All Commentary
Thursday, November 1, 1990

A Reviewers Notebook: The Politics of Plunder

Doug Bandow, who has collected his columns and articles in The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J., 507 pages, $34.95 cloth) is about as total an anti- Statist as one could find. He positively resents politicians, or anyone else for that matter, who use other people’s money for their own ends. This makes him an enemy of thousands who live inside the Washington Beltway. He does not spare his language: politicians to ham are simply thieves. They practice legalized larceny.

The trouble, from a reviewer’s standpoint, is that a book about the thieves becomes many books. The thieves abound and multiply. Where, indeed, to cut in on the parade?

Bandow offers his own cut-in point when he says 30 percent of the American farmers are part of America’s “permanent dependent class.” Their subsidies increased in the 1980s at a faster rate than any other government programs. Direct payments to farmers ran $25.8 billion in 1986, a 545 percent jump over 1981.

“Nor,” says Bandow, “is that all the money received by rural America. In 1986, the federal government spent another $3.8 billion on crop research, soil conservation, and similar programs. Sugar quotas, peanut quotas, and citrus marketing orders provide billions more dollars to producers through higher prices instead of higher taxes. At the same time, Uncle Sam has proved to be an incredible bungler as Farmer-In-Chief . . . . Despite several billion in export subsidies . . . the American farmers’ share of international food markets continues to shrink.”

Bandow knows that the traditional “family farm” is not lightly to be derided. But there is no reason, he insists, to force Americans to keep farms afloat “any more than to save any other uneconomic family business, whether dry cleaners or corner drug stores. Just 8 percent of America’s full-time farmers produce two-thirds of the nation’s food; there is no public interest in subsidizing the many small operations which contribute virtually nothing to the nation’s food supply . . . .”

With sugar quotas being what they are, there is no danger that cane and beet growers will fail to satisfy America’s sweet tooth at a price. So Bandow proceeds to remark upon the “sleazy” action of Congress’s elimination of the $250,000 limit on loans to beekeepers.

The beekeepers got on the Federal dole in 1949 and, like so many of their farming counterparts, have demonstrated an “uncanny knack” for looting the Treasury. As a result, the government became the world’s largest beekeeper.

Having had some testy fun with the beekeepers, Bandow passes on to the sunflower “crisis.” He doesn’t mind eating sunflower seeds, but sees no reason to send the bill for them to taxpayers just to please North Dakota. Moving on to the subject of marketing orders for citrus fruit, Bandow gets really serious. Just once in recent decades has a freeze in Florida resulted in a situation that made it possible for Californians to market navel oranges freely without “orders.” The success of the brief free market in oranges has encouraged free-market organizations to press for the permanent elimination of all controls. Bandow would cheer, but he is afraid that reform will not come easy. “Until conservative free-market enthusiasts and liberal champions of the consumer place their professed principles before the votes of agribusiness,” he says, “food will continue to rot in the fields.”

Bandow is not only implacable about the farm situation, he is implacable about dealing with any protective theory or practice. Amtrak must go; the Postal Service must yield its monopoly of first-class mail. Uncle Sam’s extensive land holdings—“six times the size of France”—must be made available to users by lease or sale. Airline deregulation must be preserved. OPEC is no long-term menace if we proceed to “lease the oceans” off the coasts of Alaska and California.

Bandow wants to make our judges “answerable” not only to people but to the Constitution. He would limit their terms of office.

Bandow says it is time to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act which stipulates that workers on Federal projects shall get “prevailing” (meaning union scale) wages. One wishes him luck. He has already had some luck in pushing the movement to allow knitters to work at home. The Reagan Administration finally decided to lift constraints from home workers as long as the employer filed with the Labor Department and paid the minimum wage.

As for the minimum wage itself, Bandow thinks it is a job killer. But that is another story.

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.