Big Candy's Greed

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That’s the title of a quarter-page advertisement in the Washington Post on Wednesday.

When it comes to inside-the-Beltway economics, black is white, up is down, and lobbyists for some of the most government-coddled farmers in America are calling other people greedy.

For people familiar with the government’s Byzantine sugar program, the text from the American Sugar Alliance (ASA) ad is frankly hilarious:

  • Jeopardizing 142,000 U.S. jobs and America’s food security isn’t a game. It’s a travesty.
  • So why are Big Candy executives lobbying Congress to outsource America’s sugar production?
  • To boost their already bloated profit margins at the expense of American farmers, workers and consumers.
  • Winners: A few corporate executives.
  • Losers: America.

I described the basic features of federal sugar subsidies in this study. Essentially, the government confers monopoly power on U.S. sugar growers, which comes at the expense of food manufacturing companies and consumers. 

The ASA ad claims that there are 142,000 jobs in the sugar-growing industry, but there are roughly 1,000,000 jobs in the food manufacturing firms that are hurt by current sugar policies. The Department of Commerce produced this study looking at the negative employment effects of the current sugar program.

One silly claim in the ASA ad regards outsourcing. The sugar program raises U.S. sugar prices, which induces U.S. manufacturers—such as candy makers—to move their production abroad. Thus current federal policies unfairly protect Big Sugar at the expense of Big Candy, but here Big Sugar is claiming the reverse. 

The other silly thing about the outsourcing claim is that the biggest of ASA’s Big Sugar companies are owned by the Fanjuls of Florida. And yet the Fanjuls themselves outsource sugar production to the Dominican Republic.

And note that whatever lobbying is done by Big Candy is surely dwarfed by Big Sugar’s legendary efforts to buy political protection. Just ask Monica Lewinsky.

A policy wonk quoted in this piece summarized the sad reality of sugar growers: “They are unlike any other industry in Florida in that they aren’t in the agricultural business, they are in the corporate welfare business.”