All Commentary
Saturday, January 1, 1966

The Serpentine Gauntlet

Anyone who has followed the ser­pentine twists of this year’s sugar bill through the House and on into the dungeon of the Senate Finance Committee knows that the visible signs of its progress—if it can be called progress — were not very pretty.

Its path was less a path than a gauntlet strewn with ambuscades. At every turn in the marble cor­ridors, in every committee room where it was detained, little knots of determined men were lying in wait, each with a sheaf of amend­ments plus hammers and nails with which to affix them to a meas­ure that looked stranger and stranger until it literally fell asun­der and broke up into three or more entities that could not at this point be reassembled by all the king’s horses or all the king’s men.

There is the original Adminis­tration bill, with its country-by ­country allocations on the basis of deliveries during the critical sup­ply periods of 1963-64. There is the House-passed bill that uses the allocation formula of the 1962 Sugar Act which favors Western Hemisphere sources. There are the proposals of Senators Fulbright and Williams for a simple six-month extension. Separate plans have been advanced by Senator Douglas, who wants an import fee, by Senator Morton, who feels that even the House bill does not sufficiently favor Latin American producers, and by Senator McCarthy, who wants import quotas based on actual deliveries from 1960 to 1964.

Many, including this newspaper, have deplored the machinations of lobbyists representing all kinds of domestic and foreign interests in confounding the issues involved in the sugar bill. Beet and cane growers are feuding as usual. For­eign suppliers are feuding with each other. Foreign policy and domestic farm policies are collid­ing at every step of the way. And so it goes.

Nevertheless, it is not only un­fair but a little aside from the point to blame all this shoving and pushing on the lobbyists. These, after all, merely represent Amer­ican and foreign business inter­ests and a sizable number of for­eign governments whose futures are deeply involved with every twist and turn of American sugar policy. If there are some who take advantage of this confusion for reasons that strike a number of critics as “crass,” there are others who rightly feel their very livelihood is at stake. They can hardly be blamed for fighting for it.

Who’s to Blame?

Where, then, does the blame lie? We would say it lies, in the con­siderations that do with sugar, as with any other commodity, in the foolish conviction that the deter­minations of Congress are in some way beyond the ken of the aver­age person — superior to an over­riding degree to any decisions that could ever possibly be reached in the market place.

If sugar had been left un­touched, its marketing today would be determined solely by the price established by supply and demand. If foreign producers of cane could market their sugar here at lower prices than domestic beet or cane producers, there would be no prob­lem. There might be no domestic beet or cane producers, but neither would there be any problem of choosing between foreign producers. If, on the other hand, do­mestic producers could beat the foreign competition hands down, would there be any question as to which (if any) foreign pro­ducers should be favored?

It is only because Congress de­cided that it, and it alone, should be the supreme arbiter concerning the source and the price of every pound of sugar sold in the United States that this awful impasse came to pass. In such a circum­stance, who can be surprised at learning that Congressmen are the target of each and every in­terest that can be brought to bear? In such a circumstance, who can be surprised at learning that the (almost) annual debate over the sugar bill evidences traces of the worst kind of logrolling that have disgraced democratic government in this country since the machina­tions leading up to the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930?

We admit — the editors of this newspaper — that some of our for­eign friends and allies might suff­er if sugar marketings here were determined solely by the laws of supply and demand, which is to say, by the laws of the market place. But who, after witnessing the deplorable results of Congres­sional horse-trading, could honest­ly say the market has in the slight­est degree been improved by Fed­eral intervention?

The fact is, it hasn’t been im­proved in one single degree, or tenth of a degree. It would, today, prove far less chaotic if there had been no Federal intervention whatever. Let all liberals who be­lieve in Federal marketing con­trols pause over this. Let them consider only sugar for the mo­ment, but then consider how far down the road to ruin their fol­lies have already led them.

Reprinted by permission from The Journal of Commerce and Commercial, October 20, ¹965.




To organize one’s life, to distribute one’s time, to take the measure of one’s duties and make one’s rights respected; to employ one’s capital and resources, one’s talents and one’s chances profitably — all this belongs to and is included in the word order…. Order is man’s greatest need and his true well-being.

From the Journal of HEN 6¹ AMIEL (¹82¹-81)