Wednesday, March 07, 2007

More on artificial barriers to the free flow of goods

Generally, I don't intend to use this blog to make political statements. My posting yesterday was a rare exception, but now that I brought up the issue of free trade (or artificial barriers to it) it has come up again and I can't stop myself.

Today, NPR broadcast a story (here's a summary) about how the Bush administration is trying to make the distribution of food for aid more efficient. The administration is trying to change the Food for Peace program to allow food to be purchased closer to where it is needed than requiring that all food in this $1B program to be purchased from US farmers. American farmers, of course, are fighting this hard.

The thing that drives me crazy about this kind of stuff is the awkward consequences of these artificial barriers. According to the story, it takes an average of six months for food to arrive at the needed location after the request has been made. This could be reduced by months if more local sources are allowed. Are we trying to help the starving people, or the American farmers? Why don't we take the money that we save in shipping American produce (and thereby artificially propping up US prices) and use it to retrain the impacted American farmers to pursue alternative employment in a more needed area?

The best part of hearing this story on NPR is that I had a chance to describe it to my 8 year old son and discuss it with him over dinner. I like sharing with him difficult problems with no clear answer as a bit of a mental and philosophical exercise.

His solution was remarkably simple. Buy a limited amount of local produce to only meet short-term needs, then replace the supply with American food when it is able to arrive. In that way, we help both the starving people and the American farmer. Brilliant.
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