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If you want to know just how ridiculous our agricultural programs are, consider this: for about half a century, we priced milk based on how far the cow was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. No, I swear, I am not making this up. Apparently, the USDA scientifically determined that Eau Claire was the perfectest place in the entire world to keep cows, and that therefore the farther you were from that fabled city, the harder you must find it to produce milk.

Of course, this created a magnificent self-fulfilling prophecy; since famers in Wisconsin got the lowest price, only the most efficient ones survived.

In 2002, we reformed the system. Now we use a weighted average of the Wisconsin and Minnesota prices to determine the support levels for the rest of the country. You really cannot make this stuff up.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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