Saturday, April 26, 2008

Quick Political Fixes That Don't Work

Going to post another article that is pretty good but pretty boring but has a lot of meaning so read it. I'm too busy right now to do it all myself since I just added a possible lawsuit in Florida over my late uncle's estate. Just gets better and better.

But I realized when I saw this article at (full disclosure--I do business with these guys) that none of you have ever seen or been under price controls. Hope you never do because they don't work, ever. Read on.

The high cost of cheap food

Published: October 24 2007 20:37 | Last updated: October 24 2007 20:37

In 1973 Richard Nixon, US president, under political pressure be­cause of rising domestic food prices, banned the export of soyabeans. The policy had predictably dire results, but today, with the world in the grip of another bout of food price inf­lation, governments worldwide are rushing to distort the market with subsidies and quotas, price controls and export taxes. They should stop.

In the run-up to its presidential election, Russia has imposed price controls on basic foodstuffs, and plans an export tariff on wheat. China already controls prices; other importers, including Egypt, Jordan, Bangladesh and Morocco, are increasing subsidies or fiddling with their tariff regimes.

The simple problem with all these actions is that they distort the market. Price controls and export tariffs make production less profitable, which discourages increased supply and can make shortages worse. Subsidies stimulate demand so it does not fall into line with higher prices. All distort the terms of trade within a country. Farmers suffer at the expense of city dwellers – especially perverse in countries with high rural poverty, such as China.

None of this is too bad in the short term. If food prices fall back, price controls become meaningless, subsidies can be withdrawn and export tariffs no longer make sense. The more pernicious problems will appear if food prices stay high. With more demand for protein from fast-growing Asian middle classes, lunatic policies to subsidise corn-based ethanol and the legacy of under­investment during long years of low prices, that prospect seems likely.

For exporters, distorting the market in favour of domestic consumers harms the balance of payments, lowers investment and helps rivals. Nixon’s ban is often credited with creating Brazil’s soyabean industry.

For net food importers, who can keep prices down without shortages only by offering subsides, the risks are much more serious. Cheap food is an open-ended fiscal commitment – once in place it is politically impossible to withdraw – that can play havoc with a budget. Developing countries have improved their fiscal position in recent years. They should not throw that away.

Rich countries, where food is a small part of total consumption, have less to worry about, although they should beware the ratchet effect as food importers increase subsidies and food producers tax exports, driving up world market prices still further. But leaders in the developing world, no matter the political pressure to bring down the cost of grain, should resist. Cheap food comes at a high price.

1 comment:

David said...

Oh yes the status quo no matter how laughably controlled is "undistorted". In fact governments are having to step in now because they signed ridiculous trade agreements that vastly undervalued the true worth of their farmers producing food. These distorted trade agreements were signed to favor quantity of trade over quality of trade. Different trade agreements favor different segments of society. Calling one trade agreement "free market" and another a distortion is just propaganda.