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I'd put up one potential path a while back. Buy out the dairy farmers - pay them for their quota. Pay off the bonds used to buy out the quota with a new temporary tax on milk (whether domestic or foreign sourced) that's eliminated when the bonds are paid off.

You are wrong when you way that it's impossible to run large dairy farms where the cows get to see pasture. NZ accounts for the majority of the world's traded milk and I've yet to hear of a dairy operation here that's other than pastoral. I'd even argue that cows here would be happier than the ones in Canada - we effectively don't have winter, so any shift in dairy production from Canada to New Zealand increases expected animal welfare. It may marginally worsen environmental amenities in NZ, though dairy practices here are improving greatly - cows have to be fenced out of streams, for example.

So, hitting your questions (some of which I'd hit a few months ago, anticipating your question... :
1. Do it immediately with full compensation at quota prices that prevailed ex ante 6 months ago, or some time prior to common knowledge of anticipated buy-out.
2. Farms will have to get bigger and more efficient. 40-cow operations aren't going to cut it. You'll likely also get some shifting of production from hard-winter places to soft-winter places like BC.
3. If you don't like hormone-added milk, it can be banned for consumption in Canada without having supply management. Or, you could easily set up a certification regime for Canadian producers who want to put a "Guaranteed GM Free" label on their product. We don't require non-organic vegetables to come with big warning labels. In free-market NZ, I can buy organic milk at the supermarket any time I like.
4. Prices drop, but I don't know the price elasticity of demand. Canadians seem to be on the high demanding side for milk though. Some oddities in the international data.

Frances: "The basic technology of milk production hasn't changed for thousands of years:..."

You might get pushback on that Frances! The word "basic" there is carrying a lot of weight. Mechanisation of the actual milking has changed a lot from the days of milkmaids doing it by hand. My own knowledge of the technology is 30 years out of date. I don't know how much that has increased total factor productivity in milk production. Cows per worker; cows per acre; milk yield per cow has increased a lot over the decades too, I think (e.g. those St Hyacinthe Qc Holsteins my Mother insisted we see.) But yes, it must be a couple of orders of magnitude less than a lot of manufactured goods.

"What compensation (if any) will be paid to current holders of quotas?"

That's the biggie, in my eyes. It doesn't have any obvious (to me) answer. What exactly is the status quo ante distribution of property rights? Do 2 wrongs make a right? The farmer whose milk quota is now his pension plan might have no connection to those who originally benefited from the introduction of quotas. But if we follow a rule of not compensating owners of illegitimately-gotten rents, it both discourages rent-seeking, and also means the losses are less when we eliminate quotas, because the potential for uncompensated loss was capitalised in the price.

I grew up with two siblings in Newfoundland where milk currently costs $7 a gallon. When I moved to the states it costs $2 - for the BGH-free stuff. Conservatively, equalizing milk prices (though probably not possible due to transport costs, etc), would've been worth tens of thousands to my parents while their kids grew up.

I'll take the deregulation any way I can get it, please and thank you.

If it's politically feasible, Nick's proposal beats mine. Mine ignores what's right (expropriate!) and goes for what might be practicable.

Nick: "You might get pushback on that Frances"

The feed in/milk out equation is illuminating, though, even though not strictly accurate. It brings home a lot of important points i.e.: cost of milk is closely related to cost of feed therefore grain subsidies translate into milk subsidies; anything that reduces cow's calorific expenditure (ie. restricting movement) will tend to reduce the feed/milk ratio, etc. Sure, cooling, transport, storage etc technologies matter a lot too.

"But if we follow a rule of not compensating owners of illegitimately-gotten rents, it both discourages rent-seeking, and also means the losses are less when we eliminate quotas, because the potential for uncompensated loss was capitalised in the price."

Why are milk quotas any less legitimate that emissions quotas, patents, an any other form of government-created property? We have a democratic government in Canada - just because one might not like the decisions made by that government nor the forms of property it creates, that doesn't make those forms of property illegitimate.

Furthermore, with expropriation, where is the capital going to come from to finance a total restructuring of the Canadian dairy industry?

Andrew - peaches are expensive in Newfoundland, too - something about it being a rock.

Eric - "If you don't like hormone-added milk, it can be banned for consumption in Canada without having supply management."

Wouldn't a ban on the import of BGH milk be considered a non-tariff barrier? Even the labelling of BGH milk a non-tariff barrier? I'm phrasing these as questions because I don't know the answers, but these issues seem to be negotiated in trade disputes an awful lot.

The milk farmers can do something else. In Hfx my friend told me to support my local farmers. The milk at Loblaws chain was $7 for a 4L. Would've been $3-4 in MB. As a result I didn't drink milk. I had the 2L ice creams that went on sale for $3 once in a while. Some dumb AB will have their kids pay for my heart attack down the road. Let's trick Harper and all say health and human happiness is the economy, and then Harper will start looking and longeivty instead of tar. No, the tar CEOs won't effect this. $7/L is like 1/2 a days work for me now, and 1/3 a days work when I was a kid. $%^&-ing rich people.

Frances: "Why are milk quotas any less legitimate that emissions quotas, patents, an any other form of government-created property?"

Hmmm. OK, lets assume they are. Suppose the govt imposes a quota at time t1, for reasons which seem good reasons at the time. And then some time later at t2 it changes its mind, for equally good reasons (maybe the facts have changed?). If it were known in advance that if the government would eliminate the quotas it would do so without compensation, and that there were a probability that the government would change its mind, then the value of the quotas would be less, so the loss when they were actually eliminated without compensation would be less.

How are quotas different from other assets, like human or non-human capital? Would it be OK for the government to confiscate those other assets too? Well, those other assets are real, not paper assets. They took real resources to create. And if there were a rule of confiscation without compensation, the value of those assets would be less, and fewer would be created. (A rather (Rule)-Utilitarian argument, I expect.)

There are a lot of things about the whole agricultural quota system that need to go. Another is that niche products are often banned because they would have to be produced off-quota, even though they would sell at higher prices than quota-controlled products. Take heritage turkeys. The modern broad-breasted white turkey can't reproduce without artificial insemination. On the other hand all other breeds of turkey are imperilled, which leads to loss of genetic diversity. But in Canada you can't get a heritage turkey because of turkey quotas.

Or when a few farmers decided to grew Red Fife wheat, a Canadian heritage which came from Peterborough and is the parent of most modern wheats, they had to sell it as "feed" because the Wheat Board had no way to fit it into its grid.

Genetic Diversity is a problem, witness bananas. Bananas are naturally clones, they don't have seeds, so banana genetic diversity is naturally low. Banana blight is a huge problem and finding new varieties is very, very hard because they have to be spontaneous mutations without benefit of seeds and gene mix.

