Sometimes it might look like the state is having an identity crisis: “Should we be protecting people from their own choices, or helping corporations boost their bottom lines?” Don’t be fooled. The dual enactment of these divergent interests may come off as a sort of failure of central planning, democracy and/or bureaucracy, but this reading is far too narrow and leads lowly citizens into mistaking the corpus of state predation for the thin cloak of bumbling “protection.”
The American government spent $6.5 million last year through the Agriculture Department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion to teach Americans about eating healthier. At the same time the state spent $136 million encouraging more consumption of the same dairy products the previously named center was combating. The New York Times printed an article (“While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sale”) on November 6th, 2010 which addressed this incident:
Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.
Dairy Management is a state marketing/consulting agency (were you aware these even existed?) of the Agriculture Department. It has been central in challenging the empirical trend against American dairy consumption. This natural process toward healthier choices threatens established economic actors: Dairy producers. In response, dairy interests have utilized the bounty of state power through political organization to assist them in achieving what they couldn’t accomplish through normal market mechanisms.
These privileged producers use the power of the state to tax dairy producers — themselves — as well as average American citizens, to pay for their advertising campaigns, in order to remove a vector of competition between the firms engaged in dairy production. In this way, such a tax is not an affront to large interests, but a cartelizing force to be desired.
Smaller, locally oriented dairy producers are forced to fund centralizing and homogenizing campaigns which they might not want, against their will, when their money may have been better spent elsewhere. The excess capacity of overly capitalized firms who are producing too much milk is artificially bolstered in anti-market fashion rather than being redirected into more profitable pursuits. This function is supported by taxpayer and industry money when this sort of intervention is not conducive to natural economic development or individual consumer health. It is a state gift to established corporate producers; the dark side of a Janus-faced statism which overpowers mealy-mouthed concerns about consumer welfare.
Let someone else comment on the pitfalls of bureaucracy and waste; the knee-slapping story of the American state pursuing contradictory goals. The lesson here is simple: For every dollar of your money it spends to protect you, it is spending twenty to enrich a corporation at the expense of the market, the consumer, and your health. That one dollar receives attention and diverts people from realizing just how complicit the state is in the complex economic problems of today. It is a convenient smokescreen. The intolerance of fairness lactose producers and other “market” actors are receiving to non-exploitative markets is apparent. Don’t fall for it.