April 20, 2017

Without our sacred supply management, it’d be “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh saddles up old Rocinante and has a tilt at the ludicrous supply management regime in milk:

You remember how Chobani, a hipster yogurt business based in New York state, got a temporary permit to sell the product in Ontario and won over customers. You know how it tried to meet our supply-managed dairy system halfway by making plans for a factory in Kingston. You know how milk processors waged berserker war in court to prevent the permit from being renewed, and closed ranks to deny the company a supply of Canadian milk.

And, most of all, you know how the product disappeared from our shelves, how Canadians still seek it out on cross-border trips, and how slow and confused the dairy cartel was about meeting the new demand for extra-heavy yogurt. None of this is going to be too easy to explain to a four-year-old.

I hasten to add that I am not seriously playing the “Won’t someone think of the children” card so beloved of politicians, newspaper columnists, and other shameless scum. The four-year-old will get over it. She’ll grow up in a free-trade Canada in which she does not have to accept a world of consumer second-bests, simulacra, and make-dos, except possibly in the dairy section. She can have no personal memory of Seventies Canada — never know what it is like to switch from Eaton’s to The Bay just to buy slightly different versions of the same low-quality, unfashionable crap. The question I grew up with was “Why does Canada have seemingly permanent poorer living standards than the U.S.?”; now it is just “Why are the cheese sections in our grocery stores so pathetic?”

So, Mad Max to the rescue? Not if champion protectionist Steven Blaney can stop him:

… supply management froze the world of Canadian dairying at a perfect moment for Quebec, and so the system has become a sacred cow made of other, literal cows. Because economists and intellectuals know that supply management is a transfer of wealth from consumers of all classes to a few thousand affluent farmers, the beneficiaries reinvest a great deal of the profit in hapless, defensive public-relations efforts that only tend to make us loathe them more.

They have even found a political champion in Steven Blaney, the cadaverous oddball from the Eastern Townships who is in the Conservative leadership race to play milk spoiler to fellow Quebecer Maxime Bernier. Bernier wants to retire supply management by buying farmers out of their quotas with a national tax on dairy, lasting for a fixed period.

This is a generous approach to free trade in dairy: it is a buyout of unearned entitlements. Producers who want to leave the industry would do so with an enormous grubstake — the kind of which workers laid off from regular jobs can only dream. Those who hang in there would get to keep something like the present value of their annulled production quotas as they face new careers in an honest-to-God marketplace (which is what some of them very much wish to do).

January 14, 2017

Mad Max for PM!

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier gets an unusually even-handed profile from the CBC:

Bernier’s life is a moveable banquet of rubber chicken, and shaking grimy, anonymous hands, and pretending great interest in everyone, trying all the while to turn the discussion to Maxime Bernier. And perhaps asking for some money while he’s at it.

Actually, that’s unfair. What Bernier mostly turns the discussion to is his ideas.

He’s libertarian, to the extent that it’s possible to be a libertarian and seek high office in a country that was built on protectionism and entitlement and government being the answer to everything.

He advocates the end of quotas and supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs. Oh, and maple syrup. Most Canadian politicians — let alone MPs representing rural Canada like Bernier — prefer to leave such topics undiscussed.

He wants to abolish interprovincial trade barriers. Stopping companies from growing into other Canadian jurisdictions, or stopping workers from travelling between provinces, he characterizes as “foolish,” “doubly foolish” and “ridiculous.”

Go ahead and argue with that.

Bernier wants an end to what he calls “corporate welfare,” his term for governments using tax money to pick winners, such as Bombardier and General Motors, and letting losers struggle with market forces.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, it’ll come as no surprise that Bernier is far and away my preferred choice for Tory leader.

