Government Pork, Literally

Sometimes the phrase “government pork” is a euphemism and sometimes it’s not.

President Obama announced today that the Agriculture Department will spend $170 million to buy meat ($100 million for pork, $50 million for chicken, and $10 million worth of yummy lamb) and $10 million for catfish, freeze the stuff for a while, and distribute it to food banks.

If this seems to you like a transparent ploy to buy votes, you’re probably right. Food prices are on the rise and the economy is still stagnant, which means one of two things. First, food banks around the country are short food, mostly because demand has increased but also people people have less “spare” money to donate to them. Second, due to a serious drought and years of government ethanol meddling, farmers aren’t getting as much for their livestock as they would because the cattle, sheep, and other animals they sell as food aren’t as big as they would otherwise be. In addition, farmers are selling their livestock now because they either can’t get enough food to keep what they have or they can’t afford the high cost of feed.

The administration’s food-buying program will help those groups, at least in the short term, assuming the government agencies in charge of them don’t botch them badly (a possibility we can never discount). On the other hand, it will hurt the rest of us because it will drive the cost of beef, chicken, lamb, etc. even higher than it would otherwise be and those prices are likely to stay high for longer than usual. Why? Think back to the price of used cars after the Cash for Clunkers program took cars off the market in one fell swoop that would have come off the market naturally over a couple years. The year after the program, used car prices soared and though we can’t blame that rise on the program alone, it was a large factor. We can expect the same thing to happen with the cost of meat.

At least this time, they’re putting the pork right out in the open where we can see it. Maybe we should count that as progress.

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