Saturday, September 27, 2014

Food Security

A debate on food security and the impact of Supply Management ("SM") is raging on Better Farming.

These issues have been debated since Rev. Malthus in 1798, the Corn Laws in UK of 1815, and Ricardo's 1817 Comparative Advantage Principles.

UK's Corn Laws restricted the importing of most cereal grains into UK by imposing high import tariffs, so as to subsidize and protect domestic food production, UK farmers, UK grain dealers, and UK mercantilism in general. The UK Corn Laws in 1815 are similar to Canada's SM system today.  The UK debate ended in 1846 when the Irish Great Famine created an urgent need for new food supplies, forcing the repeal of the Corn Laws.

One million or more Irish citizens died, and another 1 million people were forced to emigrate from 1845 to 1852; causing a 25% drop in population for Ireland.  How many lives would have been saved if the protectionist Corn Laws had not been implemented, or government had played its role more effectively?

The UK government allowed long suffering problems and poverty in Ireland to fester unresolved and worsening for decades before the 1845 potato blight occurred.  The government was slow to detect the consequences of the potato blight.  They took ineffective actions that didn't help those in greatest need, and those actions often resulted in severe unintended consequences. Some government officials saw the famine as a God-sent solution that would allow them to eliminate the troublesome Irish.  In other cases, the government ran Ireland as a business, maximizing exports of foods and goods for profits, and huge financial leakage from Ireland by payments to absentee landlords; all while the indigenous populations starved.  Numerous historians reported that God may have caused the potato blight, but it was the English government overlords who turned that potato blight into a famine.  Some say the Irish Famine is comparable to the Jewish Holocaust and other cases of Genocide.

Is that what Canada has in store for us? The Canada of today with its dysfunctional SM system seems to be tracking along the same path as the Irish in the 1800's.

The UK's Corn Laws lasted 31 years.  Canada's SM debacle will be 50 years old soon; 19 years more stale dated than the Corn Laws.  Apparently we haven't yet learned these important lessons, so we need to re-learn them again.

In the short term, all countries are limited by their existing infrastructure capacity, and comparative advantage.  Governments have a duty to ensure that its citizens can feed themselves.

Governments should ensure the greater good of all their citizens by understanding the current domestic limitations, the weaknesses and opportunities, and take the necessary steps (ie. facilitate & encourage co-ordinated free market action, or unilateral government action if necessary) to improve infrastructures, domestic capacity and capability.

Some gaps and disadvantages are temporary or occurred at random, and can be easily solved.  Others are chronic, exist for good reasons, and can only be changed by continuous government subsidies, interventions, and false economies (eg. growing bananas and oranges in Canada); a costly and wrong-headed approach.  Sometimes the solution is worse than the original problem, doesn't solve the original problem, and creates even more problems (eg. Canada's Supply Management system). Sometimes it isn't easy to determine which category the problem and/or proposed solution will fall into.

In SM's case, the unintended consequences, excessive costs, and limitations are obvious.  The ongoing damage to Canada and Canadians, and the future risks, will continue until SM is reformed or removed.

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