November 30, 2014

Bad politics, bad economics and the “great chocolate shortage”

Filed under: Africa, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Tim Worstall explains that the fuss and bother in European newspapers about the “market failure” in the chocolate supply is actually a governmental failure (a market sufficiently bothered by legislation and regulation):

The last few days have seen us regaled with a series of stories about how the world is going to run out of chocolate. That would be, I think we can all agree, almost as bad as running out of bacon. So it’s worth thinking through the reasons as to why we might be running out. After all, cocoa, from which chocolate is made, is a plant, it’s obviously renewable in that it grows each season. So how can we be running out of something we farm? The answer is, in part at least, that there’s some bad public policy at the root of this. As there usually is when something that shouldn’t happen does.

Here’s the basic story in a nutshell:

    A recent chocolate shortage has seen cocoa farmers unable to keep up with the public’s insatiable appetite for the treat–and the world’s largest chocolate producers, drought, Ebola and a fungal disease may all be to blame.

Much of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa so the disruption by the Ebola outbreak is one obvious part of it. But the shortage is not something immediate, it’s something that has been coming for some years. Ebola is right now, not a medium term influence. Drought similarly, that’s a short term thing, and this is a medium term problem. It’s also true that as the world gets richer more people can afford and thus desire that delicious chocolate.


Ahhh…the government is paying the farmers £1 a kg or so and the market is indicating that supply and demand will balance at £1.88 a kg. So, what we’ve actually got here is some price fixing. And the price to the producers is fixed well below the market clearing price (although the government most certainly gets that market price). So, we’ve a wedge in between the prices that consumers are willing to pay for a certain volume and the price that the farmers get for production. So, therefore, instead of it being the price that balances supply and demand we end up with an imbalance of the supply and demand as a result of the price fixing.

This is how it always goes, of course, whenever anyone tries to fix a price. If that price is fixed above the market clearing one then producers make more than anyone wants to consume (think the EU and agriculture, leading to butter mountains and wine lakes). If the price is fixed below the market clearing one then producers don’t make as much as people want to consume. This is why it’s near impossible to get an apartment anywhere where there is rent control. And if prices are fixed at the market clearing price then why bother in the first place? Quite apart from the fact that we’ve got to use the market itself to calculate the market clearing price.

May 6, 2013

A Canadian criminal innovation – cheese smuggling

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:58

The CBC reports on a breathtaking news item … imported mozzarella cheese is being removed from the clutches of the supply management system, which will reduce prices by a significant amount:

Pizza lovers could soon be paying less for their favourite pies.

A ruling made this week by the Canadian Dairy Commission could soon allow Canadian restaurants to buy deeply discounted mozzarella cheese.

The commission changed the rules used to classify mozzarella cheese, putting the milk product in its own class and essentially removing it from supply-management pricing. Before the ruling, the price for mozzarella cheese in Canada was artificially high when compared to the world market.

The new class, to take effect June 1, is expected to result in lower costs for Canadian-made mozzarella for restaurants that prepare and cook pizzas on site.

Bob Abumeeiz, who owns Arcata Pizzeria in Windsor, Ont., said the ruling could drop the price of a large pizza by as much as 10 per cent.

Oh, and the cheese smuggling?

High prices are part of the reason some pizzeria owners were turning to contraband cheese, smuggled into Canada from the U.S.

Last fall CBC News learned three men, including one current and one former police officer from the Niagara Falls area, were charged in connection with an international cheese-smuggling network.

The men are accused of smuggling caseloads of cheap cheese from the U.S. to sell to Canadian pizzerias and restaurants.

March 6, 2013

QotD: Canada Syndrome

It’s one of the marvels of the Canadian electorate. Show Canadians a special interest group that uses its government-granted privileges to fleece consumers, and they’ll embrace it as a “national champion,” a “uniquely Canadian way of life” or some equally vapid catch-phrase.

This is from the Wikipedia entry for Stockholm Syndrome:

    Stockholm syndrome, or capture–bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.

What we suffer from is the economic policy equivalent. Call it “Canada Syndrome”: a tendency for consumers to identify with the producer interests that are holding them hostage.

