It is argued here and there that President Obama is not a socialist. But with the incredible recess appointment last week of Dr. Ronald Werrbick to head the newly created American Center for All-American Food Excellence ("American CAFÉ"), the charge of socialism is becoming difficult to refute. Dr. Werrbick will direct an agency that oversees all food production and distribution in the United States. Even though the food industry may account for a slightly smaller portion of U.S. GDP than health care, it is arguably far more important.
Half the population spends little or nothing on health care, while 5 percent spends almost half the total amount. Food, on the other hand -- and obviously -- is a requirement of all people, at all times.
Werrbick is clearly a socialist, and it is fair to assume that Obama thinks Werrbick's views match his own. Why else appoint him? And why else take over two of the three automobile companies, and take effective control of the banking industry? If that isn't socialism, what is?
Because the president's recess appointment will deprive the American people of the chance to learn of Werrbick's views through Senate confirmation hearings, it is worth taking a close look at what Werrbick has said about food policy. The following are excerpts from speeches and articles by Dr. Werrbick over the last few years.
"I cannot believe that the individual food consumer can enforce through choice the proper configurations of a system as massive and complex as food. That is for leaders to do."
"You cap your food budget, and you make the political and economic choices you need to make to keep affordability within reach."
"Please don't put your faith in market forces. It's a popular idea: that Adam Smith's invisible hand would do a better job of designing food policy than leaders with plans can."
"Indeed, the Holy Grail of good food for all in the United States may remain out of reach unless, through rational collective action overriding some individual self-interest, we can reduce per capita costs."
"A progressive policy regime will control and rationalize financing -- control supply."
"The unaided human mind, and the acts of the individual, cannot assure excellence. Food production and distribution is a system, and its performance is a systemic property."
"Food is a common good. We need to move toward a single payer, speaking and buying for the common good."
"For-profit, entrepreneurial providers of fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products, for example, may find their business opportunities constrained."
"I would place a commitment to excellence -- standardization to the best known method -- above production and distribution autonomy as a rule for food."
"Food production and distribution has taken a century to learn how badly we need the best of Frederick Taylor [the father of scientific management]. If we can't standardize appropriate parts of our processes to absolute reliability, we cannot approach perfection."
Wow! Head for the hills.
* * * * *
Actually -- and fortunately -- there is no American Center for All-American Food Excellence, and there is no Dr. Ronald Werrbick. I made them both up.
But there is a Dr. Donald Berwick, who has just received a recess appointment to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency that has a bigger budget than the Pentagon. Berwick's decisions at the CMS will shape American medicine the way "Dr. Werrbick" would have been able to shape the American food industry.
The quotes from "Dr. Werrbick" were actually excerpts from articles and speeches by the real-life Dr. Berwick, with appropriate substitution of food terms for health-care terms. The original quotes can be found in Daniel Henninger's must-read piece in the Wall Street Journal, here.
What is striking about the quotes from "Dr. Werrbick" is how much more outrageous they sound when applied to the food industry than to the health-care industry. That is, in part, because our philosopher-king guardians have encouraged us for years to think socialistically about health care, but not yet about other industries, like food production and distribution.
But if our guardians succeed in socializing medicine, who can think they will not try to socialize the food industry, which, it can be easily argued, is far more important than health care? After all, which is more often more important to more people: corn or coronary bypass surgery?
Is Obama a serious socialist? Of course he is, as the term is broadly used these days. What still gives cause for encouragement is the fervid denials. This administration, however socialist it is, knows that the American people are not socialist, and knows also that "socialist" is a dirty word in American politics.
Risking a confirmation fight in the U.S. Senate over a committed socialist like Dr. Berwick is something only a capitalist would do. That is why President Obama, no capitalist he, slipped the socialist Berwick in by a recess appointment.
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