It is cliché to say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and to expect a different result. And while political optimists work hard to try and "massage" outcomes for tough but important pieces of public policy, sometimes political inertia makes that an impossible task. As a free-marketeer, onerous regulatory regimes that cover every aspect of economic liberty deeply trouble me. They are the reason our economy remains hobbled, sluggishly struggling along while the President’s economic team sits in Washington scratching their heads in overwhelming bewilderment. So the regulatory state grows, because nobody seems capable of making the hard decisions to get things working on the right track.
When it comes to trade policy, I am similarly distressed. Sugar, an essential commodity, has had its market completely flummoxed by the twin tinkering of the regulators and the protectionists. The system that has been erected to govern the sugar market is a prime example of how the introduction of government—however well-intentioned—can serve to actually impede trade.
But take these two concepts together—the desire to actually make fundamental changes to government policy and the problem of doing the same things over and over—and you actually come to a realist’s view of American public policy and politics. Conservatives in Congress have tried for nearly three decades to reform the US sugar industry’s trade policies, but have failed each and every time. During this past iteration of the “Farm Bill”, there were five recorded votes on this issue—and I can’t think of anything save Obamacare that has gotten more “floor time”.
Yet nothing happened. No changes to America’s convoluted sugar policy. To make matters worse, the forces perpetuating this inertia have exerted so much control that sugar has become one of a very few item within the Farm Bill that is simply off the table when it comes to conferencing!
As a realist., as someone who deals with politics and public policy for a living (and as I have been growing more and more dismayed in recent months, more and more people cannot understand the fundamental difference between the two), I recognize that something has to change—both as it pertains to sugar policy and the bigger picture regulatory state.