most of the lefty nonsense I see on this site. No need to be concerned by stray posts, although you may prefer to censor them. This is a hard Left site, and censorship of speech and thought would be the norm, in my experience. Me, I tend to ignore or skip much of what I see on the internet. You should try it.

  11. Apparently, as there has been no attempt to support the previous false assertions made, then those false assertions have been withdrawn. I accept that withdrawal.

    Please note: It isn't helpful to civil discourse to make false assertions.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?