My brother buys Goat's Milk from a dairy operation near his home for my niece. The owner had a nutrition degree from Guelph and she got into goats because she couldn't get a dairy quota. She's all about the "Quality for a price" end of the market that gets levelled in the quota system. (Actually her prices are quite reasonable, especially as my nieces likes milk that hasn't been shelved, goat's milk isn't collected anywhere as frequently from farms as cow's milk is and loses shelf potential and freshness sitting in tanks).

I agree with Determinant - Canadian smugness about higher quality actually leaves out the "high" end of the market - in the US one can get niche products that aren't subject to quotas (dairy, poultry) or other forms of supply management, and it has allowed the development of niche products that have taken up a substantial part of the market there, and become broadly available. Canada misses out on that availability, which is sad for those of us who care about those items.

I guess I'm being too simple minded when I think: why not just send them a check and be done with it? Say we liberalize the market and if, for whatever reason, we decide that dairy farmers are particularly deserving of subsidies, or vital to national security, or just such darn nice chaps, or whatever, then let's just have the Gov't of Canada pay them $X/per month. Call it the Canadian Food Security Payment, or whatever Sir Humphrey-speak will keep the NAFTA/WTO/etc meddlers at bay.

Nick: I would say that your argument could go either way. Given how political process works, having tradition to cancel government-created property without compensation could increase resistance to dismantle such legislation. You would just shift the rent-seeking in time, instead of lobbying to introduce legislation you would have resistance to dismantle it. Also, people tend to discount future events when considering present situation. But anyways, I would say that you could use both these facts to promote your goal. This is the something I would call "EU way" - promise to phase out rents slowly all the while compensating net losers. This is how freedom of EU labor market was achieved: it was never possible that western countries would accept dismantling barriers for movement of cheap labor from eastern european countries. Make it happen far enough in the future, like 7 years, compensate it with smaller but immediate positive policy and the probability of accepting it the whole package without sour taste of government acting from the position of strength greatly increases.

JV: "You would just shift the rent-seeking in time, instead of lobbying to introduce legislation you would have resistance to dismantle it."

Hmmm. That sounds correct. But if you do it my way you wouldn't need to raise marginal tax rates on the rest of the population to buy back the quotas, and that would be a good thing, because of the standard welfare triangle costs of high marginal tax rates.

"First, because the value of Canadian dairy quotas has become capitalized, a production quota is part of a farmer's working capital."

That's a depressing thought. To the extent that it's true, doesn't that mean that the imposition of quotas was a windfall gain to the dairy farmers who were around at the time and got quotas for free? Subsequent farmers had to buy their quotas, so they're no better off. But consumers have been made worse off by paying higher prices the whole time. And now to eliminate the quotas, taxpayers will have to pay to compensate existing farmers for the loss of an asset.

Is that about right?

Ryan - yup, that's about it.

Determinant, Whitfit: you've taken a stab at answering the question I wanted to pose in this post: what would happen to the Canadian dairy industry if milk quotas were eliminated. Your response is pretty optimistic "in the US one can get niche products ".

Two thoughts: One: I don't know of any clear evidence on this. I can buy Red Fife wheat in the local organic food store. In Canada we have all of these fantastic local artisan cheeses - I don't know to what extent these exist south of the border. It seems that organic milk is fairly widely available in the US, but that's partly because people want to avoid BGH and other practices. I'd like to see something other than impressions as evidence on this.

Two: what else is likely to happen? Will Cdn dairy farms survive?

Patrick: "then let's just have the Gov't of Canada pay them $X/per month" That's what's done in the US, though they're in the process of renewing their agricultural subsidy program, and those particular payments are on the table.

If we choose not to pay farmers $X per month, they go out of business, and Canada's farm land is bought by foreign investors, does this have any long-term consequences for Canadian economic prospects?

Given that you have the votes to get rid of the quotas, just do it. Confiscating illegitimate rents (and, Frances, these are absolutely illegitimate; the rents are worth money despite representing NO created value) makes them less valuable now and reduces the incentive to secure them in the future. And despite the premise of the "innocent" farmer who hasn't profited at all by the scheme (because he paid a market price for his quota) I bet that farmer has voted to keep the quota! They deserve to be expropriated.

Alex:

- whether farmers are compensated or not is a matter of moving dollars around. Sure, one can believe that eliminating quotas without compensation would reduce incentives for rent-seeking - that's like believing merit pay eliminates perverse incentives in universities (it doesn't, it just creates a whole different set of perverse incentives, e.g. to minimize teaching and admin effort and maximizing research effort).

In fact, I would think lobbyists would take the precise opposite lesson: entrenched policies can be changed if you lobby hard enough.

Let's be honest, who's going to really gain from the elimination of milk quotas? Is it going to be consumers? Or is it producers of every food from yogurt to tacos to mac cheese, who will see the cost of raw milk inputs fall 50, 60 or 70%, while they cut their prices to consumers by 0, 5, 10%? (Anyone want to bet with me how much the price of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese dinner will fall as a result of elimination of milk quotas?)

But gains and losses are just dollars moving around - they have equity impacts, but not efficiency impacts.

My issue is *what are the real effects, what changes will we see in the real economy* as a result of milk quota elimination? Will farmers go out of business? Consolidate? Will my local organic farmer be able to keep a couple of milk cows, and sell raw milk along with his raw vegetables? Will we see 5,000 head industrial scale mega-farms owned by international corporations?

I'll bite...

How precisely are existing dairy quotas to be eliminated?
Wipe them from the books and stop enforcing them.

Over what time period?
How long does it take to cross something out?

What compensation (if any) will be paid to current holders of quotas?
If you pay quota-holders, then what was the purpose of eliminating the quota? Economically, such a subsidy would perform the same purpose as the quota...

What transitional supports will be available?
If you pay transitional supports, then what was the purose of eliminating the quota? Economially, such a subsidy would perform the same purpose as the quota...

What structural changes will have to take place in the Canadian industry to allow Canadian dairy farmers to compete with imports?
Why must we assume that such competition is good for anyone? If Canadian dairy farmers can compete, they will compete. If they can't, they will find a more profitable use of their time and resources, and everyone will benefit from the corresponding reallocation of resources.


Will (is) milk imported from the US produced with bovine growth hormone be labelled as such?
Why not let the consumers and producers sort this out voluntarily?

How much more milk would an average Canadian consume if quotas and tariffs were eliminated?
I have no idea, and you correctly noted that we have no way of knowing this in advance. Whatever that quantitty happens to be, it would be the result of consumer preference, which is infinitely better than the agricultural lobbyists and politicians deciding for themselves how much dairy Canada should consume.

As an aside, I find a lot of Prof. Woolley's questions assume a favorable view of central mandates and an unfavorable view of competition on the open market. In this case, we are to assume that a Canadian dairy farmer who loses his farm is necessarily a bad thing. And yet, this necessarily also assumes that we should all be happy that this farmer's entire livelihood - and probably his family's livelihood for generations - should forever be supported by a pool of taxpayers already over-burdened with their own personal responsibilities and lives. Why? Why is it better to save a farmer's job than to leave money in the pockets of people who absolutely need it for their own important lives?

