Economist Bruce Yandle has observed that government intervention is often supported by an alliance of Baptists and bootleggers. By “Baptists,” he means the true believers, such as the religious zealots who helped push through alcohol prohibition. By “bootleggers,” he means the special interests who benefit financially from the intervention, usually through the limitation of competition.
This article about raw milk, forwarded to me by frequent commenter Ran, provides a nice example of how paternalists often occupy the Baptist role. “Raw milk” means milk directly from the cow, not processed or pasteurized. I can’t say whether the advocates of raw milk are correct about its health benefits; nor can I say whether its opponents are right about its health risks. But it’s apparent that the people who prefer raw milk aren’t just making rash, ill-considered choices. They have reasons backed by personal experience as well as some scientific research for thinking raw milk is better for them, and many go to considerable lengths to get it.
So why are governments and their public health departments making it so difficult to get raw milk? Why, for instance, has North Carolina recently banned “cow shares,” whereby someone can own a share of the output produced by a cow cared for on a local farm? One answer is what Ran calls “scientific groupthink.” Some people in the public health field just cannot tolerate ordinary people reaching their own conclusions and making their own decisions on health matters. Another answer is that it’s about the money. Milk processors and distributors benefit from regulations that bar direct dealing between milk producers (especially independents) and consumers. The truth, I suspect, is both: we have a Yandle-style alliance between the paternalistic public health community and the profit-seeking milk processors.
And this is what milk has in common with alcohol, even in the modern post-prohibition era. We have distributors – the middlemen between the alcohol producers and alcohol retailers – making common cause with nanny-statists who want to raise the price and reduce the availability of alcohol for our own good. Hence the delicious irony of alcohol shippers being among the most vociferous preachers on the dangers of the demon drink.