Sugar Subsidies Make Halloween Candy Much More Expensive, Leave Sour After-Taste


Mercatus Center

With Halloween just days away, Americans are ready to consume a scary amount of sweets. Each year, Americans buy about 600 million pounds of candy for eager trick-or-treaters, the Neilsen Company reports. Americans consume 15 billion pounds of candy each year, so Halloween alone accounts for about 4 percent of our annual indulgence. The National Retail Federation estimates $2.2 billion in candy sales this year, up from $2.08 billion in 2013.

The price of candy is inflated thanks to federal programs designed to support U.S. makers of sugar. First, the government imposes protectionist tariffs on imports so prices aren't lowered via market competition. Then, the government sets up an industry planning board to "scientifically determine" how much output sugar companies can legally produce each year; after that, market shares assigned to preferred private corporations. Any output that exceeds a company's government quota must be stockpiled—or destroyed (the board determines the exact course of action on a case-by-case basis.) To sweeten the deal, the government extends cheap taxpayer-backed loans to these same privileged corporations.

As a result of such actions, U.S. consumers and businesses pay on average about twice the world price of sugar. Using data from the USDA's Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables, the chart above displays large discrepancies between world sugar prices and U.S. domestic sugar prices from 2000 to 2014.

These policies are incredibly costly to U.S. consumers. Economist Mark Perry estimates that "if sugar quotas were eliminated, and American consumers and business[es] had been able to purchase 100% of their sugar in 2011 at the world price (average of 31.68 cents per pound) instead of the average U.S. price of 56.22 cents, they would have saved about $3.86 billion."

The sugar high doesn't stop there. If prices happen to fall below the "optimal" level that the industry board has determined (as has been the case since 2011), then the government is ready to buy up surplus product to push prices back to the "proper" level.

That sort of cronyism is enough to sour a person on Halloween, no matter how much candy she eats on October 31.

NEXT: Millennials Favor Republican Congress, Poll Finds

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  1. Can you imagine how much more expensive sugar would be if the government didn’t regulate it?

    1. The Kochtopus would take over the industry and forcefeed it to the children until they were hopelessly addicted to it, then raise the price so that parents would have to sell everything they own just to keep from selling the kids themselves into slavery on Kochtopus sugar plantations.

      1. Kochtopus sugar plantations.

        Sounds like the title of some libertarian drone metal album.

  2. We should make a deal with Brazil to buy up their excess sugar cane. It’s like a weed there, it’s growing in ditches beside the road.

    Either that or listen to the first wookie. No one really needs sugar, outside of her and her kids, but certainly not the serfs. Let’s just ban it.

  3. This is all a plot by Big Diabetes, and NutraSweet is in on it somehow, I know it. Damn him!

    1. That SugarFree is in on something dark is usually a good bet.

      1. Yes. Yes, it is.

    2. Dude, you haven’t gotten a slice of the hush money yet?

      Oh shit! I unhushed! I violated the first rule of hush money!

      1. ah ha! Your kochtopus testicle is exposed. Craig was right about us!

        1. ARRRR! CURSE YE, CRAIG!

      2. WHAT?!? I want in! Give me a cut or I rat you out to…who would I rat you out to?

        1. I don’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’!

        2. who would I rat you out to?

          The Jacket.

      3. I knew you would betray me. That’s why I only paid you in Mickey Money.

        1. Which is why I laundered it through Goofy. He pays 3 Heuys to the Duey!

          1. [JW wakes up beside Goofy’s severed head]
            [JW screams like a little bitch]

            1. You can expect a visit from The Duck.

  4. I had a Mexican 7-Up the other day, and damn was that good. Full sugar, no corn syrup.

    1. Unfortunately, the people who complain most about HFCS would never dig deep enough to figure out that it’s government regulations like these that cause 7-Up to use HFCS in the U.S. and real sugar in Mexico. To most of them it’s all because 7-Up is an evil corporation that’s hell bent on killing off all their customers to make a quick buck.

      1. Since is HFCS is artificially favored by markets becuase of the federal government, the federal government ought to be liable for any and all adverse health effects of HFCS on the population. That is of course if matters of justice and law applied to everyone equally…which they absolutely don’t under a state.