We all have problems that require financial solutions. All of us: dairy farmers and economists and doctors and lawyers and construction workers. An argument against quotas isn't an argument against jobs, it's an argument against favoring John's job over Paul's.

Alex: then I assume that mining companies or land owners also *deserve* to be expropriated after being compensated for investment/land improvement. In the end, it is not as if they created any *value* in terms of more land or more mineral resources.

Actually what Frances did is that she presented a quite interesting topic. In my eyes what is important is the fact if the current process of diary production is being coordinated using markets that can be considered as "free". That for instance the quota rights can be sold to 3rd party etc. Imagine that those production and import quotas were introduced using a fair process. They could be sold by government to the highest bidder and proceeds could be used to decrease taxes. Would it be OK to dismantle the quotas under such circumstances? Would your answer change if the sales proceeds were used to finance some government program for specific group?

If the answer on the first question is "Yes" then I would say that such person has to be for nationalizing the private property if it could be proved that such policy increases welfare gain here and now. In a way the slogan "Nationalize their milk quota rights, they lobbied for them and stole it from the rest of us pocketing the profits !!!" is very similar to the call "Nationalize their property, 50 ago it was stolen from all of us!!!!". Or "Nationalize this property, it was created by our misinformation induced by media and advertising to pocket gains !!!" To possibly "Nationalize their property. It is true that it was created by utilizing local monopoly gained through innovation, but the original innovative person already sold it to not so innovative person so it is OK for us to gain something back now !!!"

Thank you for a productive post. Industrial farms exist in Ontario now - barns with hundreds of cows with no pasture in sight are common. While I do see heifers roaming, nice contented herds of milk cows wandering in to the barn to be milked are an urban myth. Obviously, we need a regulation in food and growth hormones in milk would cause anyone concern. However, that is not the issue. The structural impact of the removal of quotas is important. More important is to examine the functioning of the entire milk system until it hits my table. There are three multi-national large firms controlling the bulk of the fluid milk processing and distribution. There is also corporate control of the vital operations that connect the farmer to the dairy. Any change in the system must be managed to avoid chaos and avoid monopsony profits being conferred on those multi-nationals. We also want to avoid the specter of milk being dumped because the returns do not meet the cost of production. This has been a regular issue in parts of Europe which enjoy equally screwed-up markets but also in the U.S.
My only point is that the discussion deserves more research than a few academic truisms. The move away from quotas will be complex.

Jciconsult - that's the perfect response to Ryan's last observation: "an unfavorable view of competition on the open market." I have a favourable view of competition - it's just that I wouldn't describe a situation where three large multi-national firms control the bulk of milk processing an distribution competition.

J.V. - interesting.

I lived in a poor part of Louisiana for 6 months. There where no niche products available. Indeed the quality of food at the stores was very poor. For example I could not find crackers or cookies without trans fats. And the rare healthy option that was available was over priced compared to what it woud be in a well to do area. If the poor in Canada pay too much for their milk, the poor in the US drink hormone laden, industrially produced milk without any other choices. Anyone who loves the idea of less government would do well to stay in Louisiana for a while. There was very little street cleaning near our apartment and for while there was a dead dog decomposing on the sidewalk outside. I am much happier paying my municipal taxes these days

I also agree with Frances that animal welfare standards are likely to drop without small farms. The fact that there are large farms in New Zealand with good animal welfare is of small comfort. New Zealand is a special situation as it has a small population compared to the amount of farmable land.

I also have no faith that the market will allow Canadians better choices without tarifs. The corn and soy subsidies and the strong farm lobbies in the US will override any power Canadians have as consumers to get the products we want.

JV:

Alex: then I assume that mining companies or land owners also *deserve* to be expropriated after being compensated for investment/land improvement. In the end, it is not as if they created any *value* in terms of more land or more mineral resources.

We need property rights on land because it is scarce. "The right to produce milk" isn't scarce unless we deliberately make it so to enrich a few incumbents.

Frances - But it becomes an unfair analysis.

Step One: Government establishes quota.
Step Two: rent-seeking ensues.
Step Three: Consumers wish to eliminate the quota and reclaim their consumer surplus.
Step Four: lobbyists and economists say, "But wait! Eliminating the quota is like stealing!"

In my mind, this is no different than when some economists choose to call tax credits "subsidies." It's all backwards. The quotas are the original point of theft. Giving back what was stolen isn't a second example of stealing.

Imagine if a burglar stole your family jewels, was caught, found guilty, and instead of giving them back, lobbied the government to prevent you from "stealing" the jewels from him! That's not just poor reasoning, it's unmitigated audacity.

The quota is the problem - the quota distorted markets. That rent-seekers use these distortions to their own advantage does not mean that suddenly they "earned" the consumer surplus through hard work. We're being ripped off - why can't we say so?

Rachel - thanks for those comments.

Ryan: there's a Step 0, a problem that quotas were designed to solve.

Without protection, the life of a dairy farmer is tenuous. My grandfather was a farmer - he lost his herd twice to food and mouth disease, and then decided to get out of the livestock business entirely.

There's even a name for the kind of price volatility that characterizes agricultural markets: a hog cycle.

As people have rightly pointed out, the image of the small dairy farmer lovingly caring for happy, grass-fed Bessie and Bonnie is an urban legend. The question is: what would the reality of dairy farming in Canada be without our current system of milk marketing? It's not a question that can be answered with rhetoric about the virtues of free markets.

Frances, I'm not talking rhetoric. Most of us have close relationships with people who are/were farmers, if not direct experience with farming, and the same holds true for me.

I'll grant your Step 0, but this is merely a rephrasing of the question. For every job that exists, there are production problems, volatilities, and costs that make any business challenging. There is absolutely no reason to view certain industries as being special and needing extra protection. Doing so is a mere emotional appeal to the fact that most people eat dairy regularly and therefore feel more directly impacted by it than they do by, say, the hand-loomed textiles industry (if you catch my Friedman allusion).

I readily concede that producers face challenges. My question is why anyone should ever assume that these challenges disappear with rents - or that rents are the best way to tackle such challenges.

The free market answer to production problems is twofold: Innovation and trade specialization. With regard to this first point, you yourself noted that "the basic technology of milk production hasn't changed for thousands of years." With regard to the second, you yourself noted that Canadian dairy farms are on average smaller than those abroad and produce less milk.

It seems the economics of the issue are clear. What's not clear are the non-economic questions, the political stuff. You are essentially tempting us to care more about Canadian dairy farmers than dairy farmers abraod; more about Canadian dairy farmers than Canadian computer programmers or architects; more about the costs associated with Canadian milk production than the potential consumer surpluses.

