COLUMN: Robson – Premier Dad wants into your grocery cart

- September 24th, 2012

Local Foods Act a lesson in getting economics wrong

by John Robson

Dad McGuinty wants you to spit out that PEI potato, Argentine beef and Florida orange juice and gorge on Timmins turnips instead. The preem told farmers at an International Plowing Match in Roseville he plans a Local Food Act to stuff Ontario produce down our throats. How many things are wrong with this idea?

For starters, McGuinty claimed “If families dedicated just $10 more of their weekly foods budgets to buying Ontario products, it would generate $2.4 billion in economic activity and create 10,000 new jobs.” Really? Ontario does have something like 4.5 million families. But if they each spent another $10 a week or $520 a year would generate… nothing.

True, they would spend roughly $2.4 billion more in Ontario instead of somewhere else. But they would also spend roughly $2.4 billion less in other places than Ontario. And if McGuinty thinks that would have no effect on the provincial economy he’s obviously out to lunch. And not with Henry Hazlitt.

As Hazlitt wrote in Economics in One Lesson back in 1946, “the whole of economics can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

So let’s see. First, under the Dalton Sets the Menu Act, Ontarians will buy less food from other parts of Canada. People in other provinces will then have less money to spend on things like Ontario food and services and manufactures. Diverting spending from other parts of Canada to Ontario doesn’t mean pure gain; if it did, we could get rich by closing our provincial borders to trucks. I wonder if McGuinty thinks Manitobans or Quebecers would be better off banning Ontario cheese or eggs. Duh.

Second, Ontarians will buy less food from other countries. Foreigners will then have fewer Canadian dollars to spend on Canadian food, services and manufactures. I wonder if McGuinty thinks the U.S. should adopt strict buy American policies. Duh. But he wasn’t done being stupid and his idea, far from being merely useless, would be actively harmful.

Most politicians are in the business of rewarding failure and punishing success and McGuinty’s no exception. When he sees the amazingly successful modern energy economy he wants to rid those yucky petrochemicals and extract sunbeams from roofs. When he sees an incredibly efficient system of food production and distribution put fresh produce from around the world on ordinary people’s tables he wants to make us eat local as people did in the 17th century.

This business about efficiency is why his buy-local policy wouldn’t just fail to bring the benefits he promises. The whole reason we buy food from foreigners and they buy oil, machines, insurance or for that matter other food from us is that we both get a better deal. So we’d end up poorer under this plan to interfere with efficiency because Father Knows Best.

With this Buy Local Act you also get the dumb assumption that the middle of an agonizing effort to contain the runaway costs of government is an ideal time to extend its reach further. And as a crowning touch, the profoundly insulting claim that it’s his place to tell us what to eat.

Guess what, Dad. We’re all grown up. We moved out. We earn our own money, pay our own rent and do our own shopping. In fact we’re supporting you not the other way around, so enough with the lectures already.

Categories: Contributor Columns

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