  5. If you shop, you may have noticed that sugar is in 4 pound bags at the 5 pound price. It’s getting cheaper worldwide, but we pay more and get less. What a scam.

  6. What will be interesting is when the Cuban government finally falls, and Cuba starts trading with the U.S. again. Will we allow their sugar to flow in, or will we stick to the protectionism?

    1. What do you think, dude? Of course they’ll stick to protectionism.

      1. Yeah. After all, Cuban sugar growers are way, way behind on their campaign donations.

      2. My question was rhetorical.

        I suppose an American can’t buy land in Cuba, huh? Because I’m suddenly wondering whether a buy-and-wait strategy might not pay off down there.

        1. Heh. Don’t expect the Cuban government to honor contracts in property.

          1. Not this one. The next one. But yes, the now and the transition are the question. Buy out the claims of an ex-pat?

            1. *repeats above*

              Ex-pats are counterrevolutionaries, they have no claims, duh.

            2. If they honor those. I think what’s going to happen is that the connected insiders will get the first pick of anything up for grabs much like in post-communist Russia. You could always call yourself Camarada Libertate and position yourself now.

              1. If he can get in there as Camarada Libertate and buy up a sizeable chunk of Cuba, maybe we can all go down there and take over the island and establish Libertaria.

            3. You’re probably going to want to wait a bit to see how stable whatever replaces the Castros is.

              1. Maybe hired goons who just sit on the land and fend off trespassers until I have a property-rights friendly government?

                1. I think that if you opened up a factory and paid twice the going rate, you could command your own army.

                  1. Perhaps I could run a mobile business from an RV.

                2. property-rights friendly government

                  like a chicken friendly fox with a monopoly right to eat your chickens.

    2. Probably depends upon what kind of government they end up having and if we approve of it.

    3. Fuck, why would we have to wait for that? We could buy sugar from Brazil, they have it coming out their ears. We could make an under the table deal with the citizens there, I can assure you they be quite willing to trade all the sugar cane you want for some iPhones and Michael Kors stuff.

    4. I will be perfectly content to allow the Cubans to convert their sugar to rum, and then import the rum. And drink it.

      1. I have an unopened bottle of Pitu Gold Cachaca on a shelf right here beside me. It’s really smooth stuff, but I don’t drink rum every often, hardly ever.

        1. ‘very’ often.

          1. Sounded like you had gotten into it…

            1. Not yet…

        2. I just run Bacardi through the Brita Filter. Can’t tell the difference.

          It’s a little trick I learned from watching Myth Busters.

          1. Trying to get the charcoal drunk?

            And aren’t those filters more than the difference in label price?

            1. In bulk, the filters are just under $5. And they’re good for over 100 gallons.

              I’m going to see if I can find a link to the episode. It was really interesting.

              They had a vodka expert on for a blind taste test.. They ran cheap, store brand vodka through the filter, and he was able to rate them based upon how many passes they had through the filter. After about 7 passes through the filter, he couldn’t distinguish between the cheap stuff and a really expensive brand.

              1. I saw it, but I can’t taste the difference (except for smirnoff, which tastes like the plastic it’s bottled in)

                1. I have a 1.75 of Smirnoff at home that’s so old, it’s in a glass bottle.

                  1. Smirnoff is still in glass.

                2. I can’t either. But I’m primarily a beer drinker.

                3. You’re thinking of McCormick’s, which is proudly bottled and shipped in durable drop-resistant plastic.

              2. Store brand vodka?

            2. I might not be remembering the episode correctly, but here it is:

              1. If that’s an episode where Kari is pregnant, I’m not watching it and I hate you. If not, carry on.

          2. Cold filtering? Like Coors?

            1. My guess is that Coors is filtered at the municipal source, and that’s about it.

              1. Look, they get it straight from the glaciers. I’ve seen the commercials. Which is why they glaciers are receding.

                1. Admit it. You drink that piss water.

                  Coors light is for river trash. I’m beach trash.

                  1. Show us on the bottle where the Coors touched you.

              2. the municipal source

                Sports Authority Field?

