Ants in the Belfry

"We might rely on collectivism to produce goods that we don't really need and goods we have a lot of substitutes for; but those things that we must have--that we cannot live without, at least in the manner in which we choose to live--those things have got to be reserved for private production, not government production." So wrote Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), then an economics professor at Texas A&M, in a 1978 REASON article.

More recently, Gramm has decided that one thing we must have and cannot live without--but that the federal government should produce--is a national policy on fire ants, a pest that attacks people, animals, and crops and infests over 60 percent of Texas counties and large parts of the South. Gramm has sponsored the "Fire Ant Control, Management, and Eradication Act of 1997," a bill that would establish a "National Advisory Board" on fire ants and spend as much as $16 million over four years to rub out the insects.

"Since I started studying the fire ants issue, I see them everywhere. I had a dream the other night they were conspiring to kill me," Gramm told the Associated Press. "Fire ants have reached a point of disruption in everything--from agriculture to playgrounds--that we need to do something about it."

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