So, if what I'm saying is "rhetoric," why is it more so than what anyone else is saying?

I guess every status quo policy must have been brought into existence for some good reason, therefore should never be ended. Is that right? To me this sounds like one of the most cut and dry cases I've ever heard of and if anyone had told me yesterday Frances Woolley didn't think so I wouldn't have believed them.
On the tenuousness of producer's livelihoods, Matthew Yglesias has been pointing out recently that taxi medallions don't actually fix that, they screw over both the cabbies who dump lots of their income into leasing them and to an even greater extent the consumers who have fewer cabs available at higher prices. Sounds like the same thing is the deal with quotas (though tariffs are a more unambiguous transfer to producers).

Presumably the answer in terms of compensating quota holders is to pay them an amount equal to what they paid for their quotas in the first instance. If they initially got them for free (let's call them the "Initial Quota Holders"), they've had the benefit of rents on those quotas for 40 years, so it's too hard to have much sympathy for them. The government created their "rights" and the government can take them away. Their only loss is the gain that accrued to them as a result of the government policy in the first instance.

On the other hand, for farmers who recently bought quotas (let's call them "Secondary Quota Holders"), on the other hand, I have more sympathy. Yes, theirs "rights" are no more real than the "rights" of those who acquired them directly from the government. On the other hand, they incurred a cost in acquiring those quotas in order to comply with the law of the land at the time they acquired the quotas. In some sense, they really are out of pocket as a result of the change in policy. The thing to keep in mind here is that, in this case, both the Secondary Quota Holders and consumers are losers as a result of supply management (the winner is the Initial Quota Holder who sold their quotas and capitalized the rents). In the absence of supply management consumers would pay less for milk, and the Secondary Quota Holder wouldn't have had to buy a quota to produce milk. So the question is, which loser of the supply management regime is better situated to bear the cost of doing away with it (and, I suppose, who will reap the benefit of doing so)?

Ideally, in the perfect world, we'd impose a tax on the proceeds of disposition of quota holders (be they Initial Quota Holders or Secondary Quota Holders) who sold their quotas to compensate the Secondary Quota Holders who retain their quotas. (Ryan, to your criminal analogy, this would be akin to an innocent buyer of stolen property trying to recover what he paid for it from the thief - in that case, he's as much a victim of the crime as the original victim.) In practice, I suspect that that isn't feasible, as those proceeds of disposition have either long since been spent, distributed to shareholders or heirs, invested in other businesses, or are so co-mingled with other funds that trying to tax or recover them isn't practical.

As a practical matter, the farmers should have records of their cost of acquiring quotas (if only because the cost of the quotas could be a valuable tax attribute), so compensating farmers based on cost should be feasible. It would probably be less expensive than buying them out at FMV (pre change) (i.e., assuming that there are farmers (or corporations) who either aquired them from the government, or acquired them at an earlier time at a lower cost), and avoids valuation fights.

Finally, Ryan, you're wrong that buying out the quotas is equivalent to continuing the subsidy. It's a lump sum payment, instead of on-going price support. The latter affects farmer behaviour directly, the former doesn't.

Wonks Anonymous: The challenge is simple: describe what you think the Canadian dairy industry would look like in the absence of quotas.

Rise to it.

Bob -

I appreciate that you want to view this as a practical matter, but I feel doing so drops necessary context from the discussion. Let's accept your "buying stolen property" analogy and assume you are in second-hand possession of my stolen heirloom. Does it make sense for you and the police officer to sit at the table discussing how I, the party from whom the heirloom was stolen am going to reimburse you for the heirloom during the "transition period?"

Quotas screw things up royally for everyone. Justice and fairness under the law means eliminating quotas as soon as possible. Economic efficiency means eliminating quotas as soon as possible. There will blood - but I'm sorry, I will not accept the "guilt" for this. I oppose quotas both before and after they are implemented. That I realize they cost everyone dearly does not make me guilty of a rough transition period for the affected parties. That blood is on the government's hands, not the hands of the free marketeers.

As for "affecting behavior," I am not particularly interested in that question. Consumer surplus is more important than behavioral economics. First, establish a healthy marketplace; then, analyze how people behave. Part of the problem with behavioral economics is that it is too often invoked by bureaucrats to figure out how we can create rents "without affecting behavior directly." Money non-neutral. If you transfer more of a non-neutral resource into the hands of John at the expense of Paul, both John's and Paul's behavior will be impacted significantly, regardless of whether or not that behavior is endogenous to an economist's model.

Okay, okay... I've said way too much now. I'll bow out here and let the discussion continue along without my 17 cents...

"Canada's farm land is bought by foreign investors, does this have any long-term consequences for Canadian economic prospects"

I don't know, and neither does anyone else.

I think the issue of supply management or subsidies or whatever we are calling it is political. Do we think there is something special about producing milk (or food in genera) in Canada, and are we willing to pay more to keep that capacity in Canada even if a free market would have us do otherwise?

Personally, I disagree very strongly with people like Ryan who say there is nothing special about food production. I think there absolute is something special about food production, and I think it is a terrible mistake to sacrifice a diverse and resilient food production system to chase every last decimal point of economic efficiency. Especially when we don't need it. The world already produces plenty of food - it's not like the world lacks food. In food production, as in banking, economies of scale and technology create some terrifying tail risks.

That being said, I'm not necessarily defending the current supply management regime.

Patrick - that's pretty much my view on this also. Tails swing around and whip you - e.g. the Mad Cow (BSE) outbreak in Britain.

Let's accept your "buying stolen property" analogy and assume you are in second-hand possession of my stolen heirloom. Does it make sense for you and the police officer to sit at the table discussing how I, the party from whom the heirloom was stolen am going to reimburse you for the heirloom during the "transition period?"

OK, let's push the analogy further, shall we? In that case, we'd return the stolen heirloom to the original owner, and as the second-hand purchaser, I'd look to the original thief for compensation, i.e., the return of the purchase price I paid him. Well, who's the "thief" in our quota example? Is it the Initial Quota Holder, or the government? I bought the quotas from the Initial Quota Holder, but I only did so because the government made me do it (i.e., without the government intervention, I would just have produced milk). And sadly, in democratic societies, the government represents you and I, so we end up getting dinged for its mistakes. Now you might say that that's unfair to us as taxpayers. Maybe, but then again, why is it more fair to ding Secondary Quota Holders for the policies imposed on them by previous governments? As I noted earlier, both the Secondary Quota Holders and consumers are the victims of government policy here, so why is it that only the Secondary Quota Holders (or their creditors whose collateral is about to get wiped out) should get dinged with the cost of undoing that policy?

As for your suggestions that the first goal is to establish a "healthy marketplace", well agreed, and to do that you have to undo all the distortions caused by supply management. But that's tricky on supply side, because the distortion is a permanent one relating to the capital structure of farms (i.e., farms borrowed heavily to buy quotas). Forget policies for a second, in perfect world, we could waive a magic wand and "poof" supply management would go away. Well, what would that perfect world look like? There'd be no tariffs or quotas, and dairy producers wouldn't be shackled with debts incurred to buy quotas. Well, funny, that's the end result that I'm proposing.


