How do you choose what to eat? Most people
don’t realize how big of an influence government policy has over the food they buy and consume.
Rent seeking, lobbying, and regulatory barriers all change the way food is produced and sold
throughout American refrigerators and American stomachs. Rent seeking occurs when private
individuals use politics not for the public welfare but to obtain personal benefits. The
benefits are concentrated to only those individuals within the special-interest group. Take corn subsidies for one example. Government
takes tax dollars from everyone and gives it to a smaller group of corn farmers. The
costs to you or me are small, but the benefits received by corn growers are large. Since
1995 the government has given $73.8 billion to corn growers while the average household
pays around $400 for food subsidies in a year. So how does this affect the food I choose
to eat? With corn subsidies, the price of foods containing corn is lower than it would
be without the subsidy. Thus, people are willing to eat more of it. Because farmers can benefit
so much from corn subsidies, they are willing to spend effort and real resources to get
politicians and policymakers to support subsidies. Regulations can act as barriers to entry as
smaller, newer businesses have more difficulty affording the costs of regulation. A good
example is regulation that certifies food as organic. Don’t these regulations help small
farmers? Unfortunately, no. Buying organic has become a billion-dollar industry. Big
businesses have lots of resources to invest time and money to make sure they benefit from
and comply with organic certification. Small farmers on the other hand have a harder time
affording the monetary costs, the paperwork, and the bureaucracy of compliance. Regulations
are small costs to big farmers but big costs to small growers. So the general market for
organic food is more dominated by large industrial farms and fewer local producers than it would
be without regulation. Many factors manipulate the market for food.
Prices are distorted because of subsidies, and regulation impedes competition. With so
many unintended consequences, is government the best way to promote food quality, health,
and nutrition? I say no. A freer market without distortions would allow consumers to buy cheaper,
healthier food.

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