Congress, in recognition of the national food crisis, has enacted the Affordable Food Security Act (AFSA), popularly known as “Foodcare”. The leaders of the Senate, the House of Representatives, key Congressional representatives, and the President gathered in the White House yesterday for the President’s ceremonial signing of the Act. With the stroke of 22 pens, he enacted a sweeping law to reform America’s broken food production and distribution system.
The President said, “the core principle is that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to nutrition.” The President was acknowledging the fact of America’s food crisis which has left many Americans, mostly poor and a growing percentage of the middle class, hungry or without proper nutrition. In recent years, despite fifty years of legislation (the Food Stabilization Act of 2008, the Food Reform Act of 1999, the Food Price Adjustment Act of 1993, the Farm Production Reform Act of 1989, the Nutrition Protection Act for the Aged of 1981, the Food Assurance Act for Dependents of 1974, the Employee Food Assurance Act of 1963), food production and quality has declined significantly. America has the highest food costs of first world countries.
The President said, “The bill I am signing today will assure Americans of the food security they deserve. Food and good nutrition is the first most basic need of every human being. We recognize that food security is a basic right of all Americans without regard for race, creed, or wealth.”
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Senate’s main sponsor of the Act, said, “It’s about time America joined the rest of the civilized world in providing food safety for all, regardless of wealth. The rich are unfairly consuming too much at the expense of everyone else.”
A select group of ordinary Americans in the audience were cheering, clapping, and even crying at this historic moment. Among them was Jonathan Woodrow, 57, a disabled carpenter from St. Louis. Woodrow could not hold back his emotions, “Two of my grandchildren passed because there wasn’t enough food in our house. We did our best, but … This law will give us decent food. These shortages just got to stop.”
The head of the President’s Council on Food Security and Nutrition, Professor Marques Charles, Dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health, said that this bill will soon end shortages. “Every family will receive monthly coupons entitling them to a generous supply of wholesome, nutritional food.” When pressed by reporters he said that recent meat shortages “are a temporary glitch” and that plentiful supplies of chicken, pork, and tofu will soon appear in markets.”
Also in attendance was Yale economist George Shaw, an expert in food economics who for years has urged a government food protection program. He noted that, “Inefficiencies from unnecessary competition and profiteering have produced vast amounts of waste that have cheated American citizens of good nutrition. We just want to streamline and rationalize the system. This single-provider system is a big step forward.”
The Act establishes the Food Resources and Services Administration (FRSA) to administer the program. It is expected that the President will name George Poros, CEO of the nation’s largest food conglomerate, Progressive Foods, to head the FSRA.
According to the Act, the FRSA will oversee 15 regional Food Assurance Boards (FABs) which will be responsible for the production, distribution, and sale of food in the regions. The FABs will open competition to the remaining five food conglomerates to provide these services. It is expected that this free market implementation of the Act will result in lower costs and plentiful food.
Coupons for food allotments will be issued shortly. The government has yet to set prices for coupons, but, based on the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Act, they are expected to be no more than $110 per month per person. Coupons will entitle each person to acquire specific amounts of food products such as chicken, pork, flour, potatoes, rice, and vegetables, as available. After much debate in Congress, it was agreed that beer, vodka, and gin, can be purchased with AFSA coupons.
The program is expected to cost no more than $98 billion per year in the first ten years of the Act, even with subsidized coupons for poor people. Revenues are expected to come from a new Business Transaction Surcharge (BTS) which will tax the purchase and sale of traded securities, and increase taxes on the sale of businesses and real estate. The BTS will also raise revenues from the repeal of the so-called “carried interest” loophole in which hedge fund operators pay lower taxes on investment profits. The BTS further imposes an income tax surcharge of 3.8% on taxpayers earning more than $250,000 per year, and increases death taxes.
The Act has not been without controversy. Meat shortages, the disappearance of beef on the market, and the emergence of black markets selling hard to get products has hampered many government attempts to control prices and supplies of food.
Outside of the White House angry protesters were making their objections known. Ralph Kleinheinz, 52, formerly a farmer in Wisconsin, lost his farm by eminent domain to Progressive Foods. “That damn Poros owns nearly all the best farmland in Wisconsin. And what’s left can’t make a living because of price controls. This Act is just another license to steal.”
Next to Kleinheinz was Ruth Morton, 68, of Baltimore, holding a sign that said, “Where’s the Beef?” Morton said, “There hasn’t been any steak in the stores for the past six months. Oh, yeah, you can get it if you know where, but you gotta be rich to do that. Ten years ago, you could buy a pound of steak at Food King for only $15. Now there’s nothing. Food King is gone too. Those Progressive Marts got no steak.”
Protester signs included “Where’s My F*****g Steak!?” “Government Hands Off My Food”, “Government Starvation Act”, and “Unfair to farmers”.
Countering the protesters were groups from the International Food Producers Union, Mothers for Nutrition, the SEIU, the Women’s Progressive Coalition, the Locavore Collective, and Foodcare NOW. They carried signs saying, “Food Justice”, “People Against Profits”, “Capitalism Starves”, and “Food is a Human Right”.
Of course, the above is fiction, sort of. It is a thinly disguised parody of Obamacare and the mess that is our health care system. Why is it a mess? Most analysts start in the middle of the story and are unaware of or ignore the precedents that brought about the mess and mistakenly cite it as an example of free market failure.
That is a canard. The reality is that there is no free market in health care. It has been heavily regulated and price controlled starting with Medicare in 1965. There is not enough time to list the number of laws and regulations enacted since then to regulate health care markets. It is an example of what happens when regulators interfere with the vast, unplanned, cooperative, self-regulating, emergent system of millions of daily economic decisions that is a free market economy.
One need only look to Venezuela as a warning. This relatively prosperous country, with the largest oil reserves in the world, has descended into a nightmare of food shortages and shortages of goods as basic as toilet paper, as it applied socialist principles. What has emerged is the end result of all socialist systems: dictatorship and penury.
Which brought me to the wonder that is our food system. Food is even more important to our health than medical care; without plentiful, cheap food we would starve. Yet we Americans can buy almost any food imaginable, from anywhere in the world, in our local supermarket. Why is food cheap and plentiful and health care expensive? The answer is that food is largely unregulated by the government. It is a good example of the free market satisfying consumer preferences.
If we want cheaper, available, abundant, quality healthcare, we need to let the same forces that provide plentiful food provide health care.