I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't get rid of the quotas/tariffs that prop up supply management. We should do it tommorow. Heck, we should do it today.

It's probably even more complicated when delineated by socio-economic group. I would guess the poor would benefit from cheap-BGH milk. I could if I want, buy the (expensive) free-range, BGH-free, appelation-marked, designer milk if I chose, but I wouldn't want to penalize others, so at least that part of the argument for keeping milk quotas is weak.

jt - don't forget the whole processed food and restaurant industry. How much would MacDonald's benefit from cheaper cheese? Makers of frozen pizza? How much would the price of those goods come down *and how much would the profitability of these goods go up* if there was a radical restructuring of the Canadian milk industry?

Patrick: "Personally, I disagree very strongly with people like Ryan who say there is nothing special about food production. I think there absolute is something special about food production, and I think it is a terrible mistake to sacrifice a diverse and resilient food production system to chase every last decimal point of economic efficiency."

Fair enough, but let me ask you this, is an isolated domestic dairy industry more or less "diverse and resillient" than the global dairy industry? I don't know, but my first instinct is that inherently, no, it can't be - the sum will always be more diverse and resilient than its parts.

Moreover, I suspect that the effect of supply management is to discourage "diversity and resilience" in pursuit of economic efficiency. With an open dairy market, if I want to, I can go out and produce organic milk from heirloom cows, fed nothing but beer and grass (and around Toronto, you could probably find customers willing to pay big money for something like that). It may be less profitable than say, keeping a generic herd of milk cows in a barn, but so long as I'm happy with my return, and I can find customers looking for that product, so be it. Now, with supply management, I suppose I can do the same thing, but to do that, I have to go out and buy some quota. Well, the prices of those quotas are going to a function of the most profitable use someone can put to them. So the speciality/niche milk producer will always be outbid by the guy "chasing every last cent of economic efficiency". The supply management regime puts profitability ahead of diversity and resilience precisely because you have to buy into it.

Patrick - Very surprised to read your claim that "the world already produces plenty of food." I wonder why people starve...

A couple quick answers:

1. How precisely are existing dairy quotas to be eliminated? Over what time period? What compensation (if any) will be paid to current holders of quotas? What transitional supports will be available?

Australia already solved this problem when they eliminated supply management. Why not follow their lead? Why do we need to re-invent the wheel?

2. Will (is) milk imported from the US produced with bovine growth hormone be labelled as such?

Why would the existing regulations around bovine growth hormone change? We are not going from a system of no imports to some imports. Dairy imports from the US already exist.

Specifically: Imports of milk produced using hormones are currently banned BUT imports of products (cheese, yogurt, etc.) produced from milk produced using hormones are not.

Sorry to bring down the general tone of the conversation, but Canada has a large neighbor (us, the notably hungry USA) who has nearly no access to high quality dairy products (cheese especially), while Canada itself has no access to the cheap, mass-produced stuff. Why are we taxing each other's products at all? Maybe I'm missing something but, dont we need some sort of boutique dairy/dairy factory trade agreement here? When I think of what you guys must lose on ice cream sales alone... Then there is our total lack of cheese.

Great. Now all I can think about is how delicious Canadian cheese is.

Ryan: "Patrick - Very surprised to read your claim that "the world already produces plenty of food." I wonder why people starve..."

I'm suprised to hear that coming from you, I'd have figured you'd be all over the generally accepted answer to that question, namely lousy governments. Or at least that's the generally accepted explanation for famines. Famine is predominantly a distributional issue, rather than a production one.

"When I think of what you guys must lose on ice cream sales alone... "

Conveniently, we have reduced tarriff rates on the imports of milk and ice-cream (amongst other dairy products), which allow holders of import quotas to import those products at reduced tariff rates. I suppose our government thought that cheap ice-cream would make up for expensive milk (hmm, and people wonder why obesity is on the rise). Ironically, looking at the list of import quota holders for milk, those boutique cheese products you're talking about, they may well be made with American milk (or "Natural Milk Constituents", whatever that is).

Mike - thanks for your comments. Do you have a reference for that - i.e. that BGH milk is banned but BGH cheese isn't? That's a useful factoid.

On the Australian model - again, do you have any links? I looked but couldn't find anything - though I should look at Eric Crampton's post he linked to above. A couple of things to note - Australia still has quotas for exports: http://www.daff.gov.au/agriculture-food/meat-wool-dairy/quota/dairy. Also, Australia is an island. Milk doesn't keep, and is relatively costly to transport. NZ is surprisingly far away from Oz. Hence there are limits to the extent to which the Australian experience would generalize to Canada.

KMS - just think of warm, ripe cheese, so soft that it's just melting out of its rind....

Bob - I'm talking starvation, not famine, although I agree that government aggravates both.

"Also, Australia is an island. Milk doesn't keep, and is relatively costly to transport. NZ is surprisingly far away from Oz."

Yes, but New Zealand exports 95% of its dairy products to Asia, Japan, Europe, North America, etc. (from the ever so authoritative Encyclopedia of New Zealand: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/dairying-and-dairy-products/11). Milk may not keep, but milk powder does.

starvation =/= famine? Interesting.

Bob:
Ummm, I was talking about sales to us. I never see Canadian ice cream, but everyone I know who buys the ludicrously high priced American boutique ice cream would *love* to. There are quite a few folks over here who would not blink to pay $8 a gallon for 'real' milk. We can send you some of that $2.50 a gallon (I love close exchange rates) rhbt stuff straight off the factory floor in return. There has to be some ratio where that would work. Send us your overpriced dairy products. Please! There's no reason for both countries to make terrible cheese.

And Frances, you already knew I was jealous. That's just mean. Didn't anyone teach you that it's cruel to exploit someone's love of cheese?

www.dictionary.com

The BGH panic drives me nuts. There is no evidence that it causes harm. (And no, the American Cancer Society are not in the pay of Big Dairy.)

The cancer site doesn't note it, but the basic science underlying this is that BGH, as a non-human peptide, would be digested by humans as animal protein, and would not be metabolized it as a growth factor. Antibiotics are a separate concern (and a serious one).

Wikipedia has a surprisingly strong piece RE: rBST use around the world:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bovine_somatotropin

Australian experience RE: ending supply management:

http://www.iedm.org/files/janv06_en.pdf

Shangwen,
Ah, but people have a right to determine what they eat and pay for those choices. If folks want to pay family farmers to milk the old fashioned way, why not? It's a fine deployment of discretionary income. Almost all of our family farms are gone. I personally pay $6 a pound for family farm butter. (no, they dont make cheese.) Thank the gods I don't use much.

