Rules, laws, regulations are coming in cascades. The main source for new jobs now is government. The debts pile up.
Food safety legislation is making its way through Congress this summer.

Lawmakers should understand what they regulate
Larry Waterfield

There are a lot of related bills, including bills that tell producers how to grow food, what inputs they can use and how they can control disease in crops and livestock.

They want to ban certain inputs and practices even though they’re approved by government agencies.

We have the strange spectacle of lawmakers from big cities dictating what goes on in farm country.

Among the “urban growers,” all of them Democrats and part of the Congressional power structure, are Reps. Jan Schakowsky of the north side of Chicago; Louise Slaughter of Rochester, N.Y.; Diana DeGette of Denver; Jared Polis of Boulder, Colo.; and Rosa DeLauro of New Haven, Conn.

All this micromanaging is done in the name of protecting consumers, although some of the worst outbreaks of illness were caused by human error and by outright refusal to follow safe practices, such as in the peanut scandal.

No law or rule can deal with these acts of omission and commission.

There is no downside for lawmakers, rulemakers and food safety advocacy organizations when it comes to piling on the food industry.

Politicians can tell consumers who may not care about Afghanistan, but who do care about the food their children eat, that they are doing everything possible to protect them from “a greedy, callous and unsanitary food industry.”

The rulemakers are ready to add to their own agencies and programs, and every problem gets the same reaction: “Give us more authority, money and staff.”

The advocacy groups, the food cops, are trapped in a kind of intellectual Ponzi scheme fueled by ever more extreme charges, claims and accusations. The motto is: “Scare ’em, then solicit ’em for money.”

All this is aided and abetted by an increasingly sensational consumer media that operates 24 hours a day, and that pumps out rumor, hearsay, fragments of stories, and maybe corrects them later on — or not.

In this piling on, which again has no downside, these folks can say with a straight face: “Don’t eat that produce, it wasn’t locally grown, it was grown by a big company, it was grown with pesticides, it’s imported, it wasn’t properly inspected, you can’t trace every pea back to the pod or every banana back to the stalk.”

In the new climate of government intervention, every industry is suspect, from food to banks to automobiles.

Lawmakers can do a better job of running these businesses through micromanaging from the top, so the argument goes.

Sometimes this zeal goes too far even for those who support the big government solution.

The other day a Washington Post columnist blasted a Congressional subcommittee for holding a hearing probing the sins of the “bottled water industry.”

Yes, water may be overpriced, but it is hardly a threat to anyone. This doesn’t stop a runaway Congress that is veto-proof.
Of course, a government that does too much may also do too little. When all this power is centralized, what happens when government refuses to act? Take the case of immigration reform, including provision for foreign farm workers.

There is very little action on reform.

Yet a friend of mine who has worked for decades as a State Department consular official tells of his recent experience down on the Mexico-U.S. border where he has worked with Mexican farmworkers coming to the U.S.

He describes then as “caballeros” — gentlemen — mostly older men who have come into the U.S. for years to work, often for the same employer. One caballero was invited by his employer to come to his daughter’s wedding in the U.S.

The U.S. government wouldn’t let him in. He can come to work but not to attend an employer family wedding.

A big central government that can micromanage the growing of vegetable crops doesn’t have the humanity to accommodate a human interaction between employer and worker.

Such a system won’t work. It has never worked. Name a case.

The big centralized system becomes hide-bound, unwieldy, self-protecting. It stifles local solutions, sucks up resources and makes decisions based on political power and influence. It’s a formula for stagnation.

The same process goes on in the private sector, except that private firms that grow big and top-heavy topple over. They go out of business. A big government can’t go out of business.

When it fails it simply asks, “Please, may I have some more … authority, money, staff.”


Do you agree with Larry Waterfield’s take on government regulation? Leave a comment and add your opinion to his.