THE HIGH (POLITICAL) COST OF FOOD
The hypocrisy of the federal government's attempts to keep prices down has been highlighted by recent developments in the food and dairy industries. Although fresh food prices are not covered by Phase II controls, the Administration has been verbally harassing food retailers to hold down prices, blaming soaring food bills on retailers' greed and/or various unnamed middlemen. Yet as a recent TIME analysis pointed out, the federal government itself is the biggest contributor to these increases, due to a $1 billion increase in farm subsidies this year—from $3.3 billion to $4.3 billion! These subsidies cost the consumer doubly: initially in higher taxes and secondly in the higher prices caused by reduced crop production due to the subsidy program.
A further example of government duplicity was pointed out recently by a consumer group headed by Ralph Nader. The group filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington to overturn the federal government's 6% increase in the support price for milk. On 25 March 1971 the Agriculture Department raised the price it guarantees to milk producers from $4.66 to $4.93 per hundredweight (meaning that if the farmer cannot get $4.93 on the open market, the government will buy it from him at that price). It is estimated that this increase is costing the taxpayers $126 million per year in additional taxes, plus retail milk prices an average of 4% higher than before.
The chronology of this increase bears examination. As pointed out by the class-action suit, when the milk lobby first proposed an increase in the support price, then-Secretary of Agriculture Hardin ruled against it on 11 March 1971, whereupon 13 Senators and 47 House members who had received $186,000 in campaign contributions from the milk lobby introduced legislation to overturn Hardin's decision! Included in this list were such "consumer-champion" and price-control advocates as Hubert Humphrey ($15,625 contribution), Edmund Muskie ($3,936), and William Proxmire ($9,000). Before the bill could be acted on, the dairy lobby contributed $322,500 to four Republican campaign committees on 22 and 24 March and held an intensive briefing with Nixon and Hardin on 23 March. On 25 March, Secretary Hardin announced that the increase would be granted after all. The Nader suit represents a healthy new development in consumerism.
Meanwhile, genuine action to hold down milk prices has been occurring at the retail level in a number of states. A cooperative in Pittsburgh—the United Dairy Farmers Co-operative Association—is challenging the Pennsylvania Milk Commission's retail milk price-fixing policies by selling milk for $.09 a gallon less than the "legal" price. A three-judge federal court in Philadelphia has ruled the co-op illegal, but the group is taking its case to the Supreme Court. E.N. Hayes, president of UDFCA, argues that it is not the co-op that is wrong: "We're not breaking the law…the Commission is interfering with free enterprise and restricting trade."
Hayes also points out that under the co-op's free market policies, the 235 member farmers today are getting $.13 per quart, compared with $.08 per quart in 1963, before the co-op was organized. Neighboring states—including Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia—have had their milk price control boards declared unconstitutional. At a time when federal policy is allegedly aimed at helping consumers, it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court views UDFCA.
• "The Sprouting Farm Issue," TIME, 24 April 1972, pp. 20-25.
• "Nader Files Suit to Overturn U.S. Increase in Milk Support," Associated Press, 25 January 1972.
• "The Mother's Milk of Politics," Editorial, LOS ANGELES TIMES, 30 January 1972.
• "Milk Co-op Battles Control of Prices," UPI, 10 November 1971.
A REAL-LIFE HARRAD EXPERIMENT
Many readers of Robert Rimmer's novel THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT [see our interview with Rimmer, "The Future of Marriage," in REASON, December 1971] were disappointed to learn that no real Harrad College existed. Despite numerous coeducational dormitory experiments, no college administration dared experiment with sexually desegregated roommate selection. All that may well be changed by an experiment recently conducted at the University of Michigan. Under tacit University approval, a cooperative off-campus residence called Xanada house conducted a two-week long experiment in which 29 students shared rooms with members of the opposite sex. The students ranged in age from 18 to 22; 17 were men and 12 were women (some rooms were shared by two men and a woman). The purpose of the experiment was not to "break down moral standards," as detractors might allege. Rather, as one student participant put it, "We're just normal people trying to learn how to live with members of the opposite sex."
