Crunchy Con Bait

by Patrick Appel

David Frum mostly praises Michael Pollan:

Pollan lives in Berkeley, teaches journalism, and used to edit Harper’s. That’s a biography demarked with with red flags for the conservative reader. Pollan cannot resist the occasional grand pronouncement about “capitalism” and its machinations. That’s an irritatingly unconsidered remark. Pollan’s hopes for a different kind of agriculture rests exactly and wholly upon the wealth generated by free markets. It demands a very high level of per-capita income to afford milk at $3.79 per half gallon.

Unconsidered remarks aside, however, Pollan’s work ought to appeal to the market-minded reader.

Pollan does some of his best work identifying the wasteful externalities concealed by agricultural subsidies. The corn that feeds Walmart’s cows may be genuinely cheaper than the grass that nourishes the cows yielding my expensive milk. But it’s not quite so much cheaper as the Walmart shopper thinks. The price of a bushel of corn averaged $2.74 between 2002 and 2007. But the federal government guarantees a price closer to $4. The difference comes in the form of a check from the federal Treasury.