EYE ON THE PIE: Party loyalty is ruining Congress

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“Congress is the root of all evil” is a line from the delightful musical comedy built on the characters of Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner.” I always saw that as an exaggerated point of view coming from the far right or the far left. But today, I am beginning to believe it.

I am neither far right nor far left. Yet I cannot understand how our society could be sustained without an independent judiciary to protect us from Congress and their 50 offspring, the state legislatures.

It took the Supreme Court to rule that wine could be shipped across state lines. Why? Because the slaves to special interests in state legislatures tried to protect their wineries from the products of vineyards in other states. For years, Hoosiers could not import their favorite wines from California, Ohio or other states on their own. Why not? Because the Indiana General Assembly, our own branch of that root of all evil, prohibited shipments to private parties.

Protecting one form of business is generally a means of doing a disservice to consumers and other businesses. Protection, when practiced by a legislative body, is more often aggression against good sense.

Yet the U.S. Supreme Court alone cannot be relied on to protect freedom. Just a few weeks ago, the justices ruled that the federal beef, pork, milk, egg and other promotional programs are constitutionally correct exercises of the government’s right to tax. I won’t argue the legality. It just means we have to go back to the cellars of Congress and get those taxes removed from the backs of farmers and, ultimately, consumers.

Now you may not think about it, but when they are advertising “the other white meat,” asking the question, “Got milk?” or inquiring, “What’s for dinner?” expecting the answer to be beef, you are paying to advertise to yourself.

It’s supposed to be a tax on farmers to promote their products, but such campaigns are of questionable value and the tax may well be passed along, in full or in part, in the final price to the ultimate consumer. Many farmers are against these programs, contending that the real beneficiaries are processors, middlemen who do not contribute to the promotional fund.

When the farmers went to court, they lost. How can the tax be eliminated? We, consumers and farmers, must get to Congress and tell them we don’t need them to direct campaigns to get us to buy more beef, pork, eggs, milk or other products. It is time to tell Congress to get out of our heads, our pockets, and our gastro-intestinal tracts.

This current Congress may or may not be the worst in many years in such matters. It is hard to know. Legislators wanted to decide whether a woman in Florida should have a feeding tube removed. They want to decide what kind of research scientists should be allowed to do. They want to exert their civil and military powers while showing no restraint on fiscal matters, cutting taxes and increasing spending in the most prolific fashion we have seen in some time.

Yes, I do believe Congress is the root of all evil. Party loyalty is an excuse for rejecting the interests of the nation. Now is the time for us to develop candidates who can give these well-ensconced incumbents a solid defeat in November 2006. We should be preparing today to uproot most of the incumbents and bring them home for lessons in courage, humility and honesty.

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.

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