David R. Henderson  

Some Californians versus the State

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Against Collectivism

In the last year I have made our sister legal blog, Library of Law and Liberty, part of my newsfeed. I read most of their posts and learn from many of them. Today, blogger and George Mason University Law School Professor Michael S. Greve has a good post on why we Californians are suddenly paying more than $5.00 for a dozen eggs. I noticed the price at the Safeway about 10 days ago, with the first eggs I had bought in the new year. Before reading Professor Greve's post, I already knew why because the Wall Street Journal had an excellent unsigned editorial explaining why.

Here's the key segment from that editorial:

The cause of these price gyrations is an initiative passed by California voters in 2008 that required the state's poultry farmers to house their hens in significantly larger cages. The state legislature realized this would put home-state farmers at a disadvantage, so in 2010 it compounded the problem by requiring that eggs imported from other states come from farms meeting the same cage standards, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

It probably will not surprise regular readers of my posts to know that I voted against this initiative. Why does that matter? You'll see shortly.

Professor Greve's discussion isn't about the economics per se but about the constitutionality of the restrictions and about the odds that the U.S. Supreme Court will crack down (pun intended) on a state government that seeks to regulate interstate commerce. I have nothing to add to his analysis, which, in my layman's view of the Constitution and the players, is excellent.

I do, however, want to challenge Professor Greve on one of his statements. He writes:

You get the idea, even if California voters don't. Mind you: they voted for this stuff and deserve absolutely everything that's coming to them.

But I didn't vote for "this stuff." I don't agree that I have this "coming to" me. Nor do the millions of other Californians who voted the way I voted. Nor do the millions of Californians who were allowed to vote but didn't vote. Moreover, I would wager that fewer than 10,000 Californians under 18 voted for "this stuff." So the millions of people under age 18 don't have it coming to them either.

I think Professor Greve should be more careful in claiming that people who live in a state have coming to them what their fellow voters vote for. Although I'm guessing that he doesn't mean to do so, he is embracing collectivism.


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CATEGORIES: Regulation




COMMENTS (21 to date)
Tim Ozenne writes:

I see your problem with Greve, but arguably people who didn't vote but would have supported the stupid law deserve their share of grief. Unless you're Obama, not all people who don't vote should be counted as your supporters.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Tim Ozenne,
I see your problem with Greve, but arguably people who didn't vote but would have supported the stupid law deserve their share of grief.
I agree. So I should alter part of my post to the following:
Nor do the millions of Californians who were allowed to vote, and who would have voted against, but didn't vote.

Capt. J Parker writes:

It's unfortunate that the secret ballot precludes taxing those who voted for California 2008 Prop 2 and using the proceeds to compensate those suffering the negative externality of higher egg prices.

Also unfortunate is Dr. Henderson's desire to classify his opinion regarding an analysis of constitutional law as a "layman's view." Are his analytical skills and commitment to logic and intellectual consistency somehow rendered inferior to those of us having legal credentials? If we are willing to let the "experts" tell us what our rights are then those restrictions to our liberty that befall us we surely have coming to us.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Capt. J Parker,
Also unfortunate is Dr. Henderson's desire to classify his opinion regarding an analysis of constitutional law as a "layman's view." Are his analytical skills and commitment to logic and intellectual consistency somehow rendered inferior to those of us having legal credentials? If we are willing to let the "experts" tell us what our rights are then those restrictions to our liberty that befall us we surely have coming to us.
Touche, Captain. I confess that I put it this way because there’s a law professor who often comes on as a commenter and castigates me for thinking that I can understand what sentences mean when those sentences are in the U.S. Constitution. But you’re partially right. Even then, I don’t think we have it coming to us, but I do think we should not be intimidated by law professors and lawyers who challenge our ability to think.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Will somebody set up an internet order and delivery system for eggs via adjoining states, or through "membership" clubs?

Amazon?

Tom West writes:

Well at this point, the consequences of the law should be clear. The interesting question is whether this will this mean another initiative next election to reverse the measure.

However, I think it's perfectly reasonable for a state to make laws with respect to animal cruelty (which is presumably what this falls under).

I also find it interesting that the industry is no way interested in transparency with respect to how the animals are treated, which would allow voters to pass judgement based on the facts. The Ag-gag laws that are popping up are a testament to that.

(Personally, I have little problem with current farming practices, but imprisoning those who would expose the public to such practices by video-taping them seems far more "anti-freedom" than passing laws that mandate different farming practices. If we want cheap food, we should understand what it costs with respect to treatment of animals.)

john hare writes:

I was wondering how much validity there might be in the idea that the chickens were being abused and really needed more room. The ag-gag link from Tom makes it clear that this is a both a valid question and a murky one.

The level of information I would like to have before supporting or opposing the new requirements would seem to be restricted to the general public.
There are very real reasons to keep unauthorized people out of agricultural production facilities, and very real reasons to monitor their activities. I tend toward leaving businesses alone to produce, while also wanting some accountability for actual criminal abuse. Call me a fence sitter on this one.