• "Students in 2-week Room-Sharing Test," UPI, 27 February 1972.
TEACHERS TAKE THE INITIATIVE
In contrast to thousands of petulant aerospace workers, who seem to view their unemployment as a claim against the taxpayers, a group of out-of-work teachers in the San Francisco area has set an exciting example. According to a spokesman for the Organization of Unemployed Teachers (OUT), the group plans "to encourage [unemployed] teachers to create their own education projects, rather than sit around and wait for the system to enslave them and force them to participate in miseducative procedures." 310 jobless teachers attended the organizational meeting last November. Among the 21 projects considered at that meeting, a number are already under way. These include the creation of new model learning environments, providing a network of education resources and teacher centers, campaigning for the voucher system [see "The Case For Education Vouchers," REASON, April/May 1971], educating prisoners in city and county jails, developing industrial education projects, and setting up a job clearinghouse and newsletter. OUT hopes to expand to the rest of California and the US, to serve as a catalyst for developing alternatives to the public schools. The group may be reached at 300 E. Santa Inez Avenue, San Mateo, California 94401.
• NEW SCHOOLS EXCHANGE NEWSLETTER, Issue No.67, 1 December 1971.
PROGRESS REPORT: VICTIMLESS CRIMES
Recent months have seen new developments toward strengthening the protection of an individual's right to do as one pleases with one's own body. A three-judge federal court in New Jersey held that the state's antiabortion law was unconstitutional. In its decision the court stated: "We hold that a woman has a constitutional right of privacy under the 9th and 14th Amendments to determine for herself whether to bear a child." The decision, which left New Jersey with no law against abortions was especially significant in that it is the most clearly libertarian abortion decision to date and further extends the recent trend toward utilizing the long-ignored Ninth Amendment in defense of individual rights not specifically named in the Constitution. Meanwhile, the very liberal 1970 New York abortion law has withstood a challenge brought by a Roman Catholic law professor. The Appellate Division Panel in Brooklyn ruled 4-1 that an unborn child cannot be considered a legal person with right to life under the Fifth Amendment. Together these two decisions, if upheld by the Supreme Court, should spell the doom of all remaining repressive antiabortion laws.
In Oregon, the legislature has adopted a new criminal code which eliminates public drunkenness as a crime and removes penalties for private sexual conduct between consenting adults. Whereupon the Democratic Party, at its pre-primary convention, adopted a platform calling for legalization of prostitution and repeal of all remaining antisex laws, legalization of marijuana (and amnesty for those now serving time), full equality for homosexuals, and amnesty and commendation for draft evaders. Democratic leaders promised to introduced each plank of the platform in the 1973 legislature.
Finally, progress of a sort is occurring in Texas. Although the average time served for homicide is less than six years in Texas, sentences for drug offenses are often unbelievable. Black militant Lee Otis Johnson was recently given 30 years for passing a joint to a narcotics agent; several Mexican-Americans are now serving 1500- to 1800-year terms for selling heroin. Large numbers of white, middleclass youths are serving 10-year sentences for simple marijuana possession. Recently, however, Dr. George Beto, director of the Texas Department of Corrections, pointed out that Texas has become "the laughingstock of the U.S. because of its long sentences for drug possession." Beto says he has changed his mind about the victimless crime laws, which "confuse sins with felonies." He questions whether "the state should concern itself with fundamentally moral issues" and urges that the law distinguish between different drugs. "An increasing number of middleclass marijuana offenders are not convinced they have done anything wrong…They don't propose to change their manner of living when they get out. And to think we can change them (in prison) is a vain hope," Beto said.
• "Abortion Laws Struck Down," UPI, 2 March 1972.
• "Crime Control Briefs—New York," CRIME CONTROL DIGEST, February 1972, p. 7.
• "News Items—Oregon," CRIMINAL JUSTICE NEWSLETTER, 31 January 1972, p. 19.
• "Demos Adopt Controversial Rights Platform," UPI, 10 April 1972.
• "The Agitator," TIME, 13 March 1972, p. 50.
• "Drug Laws in Texas Scored by Prison Chief," LOS ANGELES TIMES, 14 April 1972, p. 32.