Resistance, on the Grapevine
Make what you will of the fact that the most provocative stories in the Washington Post come from the Style section, but this one is a doozy:
KERMAN, Calif. — In the world of dried fruit, America has no greater outlaw than Marvin Horne, 68.
Horne, a raisin farmer, has been breaking the law for 11 solid years. He now owes the U.S. government at least $650,000 in unpaid fines. And 1.2 million pounds of unpaid raisins, roughly equal to his entire harvest for four years.
For what offense has our scofflaw earned the contempt of the state? I’ll tell you, but you should probably take a moment to get any sharp objects out of your immediate vicinity:
He said no to the national raisin reserve.
“I believe in America. And I believe in our Constitution. And I believe that eventually we will be proved right,” Horne said recently, sitting in an office next to 20 acres of ripening Thompson grapes. “They took our raisins and didn’t pay us for them.”
The national raisin reserve might sound like a fever dream of the Pillsbury Doughboy. But it is a real thing — a 64-year-old program that gives the U.S. government a heavy-handed power to interfere with the supply and demand for dried grapes.
It works like this: In a given year, the government may decide that farmers are growing more raisins than Americans will want to eat. That would cause supply to outstrip demand. Raisin prices would drop. And raisin farmers might go out of business.
To prevent that, the government does something drastic. It takes away a percentage of every farmer’s raisins. Often, without paying for them.
This, by the way, is not a novel approach for the feds. Back in 2007, George Will noted the practical realities that had galvanized the otherwise moderate (then)Senator Richard Lugar to oppose farm subsidies:
Time was, Riley Webster Lugar, a Hoosier farmer, vociferously disapproved of the New Deal policy of killing baby pigs to control supply in the hope of raising prices. When his son Marvin ran the family farm, if a cashier giving him change included a Franklin Roosevelt dime, he would slap the offending coin on the counter and denounce the New Deal policy of supporting commodity prices by controlling supply — by limiting the freedom to plant.
Today, Marvin’s son Dick is carrying on two family traditions — running the farm and resenting the remarkable continuity connecting today’s farm policies with the New Deal’s penchant for economic planning. The grandson, now 75, is again trying to reform what Franklin Roosevelt wrought.
Lugar is gone from the Senate now, but let’s hope that members of Congress taking up a monstrosity of a farm bill can find the time and will to carve up all provisions that irrationally demand artificial scarcity as a means to abundance.