Caution from earlier assaults on free market

by Morton Sosland
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Close readers of the Archive page in this journal undoubtedly will have noted the remarkable frequency with which items from 10, 30 and 70 years ago relate closely with issues today or even one another. A particularly chilling coincidence may be found in this issue (Page 66), featuring 1939 and 1979 articles in which Congress, faced with trying economic times, had sought to take agricultural markets "over the brink." The first, in 1939, was a bill, S.570, to establish minimum prices no lower than the cost of crop production. The proposal, which was seriously debated, demonstrates how perilously close the federal government came during the Great Depression to completely eliminating market economics from the pricing of agricultural products.

Precisely 40 years later, in the depths of the energy crisis that loomed before the Carter administration, Representative James Weaver of Oregon introduced a bill to counter the world’s oil cartel by making the United States "the OPEC" of grain. Dubbed "bushel for a barrel," the bill failed to account either for basic differences between grain (renewable) and oil (non-renewable) or the fact that all cartels (OPEC included) ultimately fail in sustaining prices.

Looking back on these events may suggest that recent economic interventions by the federal government, while monumental in scope, are benign compared to ideas floated in earlier times. Still, even the possibility that such madness could have the attention of Congress reminds that vigilance to protect market economics is especially important in harsh economic times.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, March 24, 2008, starting on Page 4. Click here to search that archive.

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