Besides, there was scientific proof vioxx was safe too. Science is remarkable for its constant struggle toward a greater truth, not because of the value of the sum of its knowledge at any given moment. At any given moment, we're wrong about a lot.

KMS,
I adamantly support the right of people to participate in a free market. I'm not advocating banning BGH (or increasing it), I'm advocating the rational consumption of information. And what does Vioxx have to do with it? We once thought the sun around the earth, but we've also known pythagoras' theorem for 2k years. This business of pointing to one past error to undermine current science is ridiculous. Generally, I lump the anti-BGH crowd in with the anti-soybean (i.e., "manboob panic") crowd, and all those who say they are "concerned about chemicals".

Edit to prior comment: I concede there is an animal welfare issue regarding the use of BGH.

Wait, why are people asserting that us Americans have no access to high quality dairy products? The grocery store a block from my house has an entire separate cheese section for higher-quality cheeses, and has a diverse selection of different milks. The higher quality stuff is just more expensive.

Alex - I think it's a bit like asserting that Americans are fat. The American academic economists I know are, for the most part, just as lean as Canadian academic economists (though distinctly less likely to say "let's just try walking to..."). The grocery store in Ithaca has an amazing selection of European cheeses at a fraction of the price you'd pay in Canada - last time I was there I came back with car load full of stilton and other gourmet cheeses.

But, on average, just as Americans tend to be a little heavier than people elsewhere in the world, it can't be denied most of the cheese one encounters when travelling in the US is bland cheddar, mozzarella or monterey jack cheese. Moreover, as Rachel said earlier, the consumption opportunities available to the poor in the US are very different from those available to the better off.

Mike - thanks for those references. I'd like to see something a little bit more robust on the Australian experience though - someone must have looked at it.

Shangwen - I agree that information is key - I should write a post about labelling. Would it be possible, e.g., to label milk 'animal cruelty free'' just like some tuna is labelled 'dolphin friendly'? I don't know if it would even be possible to write down a generally agreed upon set of "workers rights" for cows.

Bleg to American readers: does anyone know how the cost of a Big Mac in the US compares to the cost of a bacon double cheeseburger? I'm figuring that, given that Big Macs don't contain dairy and cheeseburgers do, the relative costs of the two should be slightly differenti n the US and Canada.

Bob: I suspect that would be most people's reaction, but in fact independent isolated systems are more resilient to shocks, but they are less efficient (in general). The military is a good example. Or spacecraft. Is it efficient to have 3 copies of the avionics system? Of course not. But it's sure a heck of a lot safer. Large integrated systems are subject to catastrophic cascade failures in ways independent autonomous systems aren't. There's a literature on this.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that there is a cogent argument for some kind of supply management (probably not what we have today). Though IMOiIt's not generally being made, but it's there.

"I wonder why people starve"

Allocation. Malthus hasn't caught us (yet).


Bob: just wanted to reiterate the last line of my first post: I'm not necessarily defending the supply management system we have today. But the budding small-c conservative in me (I think I've read too many of Nick's posts!) says we ought to be really, really careful about messing around with the system we have. It was put in place by previous generations for a reason, and we better be damn sure we understand the consequences of our actions if we're going to go around dismantling something that has apparently worked pretty well for a long while. I find it really disturbing when people come along with very glib attitudes about how we ought to just stick to to those damn dirty dairy farmers. Food is not iPhones. We shouldn't f--- around the production system lightly.

Hi Frances,

Couple points.

First, I'd expect that so long as any sanitary regs around milk were non-discriminatory, they'd pass muster. So if both domestic and foreign supply milk had to comply to the same regs, and the regs weren't something obvious like "Milk must be produced by cows in barns where Hockey Night in Canada is played on Saturday Night", I'd expect it's ok. But I'm not a trade lawyer.

Second, the status quo has a pile of capitalized rents on which dairy farmers are sitting. If we liberalized the system, maybe the processors would take some of the rent. But how much could they really get? It's not like we have a "Cartel of Cheese Producers" who get the government to go and shoot you if you make cheese without a permit; we only have that if you want to insist on your right to milk a cow without a permit. [Overdramatic? Think through carefully what happens if you sell milk without a permit and vehemently resist efforts to stop you.] Anyway, if there were big potential rents in processing, somebody else would just set up another cheese plant until they were only getting normal returns again. I can't see how most of the gains don't wind up being passed through to consumers.

Third, don't hold up US markets as free markets in dairy. The dairy compacts there mess stuff up badly too. Read the story of Hein Hettinga and weep. Come to NZ some time and see what real dairy entrepreneurship and innovation looks like. All kinds of small scale dairy processing for niche markets, along with standard supermarket cheese that just knocks the stuffing out of standard Canadian cheddar.

Fourth, on Australian export quota, I put 20:1 odds that those are there because of restrictions from foreign trading partners. We have them too. The US simply will not allow us to export more than X amount of milk to them per year without high tariff. So some milk goes in under the quota, and some goes in above-quota with tariff. The carrot of access to US dairy markets is what the US is holding up for TPP negotiations; I mostly think they're lying. We're most likely to be stuck with their insane IP laws while having Fonterra barred access to US markets because our "big firms are ok so long as they help efficiency" antitrust line would be deemed by the US as being an unfair trade practice (a BS argument, but the likely first thing they'll pull after we've agreed to take on their copyright/software patent insanity).

Patrick,

I'm not sure that's right. A system that has 3 copies of the avionics system is more resilient than one that only was one copy. Under supply management, we're relying on one system (Canada's dairy system) rather than than on the dairy production of dozens of countries. But your point, I suppose is that with greater integration, you combine those different systems (although, with national regulation, you'll never have perfect integration, so maybe we come out somewhere in the middle).

I'm not sure there is a particular cogent argment for supply management, but there may be a compelling argument for other types of policies to, for example, preserving farmland,(for example, by paying farmers adjacent to cities to put a restrictive covenant on their land to keep from being turned into townhouses)or preserving technology and know-how (for example, there's a federally funded experimental farm near Ottawa) which might make it easier to re-establish or expand a future Canadian dairy industry if it became neccesary/viable (WWIII breaks out and we're cut off from supplies of milk or, perhaps more realistically, increasing demand for milk in the developing world, make milk production commercially viable again in Canada). But those policies would be far more modest, and far less disruptive, than the sorts of supply management policies pursued in Canada (and, for what it's worth, the subsidies pursued in Europe and the US).

On BGH, I'm with Shengwen, but think of it this way, if you care about that risk, but for import tariffs and quotas, Canada could start buying some of the vast surplus of subsidized, non-BGH treated, milk from the EU.

Bob,

Geez. You're purposefully misrepresenting my point on redundancy and integration. But I think you know exactly what I'm talking about, so there's no need to argue.

"re-establish or expand a future Canadian dairy industry if it became neccesary/viable "

Are you sure about that? I'm not. Not at all.