The question in my mind is to what extent are similar gag laws affecting my industry. (concrete construction) I have seen a few things that should have been actionable and heard of many more, mostly by 'national' builders with considerable political clout.

Ed Hanson writes:

Professor

You still can vote with your feet, and at least for now, some place to go. You stay, you 'deserve what you get.'

But perhaps a better defense to such statements is about the trade-offs for staying, rather than 'I did not vote for that.' Remember, just because we live in a world that is organized around some institutions that depend on collective action is not the same as "embracing collectivism."

My advice, leave now while you can.

Ed

AS writes:

@john hare: In theory it sounds nice to have laws that prevent abusive business practices. But in practice those laws often fail at their stated goal anyway and just have the side effect of raising costs and driving small competitors out of business.

robert writes:

I'm with Ed Hanson - I don't think this viewpoint requires an embrace of 'collectivism', rather just an embrace of (lower case 'r') republicanism.

Ken from Ohio writes:

The issue of the fallacy of relying on an expert for us to know the truth was addressed by Bob Dylan in 1965........

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"

From
Subterranean Homesick Blues

Greg G writes:

I was going to write a longer comment but Tom West expressed my sentiments in a way I can't improve on.

john hare writes:

@AS,
I agree with what you say. My complaint is the difficulty and possibly illegality of finding out about the abuses. I would prefer no building inspections to those that currently restrict me but not the megacorps. I have been red tagged for minor errors while serious corner cutting was going on jobs within a half mile of me. The same inspector that red tags me for the minor will say that his hands are tied in dealing with the other (Concrete slab on grade cracks and settles when the soil is not properly compacted and graded. Some of the megacorp concrete subs don't even own a compactor, nor do they rent one.) I would be surprised if there is nothing illegal going on in the back room.

The link from Tom that I followed documented some of the laws that make it illegal to expose harmful practices in the ag business. Buyer beware that I would prefer is much tougher to defend when the buyer is prevented from the awareness that might make a difference. In the case David references, I would prefer that buyers have the choice of paying more for eggs from chickens living in humane conditions. Proponents of humane conditions for chickens could then vote with their own wallets without penalizing those that differ.

ted writes:

@David Henderson

Democracy is when everybody gets what the majority of those who voted deserves, so I'm afraid that you certainly deserve it! :)

David R. Henderson writes:

@ted,
Your words after “so” don’t follow from the first part of the sentence. If the majority deserves it because they voted for it, that doesn’t imply that the people who voted against it deserve it. All you’ve established, which no one is disagreeing with, is that everybody gets what the majority voted for.

ted writes:

@David R. Henderson

I was joking, which I tried to convey by the smiley at the end!

What can I say, I sympathise with you...

This type of situation is why I am a believer in strong and heavily fragmented federalism. I live in Switzerland and here there's fierce competition between cantons and boroughs (gemaindes). Each gemainde is small enough that people are closer to actually making a difference, with their vote, and of course, the fact that you can move someplace else with different policies on taxation, policies and public services keeps the system in check. It's not perfect, there's a constant pressure of bad regulation and arbitrary policies such as the one you describe (and some go through) - after all the busybodies are always busy - but overall it works fairly well - better than California, for sure.

khodge writes:

What Ted is saying is no different from Ed Hanson's comment, above. It is the main problem I have with the radical libertarians: "I did not choose it so I shouldn't have to pay for it." That's not how governments work. (1) If you don't like it, move; (2) Those who did not pull the level chose to not pull the level and are just as responsible for the law as those who pulled the yes lever.

The real downside to this vote is that those who don't like the higher prices move to Colorado and proceed to pass the exact same laws here that drove them from California.

Dave writes:

The real problem is with the law that allows the public to vote on something that they know NOTHING about. I care for my birds as best I can; it is in my interest to do so.

The average voter doesn't know that there animal welfare reasons for housing egg laying chickens in cages. Just because birds are cage free does not mean conditions are better. IT DEPENDS UPON THE INDIVIDUAL FARMER WHO IS CARING FOR THE FLOCK!

It requires a better farmer to care for cage free flocks. The dust that comes with cage free is not good for the caregivers or the birds. There are many, many reasons that the egg industry changed from cage free production to caged layers. Forcing farmers by law to raise birds care free doesn't necessarily mean birds will be better off than when they are in cages. Space doesn't permit me to cover the multitude of reasons that a law such as Prop 2 (and related add-ons) is unwise.
Yes, california voters and non voters deserve the results of Prop 2; but the chickens and farmers do not!

David R. Henderson writes:

@Dave,
Yes, california voters and non voters deserve the results of Prop 2; but the chickens and farmers do not!
Really, Dave? Those of us who voted against this proposition that you seem to be against somehow deserve the consequences of what we voted against? I would suggest rereading my post.

Dave writes:

You are correct, i did not mean to include those who voted against prop 2.

Those with low incomes certainly don't deserve the higher prices.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Dave,
Thanks. And not even we high-income people who voted against it deserve the results.

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