Stephen F. Gordon, “Our Stockholm Syndrome about supply management”, Maclean’s, 2013-03-05

February 11, 2013

Senate report calls for tariff cuts

In the Financial Post, Terence Corcoran looks at the good and not-so-good aspects of a recent Senate report on the reasons Canadians pay so much more for goods than Americans (even when the goods are identical and the currencies are trading at par):

Retail prices in Canada, seemingly across the board, are higher. Even with the Canadian dollar at par, the price of everything from running shoes to televisions and Chevy Camaros to books is said to be above U.S prices. One bank report once put the Canada-U.S. price gap at 20%.

Somebody’s gotta do something, everybody agrees. Enter the Senate committee with one of the most hard-nosed, market-driven overviews of how and why Canadians pay more for goods at retail. The report dodges and fudges some key issues, especially farm product supply management, which was seen by the committee and the retail industry as too politically hot to handle.

[. . .]

Even in this, however, the committee pulls its first punch. The recommendation to “review” such tariffs — watery phrasing in itself — also suggests “keeping in mind the impact on domestic manufacturing.” Sorry, folks, but you can’t have it both ways. Tariffs are protectionist devices for manufacturers that consumers pay for. If you want to reduce the price to consumers, the $3.9-billion in protection for manufacturers has to go. End of discussion.

What makes The Canada-USA Price Gap even more valuable is its compact insights into the many causes of higher retail prices in Canada. The economy is a complicated and often unfathomable series of market and price relationships beyond the power and even understanding of policy makers. The report recognizes that fact time and again.

November 24, 2012

Regulating food container size as a form of soft protectionism

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:54

Terence Corcoran talks about the 1970s-era food packaging regulations that have suddenly become topical:

What started out looking like a regulatory non-event, the Harper government’s plan to repeal scores of petty federal rules governing the size of containers for packaged food in supermarkets, has suddenly become a great national food fight.

It’s industry against industry, food processors versus supply management, Heinz battling Campbell’s, baby-food makers against corn canners — all part of a war over jobs and trade and consumer dollars. Nominally over antiquated federal regulations, it’s also a war that highlights another reason why Canadian consumers pay more for products at the retail level.

[. . .]

Never mind peanut butter. Ottawa has detailed container specs for what looks like every food product on store shelves: canned vegetables, fruit juices, vacuum-packed corn, tomato juice, maple syrup, frozen spinach, pork and beans, bagged potatoes, soups, desserts, pies, sauerkraut, horseradish sauce, wine — and many more.

It is unclear why these detailed container-size regulations exist, but one explanation is that they are a result of Ottawa’s mass conversion to metric measure in the 1970s under then prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Under the metrication rules, the law mandated metric for all prepackaged food products.

Whatever the intent of the detailed regulations, the effect has been to erect trade barriers that have created protected industries that are now opposing the proposed changes. The Food Processors of Canada set up a web page, KeepFoodJobsInCanada, promoting an email campaign to force Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to block the plan to repeal the container-size regulations. It seems to have worked, so far.

July 17, 2012

Ending supply management

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:00

In the Globe and Mail Economy Lab, David Bond explores equitable ways to compensate farmers who will lose out if-and-when the federal government abandons the supply management system:

The quota was originally given out for free, therefore farmers or their direct successors still in the business would receive nothing for their original allocation and then 90 per cent of whatever they paid at the time they acquired additional amounts of quota.

Why only 90 per cent? Well having quota allowed the holders to earn returns on their investment well in excess of the returns that could have been earned in alternative forms of farming. Having enjoyed for more than 40 years these superior returns thanks to their ability to persuade government to protect them from competition it’s time they “enjoyed” some of the costs they foisted upon Canadian consumers.

While the potential beneficiaries of this compensation may complain of shoddy treatment they evidenced little sympathy on the costs they passed on to the consumers much less the harmful impact they had on potential exports of other agricultural and non-agricultural exports because government refused to modify supply management during trade negotiations.