Anyway, somewhere in your endless need to argue I think you more or less acknowledged my point, so I'll leave it there.

:)

"It was put in place by previous generations for a reason, and we better be damn sure we understand the consequences of our actions if we're going to go around dismantling something that has apparently worked pretty well for a long while. I find it really disturbing when people come along with very glib attitudes about how we ought to just stick to to those damn dirty dairy farmers."

I think I have two responses to that.

First, supply management is a relatively recent development - it was only nationally introduced in the 1970s (with the purported aim of promoting "price stability", i.e. price fixing, in any other context an illegal practice). So the "wisdom of the elders" argument for preserving the status quo isn't that compelling.

Second, I agree that the "stick it to farmers" attitude isn't helpful, especially where newer farmers (who had to buy into the supply management system) are as much the victims of the status quo as consumers. On the other hand, perhaps I have greater faith than you do in the ability of Canadian dairy industry to adapt to changes in the status quo, with appropriate transitional support.

Frances:

Moreover, as Rachel said earlier, the consumption opportunities available to the poor in the US are very different from those available to the better off.

I know this is a little off-topic, but is there a country in which this wouldn't be true? Higher incomes would be kind of pointless if they didn't actually let you buy more/better stuff.

Or do you mean this in the sense that poor people generally don't live near the stores that sell more expensive luxury goods? Honestly, that sounds like it's probably an efficient outcome.

Interesting discussion here.

My contribution:

"given that Big Macs don't contain dairy and cheeseburgers do,"

I don't think that's right. From my memory, the old Big Mac jingle goes like this:

"two all beef patties special sauce lettuce CHEESE pickles onions on a sesame seed bun"

Moreover, the 'special sauce' may (or may not!) contain mayo, which is derived from supply-managed eggs.

Those onions are all Adam Smith free market goodness, though!

@Kevin: Onions may vary province by province. Peak of the Market is another growers' cartel in Manitoba; they might have cartel rights over onions.
http://www.buymanitobafoods.ca/mb-foods/find-food/all-products/peak-of-the-market/

Alex: "I know this is a little off-topic, but is there a country in which this wouldn't be true?" Many countries have less income inequality than the US, and less physical distance between rich and poor neighbourhoods. The ritziest part of Ottawa (Rockcliff) is separated from one of the poorest parts (Vanier) by a single street: Beechwood. So the poor and rich can shop at the same stores. Similar lack of distance between rich and poor neighbourhoods in Vancouver - especially since it has viable public transit. New York is like that, but other US cities I've been to haven't been.

Stores in poor neighbourhoods often charge higher prices than stores in rich neighbourhoods (elasticity of demand).

Kevin, you're right! Darn it. Egg/oil ratio in mayo is so low you can ignore it - one egg will make a cup or two of mayo.

Eric - though did you know that onions are the only crop for which IIRC there is no US futures market? Interesting factoid which it must be possible to write a paper off of (but I haven't figured out how).

Frances:

The Red Fife thing was for a bakery in Vancouver that wanted to use it. The Wheat Board didn't have authority in Ontario, which has its own wheat board. It was a producer issue because the wheat couldn't leave the farm without the Wheat Board's approval. Besides, that Ottawa shop is one of the few stores that carries Red Fife, there few farms in Canada that grow it; one is near Keene, the wheat's Canadian home. The Olde Stone Brew Pub on George St. in Peterborough makes a Red Fife wheat beer.

But you still can't get a heritage turkey.

BGH is a regulatory issue, not a market issue. An Act of Parliament that says "Milk produced in or imported into Canada shall not contain Bovine Growth Hormone" is easy enough to pass. That's a regulatory issue, not really an economic issue unless you want to get into the (small) deadweight loss of a BGH ban. Consumer product regulation is entirely separate from economic production management policies.

And supply management does nothing for the boutique end of the market except obliterate it as a potential competitor that is hard to regulate and seen as a pest.

But between the US and the EU, agriculture is hardly an example of anything like a free market.

You woke people up, Frances!

I'll have a stab at this: "What compensation (if any) will be paid to current holders of quotas?"

The same as owners of footwear and clothing factories got when tariffs were reduced.

Canada's dairy farmers are in business. They ought to be holding insurance against the loss of their quotas, the same as with other capital. If they aren't, well, they made that decision.

Greg: "They ought to be holding insurance against the loss of their quotas" - is it possible to buy such a thing?

Frances,

Just to add to Eric’s comment. Those are EXPORT quotas. Removing export quotas could only benefit Australian dairy farmers so Eric is right. The quotas are there to protect US farmers.

Bob Smith: "Milk may not keep, but milk powder does."
UHT milk keeps and Canda export a lot to South America and the Caribean, including Porto Rico. UHT keeps for months and only the open box needs to be refrigerated. Useful when you're too poor to buy a large fridge and the electricity supply is unreliable and expensive.

One of the problems with BGH is that is makes the cows susceptible to mastitis. University of Vermont found a four fold increase. This means a much higher level of anti-biotic use and a great deal of suffering for the cows. I have had mastitis and if it is anywhere near as painful for the poor cow... All this is to say that there are good reasons to object to BGH.

"The same as owners of footwear and clothing factories got when tariffs were reduced."

Not quite the same analysis, since the government didn't force clothing and textile manufacturers to acquire quotas to carry on their business. I suppose you might fairly reply, though, that that's no different than investing in any other capital good on the basis that it will produce returns based on the high, tariff-protected, price of their products. I have to think about that.

Rachel - ouch!

Bob - good point.

This argument was over as soon as Canada changed its food pyramid a decade or more ago. Milk got dropped from 4 servings/day to 1.5. So you might subsidize new or broke or for-toddlers-milk dairy farmers, but that's it. In the Marimtes, poor people, unless on welfare or another subsidy, can't afford milk. The soy subsidy might work for 3rd world markets as contains all essential amino acids unlike any other product. Corn subsidies too make Americans unhealthy. As GOP and Wild Rose as the USA is, as soon as an individual of any wealth has a heart attack, my old flaming NS landlord taught me this, you change your mind and wish you didn't have CPC Ministers of health and Conservative MPPs that cancel healthy food Crowns to fight Provincial (healthcare addled...) deficits. Like above says, there are very rich dairy farmers and very unhealthy cheap ice cream selections; the latter a result of food production innovations recently.

For example, in a country where AB/SK separated and their tar/oil got carbon taxed by ports, you would offer quotas for the first 1.5 cups of adult milk as food stamps for cdns. It's okay I'm learning to steal food expertly.

Someone should direct Wayne Easter to this blog, if these (http://wayne-easter.liberal.ca/media-reports/media-releases/a-letter-to-the-editor-on-supply-management/) are the best arguments he can make in defense of supply managment. On the BGH point he's particularly weak:

"By eliminating supply management and opening our border to “cheap” milk and dairy products we would be doing indirectly what is illegal directly, namely placing on the retail shelves dairy products produced through the use of a growth hormone. Currently in the US, 17% of the 9 million dairy cattle are injected with this growth hormone."

