A public policy cluster cluck

A public policy cluster cluck

The Post-Gazette reports that a Fayette County nonprofit agency has received a matching $25,000 taxpayer grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture “to link poultry farmers to consumers hungry for fresh chicken.”

Apparently, those farmers, consumers and the fresh chickens all have been held in solitary confinement with no joint exercise yard privileges.

Republic Food Enterprise Center, a subsidiary of the Fayette County Community Action Agency, will match the grant with its “own” money and use a “mobile poultry processing center” to process fresh chickens right on the respective farms, then market them.

The grant is part of a $23.1 million taxpayer subsidy to state farmers.

“You’ve got to find a way to add processing capacity in Pennsylvania,” says Russell Redding, the state’s agriculture secretary.

Hold the phone. With both hands.

If there’s such the consumer demand – i.e. “consumers hungry for fresh chicken” – then it is incumbent upon the private sector – not taxpayers – to risk its own money in pursuit of profit to serve this supposed underserved, “hungry” demand.

This now being a government operation, we suspect government is attempting to command the market by trying to create a demand. What’s more likely to happen now is that the deal will entice poultry farmers to produce more poultry than there is demand.

That will lead to a glut of fresh chickens, which, in turn will (all together now, class) lead to chicken farmers demanding price supports because prices are too low.

Talk about a cluster cluck.

Farm public policy, in Pennsylvania and nationwide, is among the worst public policy there is.

Too much pork? Prices too low? Subsidize it, encourage more production that, lacking demand, will tamp down prices that, in the farmers’ and governments’ view, warrant more “price supports.”

Too much milk? Demand falling “dangerously”? Prices already propped up by “The State” simply “not enough”? Shake down taxpayers for cheese manufacturing and a concomitant marketing campaign.

And now, government subsidies for the fresh-chicken crowd.

Where and when does this marketplace perversion end?

Likely nowhere and likely never.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).