              3. Coors is filtered through the kidneys and bladder of a mountain goat.

            2. Coors is goddamn delicious.

          3. Alton Brown recommends running cheap (Popov) vodka through the Brita a couple of times to clean it up. If you’re hosting a brunch and serving screwdrivers, bloodies, greyhounds, etc. you could really cut down on booze costs. Or, you could stop being a cheap bastard and just buy the good stuff.

            1. I don’t really notice the difference in quality. I do enjoy less headaches, though.

            2. I can’t remember which restaurant chain it was that got caught doing this….

              1. I think it was a Chilis in Jersey.

                1. That’s 2 strikes.

  7. I’m having trouble even figuring out how many different levels the government is interfering with the sugar market.

    Tariffs, quotas, production limits, subsides, etc.

    It’s fucking insane.

    1. I’ll bet the incidental effects of international trade treaties only further complicates the industry.

      1. But we NEED international political organizations in order to trade with people on the other side of imaginary lines. Don’t you know how imaginary lines work?

      2. Hawai’i is only a state because the planters wanted into the US sugar market, so the sugar market distortions are responsible for Barry O and everything he’s done to us!

        1. Personally I blame, Indonesia and/or Kenya. Hawaii was framed for that crime 😉

          1. You have to go back way further. The problem all started because the white man had too much cargo.

            1. The wrong kind of cargo really…

    2. But I was informed that everything was completely deregulated now, and we lived in a lawless dog-eat-dog world of winner-take-all capitalism!

      1. We are! Everything bad purportedly done in the name of profit is the fault of free markets! And everything bad that comes out of government intervention, if such exists, is the fault of Rethuglicans!

      2. The winners took all – we’re just fighting over the margins.

  8. Think about all the “unforeseen” consequences of these subsidies. For one it artificially drives up the demand for high fructose corn syrup as a cane sugar alternative, which artificially drives up the demand for corn, which necessarily imposes the opportunity cost of corn being produced at the expense of other potential lines of production. Then combine these thousands and thousands of other subsidies, tariffs and regulations and you can begin imagine how massively distorting government policy has been.

    Might it be reasonable to declare that we’d all be drastically healthier and wealthier without political interference in markets?

    1. That will never come from the Supreme Court, what with the rational basis test.

      Maybe Congress? *laughs*

      OK, the President? *laughs harder*

    2. For one it artificially drives up the demand for high fructose corn syrup as a cane sugar alternative, which artificially drives up the demand for corn, which necessarily imposes the opportunity cost of corn being produced at the expense of other potential lines of production.

      And thus the corn producers win as well. Why do you think that ADM supports the sugar tariffs?

      1. Interestingly enough, oil and gas companies like Exxon oppose the ethanol mandate.

        1. And why wouldn’t they? It diminishes the quality of their product.

        2. Interestingly enough, oil and gas companies like Exxon oppose the ethanol mandate.

          But land speculators love it as it artificially drives up the value of farmland.

    3. Might it be reasonable to declare that we’d all be drastically healthier and wealthier without political interference in markets?

      Why do you hate the children and want to put women and minorities back into chains? You’d just sell your soul and your dead mother’s liver to the Koch brothers for a profit, wouldn’t you?, rat bagging tea fucker!

      1. Well, look, if Mom’s dead, does she really need her liver? I mean c’mon, what’s she gonna do with it? She’d want me to sell it for booze money. Be rational.

    4. “Might it be reasonable to declare that we’d all be drastically healthier and wealthier without political interference in markets?”

      Absolutely not! Any unforeseen consequences are caused by the greedy capitalist not obeying their political overlords intentions. They should just pay more for their sugar like the politicians expected. But, instead those greedy bastards found a cheaper alternative. Can’t you see, it’s all the capitalists fault. If it weren’t for political interference in markets, we’d all be eating each other.

      “If it makes you feel any better, you taste much better than we thought you would,”

  9. Why do you hate the children and minorities back into chains?

    As a white male libertarian, the most vile group of the most vile group, certain things are expected of me. I don’t want to let anyone down.

  10. How to Eliminate Sugar from Your Diet

    Sugar can lead to many diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. So it’s definitely important to watch what you eat when it comes to sugar

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