Well, let's pull that apart. First, as others have pointed out, free trade in milk and dairy products doesn't mean you can't impose health and safety restrictions. Moreover, he assumes that we'd only import milk from the US, rather than BGH-free jurisdictions (Europe, Australia, New Zealand - all jurisidctions, its worth noting, who we're trying to negotiate trade deals with and for which supply management is a sticking point).

But as weak as his first point is, he then blows it out of the water by observing that 83% of US dairy cattle are NOT injected with BGH (ok, for obvious reasons, he didn't phrase it like that), which suggests that US dairy producers are quite capable of producing non-BGH for the Canadian market if permitted to (and it's worth noting, in this regard, that a number of major retailers, notably Walmart, Sam's Club, Kroger, and Safeway use only non-BGH milk in their house brands).

Frances: "you've taken a stab at answering the question I wanted to pose in this post: what would happen to the Canadian dairy industry if milk quotas were eliminated. Your response is pretty optimistic "in the US one can get niche products ".

Two thoughts: One: I don't know of any clear evidence on this. I can buy Red Fife wheat in the local organic food store. In Canada we have all of these fantastic local artisan cheeses - I don't know to what extent these exist south of the border. It seems that organic milk is fairly widely available in the US, but that's partly because people want to avoid BGH and other practices. I'd like to see something other than impressions as evidence on this."

I have nothing other than impressions, but one more piece of impression evidence that I originally intended to refer to is beer. In the US the high end of the beer market - meaning a variety of stuff that isn't a light, mass produced lager (most Molson/Labatt/Coors/Budweiser, plus all of the European imports widely available like Stella/Becks/Heineken and others commonly pushed as premium) - has developed a lot of depth and breadth over the past couple of decades. In Ontario, we don't have access to anywhere near the same depth and quality of products. I think it is because of the limits of the beer store/LCBO, which like the dairy industry is good at producing a mediocre middle, but don't have the high end of the market of niche products or the low end where the only thing that matters is price. I think that at the high end of the market, you will get more local production, because people like the idea of local and freshness also matters. That might help local producers survive. For the mass end of the market, it is unclear to me what would happen - you might get consolidation, and lose some Canadian production. Canada isn't like New Zealand - I have been to NZ, and it is amazing how much grass grows there, and how ideally the conditions are set up to grow pasture - it is like the best natural pastureland in the world, with the only disadvantage being distance from markets.

One other point: I haven't seen a reference to Gordon Tullock's writing on Transitional Gains Trap, which I think nicely points to the problem with the capitalization of rents. I personally think that more attention needs to be focused on the consequences of putting such policies into place, and in fact would support broad legislation that makes it impossible to do so, because politics creates these things so easily, and has no good way of getting out of the trap. I think that it is hard to argue that the government doesn't bear some obligation to ease the transition, but I think that the cost should be shared with those that took on the risk of holding an asset that is derived from regulatory limits.

"I think that the cost should be shared with those that took on the risk of holding an asset that is derived from regulatory limits"

Maybe that's the distinction I couldn't articulate with respect to Greg's last point. The dairy farmer has two broad classes of assets that derive their value (at laest in part) from tariffs/quotas. One class is a general one - the farm itself, the cows, capital equipment, buildings, whatever - the other is a limited one, the quotas. I don't have any problem with the proposition that farmers shouldn't be compensated for any losses associated with the first class of assets (just like textile factories were compensated if they went under). So how can I justify compensating farmers for the cost (but not the loss in value, I hasten to add) of the latter but not at all in respect of the former?

I suppose the distinction is that the quota isn't just an asset that derives its value from regulatory limits, it IS the regulatory limit. I think the distinction would be clear if, instead of buying quotas from existing farmers, farmer had to buy quotas from the government. Now, that would be a case where I think we'd both agree that there's something unjust about the government saying on the one hand "you have to buy this quota, and pay a pretty penny for it" and then turning around and saying "yeah, sucks to be you, that was a bad investment". And in that case, compensating farmers for the cost of buying the quota would be uncontroversial, since the government was initially enriched (unjustly) by the sale of the quota, and so would just be disgording their original revenues from the sale of the quota.

OK, farmers didn't buy quotas from the government, but whose fault is that? That decision resulted in a windfall to the initial quota holders (at least to the extent they subsequently sold them). But it isn't clear to me that that really makes a difference for secondary quota holders (who bought them from the initial holders), because in either case,the government was telling them "you have to buy this quota". It isn't clear why secondary quota holders should be dinged because the government chose to enrich original quota holders by not charging for quotas and by making them transferable.

"Cows aren't paid, so wages should not an issue."

In real terms, cows get a living wage, plus free health care. :)

Frances: [Quota insurance] "is it possible to buy such a thing?"

I have no idea whether such a product exists. If not, it is because of lack of demand, which speaks to the risk management skill of Canadian farmers. I don't see why government should protect businesses against foreseeable, limited, industry-specific risks.

Bob: I do so reply. Thanks for seeing my point.

Greg: "If not, it is because of lack of demand,"

Insurance works through risk pooling, i.e. car insurance works because not everybody has car accidents at the same time. The elimination of milk quotas is a correlated risk - i.e. if one farmer loses their milk quotas, everyone will lose milk quotas. It's not possible to buy private insurance against highly correlated risks (which is why, for example, house insurance doesn't cover acts of war, crop insurance doesn't exist without government subsidies, etc).

Greg, Frances: All somebody needs to do is open up a futures market where folks wanting to lay off that kind of risk can do so. Pretty easily done: just put up contracts for each of 2013, 2014, etc reading "Contract pays $1000 if the market price of dairy quota at year end is under $5000 or if supply management no longer exists". Farmers can buy the contract to lay off quota political risk; folks better able to bear that risk because it's not correlated with the rest of their portfolio can short it.

Eric & Greg, alternatively we could just de-regulate gambling, and allow people to place bets on the odds of supply management ending. Inside trading problems though?

Er, what would the farmers do? In NS the farm land is very marginal. Where are millionaires: they'll be okay. What portion of quota'd farmland is not fit for other uses? A honey quota would return 10x whatever the subsidy is via fruit canola and nut production increases.

Oh my. I can see the news items now: "Cabinet minister colluded with TBTF bank to rig milk quota futures market - no charges will be laid. In other news, anti-corruption protesters were kettled, tasered, strip searched, and held illegally by police. Justice Minister vows to continue law-and-order agenda."

Now where's that bottle of Innis & Gunn I've been saving...

Why is it that I can buy Swiss cheese produced in Canada at Trader Joe's in the USA for about half the cheapest price I can get it in Canada? (Same with the crackers I put it on, BTW.)

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