June 23, 2012

Trade deals as mutual disarmament pacts

It’s a very sad commentary that the only way the current “pro-business” federal government can even consider scrapping our supply management monopolies is because “our trading partners forced us to”:

If the government were of a mind to get rid of supply management — it swears it is not — that is perhaps the only basis on which it could: our trading partners made us do it. Certainly it would not dream of doing so otherwise. Such is the power of the supply management lobby, especially dairy, that a suffocating consensus has settled over the issue, of a kind rarely seen in a democracy. Consensus is not even the word. Every party strives to outdo the others in the fulsomeness of its support. And not just every party: every member of every party, in every province and at every level of government. It’s quite creepy.

Yet virtually every economist or policy analyst of note agrees that supply management is a disgrace. The primary effect of the quotas — the intended effect — is to drive up the price of these foods, staples of most Canadians’ diets, to two and three times the market price. The burden of these extraordinary price differentials, of course, fall most heavily on the poor, a fact that ought to trouble self-styled “progressives” but evidently doesn’t.

But it isn’t only consumers who pay. Since the quotas are tradeable, the premium over market prices gets capitalized into the value of the quota. The right to a cow’s worth of milk production, for example, runs to about $28,000, meaning a farmer looking to get into the industry faces an initial outlay, for the typical 60-cow farm, in excess of $1.5-million — just for the quota, never mind the cows, the barn and the rest.

December 19, 2011

Kelly McParland: “Norwegians are the most revoltingly perfect people in the world”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 14:24

Don’t worry, my Norwegian friends, it’s just small-minded Canadian jealousy that you tend to beat us in all the “Smug Country” polls and your national monopoly is even more constricting and incompetent than our equivalent national monopoly:

Everyone knows the Norwegians are the most revoltingly perfect people in the world.

They consistently top all lists of Things Good Countries Do.

They give more to foreign aid than just about any other country in the world. Countries are supposed to give 70¢ for every $100 of national production, but hardly any do. Norway gives about 40% more than the benchmark. They’re sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in oil profits, and instead of blowing it on short-term expediencies (like a certain western province we could mention) they squirrel a lot of it away in an investment fund to help maintain their high standard of living when the oil runs out. And believe me, their standard of living is high: a cradle-to-grave nannyism that revolts conservatives but seems to work for Norwegians. (In Norway, life is so soft that even cows are required to have rubber mats in their stalls so they can rest comfortably between shifts).

They’re so perfect they’re annoying. Even Swedes get tired of hearing about them. So it’s kind of fun to read about how they’ve completely buggered up their supply management system, so that the entire country has been stripped of its butter supply just as Christmas arrives and everyone gears up to make lots of stuff for which butter is required. And if it reminds you of Canada’s own supply management system (think: dairy products and Quebec), all the better.

November 15, 2011

Stephen Gordon: One does not simply end supply management

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:29

Stephen Gordon in the Globe and Mail‘s Economy Lab on the economically indefensible Canadian anomaly known as “supply management”:

The best way to get a rise out of Canadian economists is to ask us about our dairy supply management system. It’s simply indefensible: a government-enforced cartel whose only purpose is to generate high prices for what most would view as essential goods. This sort of arrangement wouldn’t be — and isn’t — tolerated in another sector of the economy. Nor is it tolerated anywhere else in the world. So the news that the federal government is considering putting supply management on the table in order to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is guaranteed to generate a certain amount of excitement among my colleagues.

It’s hard to believe that the interests of 13,000 Canadian dairy farmers could consistently trump the interests of 34 million Canadian dairy consumers, but yet the system is still with us. Why can’t we simply end supply management and let consumers benefit from lower dairy prices?

The problem is that current dairy farmers are — for the most part — not earning monopoly rents from what they produce. In order to sell their output, dairy farmers must first obtain a permit to do so, and dairy quotas are not cheap: more than $25,000 per cow. To a very great extent, the higher prices that they receive simply cover this initial investment.

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