Regulation and the Misrule of Experts

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Economist William Easterly has made famous the term “Tyranny of Experts” in his recent book in which he looks as how western “experts” have destroyed economies abroad and have destroyed economic opportunities for poor people throughout the Third World. Indeed, the “experts” have created havoc abroad (in the name of saving the poor, of course), but the relationship between so-called experts and tyrannical government hardly stops at our borders.

It is safer to say that in the case of experts, tyranny begins at home. Be they bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency or military planners, we know that rule by bureaucrats carrying out the vision of a politician are not going to like it when people’s actions are limited by the Law of Scarcity and various laws of science. Thus, the “expert” bureaucrat resorts to tyranny.

Karen De Coster, who really does know something about food and eating, recently had this post on the LRC Blog in which she included a video that took a brief but hard look at the Congressional initiative of 1977, led by Sen. George McGovern, that essentially rewrote the American diet. The video speaks for itself, but it does not go to the heart of the problem, which is the continuing Progressive movement’s war on people via the Rule of Experts. Indeed, it is not exaggeration to say that the Progressives’ love of experts and their insistence that experts be given power to force policies upon unwilling individuals has resulted in the deaths of millions of people and has confined many millions more to lives of misery.

Unfortunately, Americans, and especially Americans in the media and academe, have come to believe that without the existence of experts setting policies, life as we know it would be nasty, brutish and short instead of being, well, nasty, brutish and short. The whole anti-fat campaign carried on by “experts” in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and being promoted by academics and journalists has turned out not only to have been wrong, nutritionally speaking, but it has created an obesity epidemic and has condemned millions to heart disease and other health problems that could have been avoided had the USDA simply done nothing.

The video that De Coster put into her post is classic. In it we see McGovern – who was the very definition of a Progressive Statist – pursuing a policy that was opposed early on by scientists and many nutritionists, but that ultimately came to be “accepted” because the government stacked the deck. It was not “good science” that ultimately persuaded Americans to abandon good sense and good eating habits, but rather the “experts” at the USDA, an agency that Americans for years have been propagandized into believing has the “best interests” of Americans at heart.

As the video points out, the key person in this whole sordid affair is Carol Lee Tucker-Foreman, who served as assistant secretary of agriculture for food and consumer services during the Carter Administration and was a darling of the mainstream media. I remember Tucker-Foreman well, as she had previously been part of Ralph Nader’s “consumer protection” network before President Jimmy Carter put her at the USDA.

In the video, we learn that while McGovern was able to garner publicity for his campaign, it was Tucker-Foreman who turned the whole thing into actual policy. When prominent scientists disputed her claims – that the government needed to proclaim a “war on fat” and push the consumption of more carbohydrates – she found someone who would support her, presented him to an adoring media, and the rest is obesity history.

Indeed, even as the organization of which Tucker-Foreman now is associated, Supporters of Agricultural Research (SOAR), calls for an end to obesity, it lionizes the person and the policies she spawned that are most responsible for this very real crisis:

Carol Lee Tucker-Foreman, distinguished fellow at Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute, has an international reputation as a consumer advocate and food policy expert. For more than 35 years, she has worked at the highest levels of government and advocacy organizations to ensure that Americans have an adequate supply of safe, nutritious and affordable food. She has been called “a legend in American agricultural circles.” Ms. Tucker-Foreman was CFA’s executive director from 1973-77. She returned in 1999 to launch the Food Policy Institute, serving as its director until 2007.

The SOAR website goes on to outline some of the things Tucker-Foreman did while at USDA:

(She) served as assistant secretary of agriculture for food and consumer services during the Carter Administration and won thorny political battles, including broadening food stamp coverage for the poor, expanding the fledgling Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Feeding Program (WIC), and developing the landmark “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” She pushed through the first regulations to ban “foods of minimal nutritional value” from schools. (Emphasis mine)

So, here we have an “expert” who apparently is not challenged by the media or anyone else in Washington who was more responsible than anyone else for the present obesity crisis in this country. Indeed, these “legendary” food guidelines have ensured that generations of Americans have abandoned good eating and now consume the very things that will make them less healthy – all in the name of a “modern” government promoting “good health.”

Furthermore, as one goes through the SOAR website, one sees the fingerprints of the modern Corporate State and all its Crony Capitalism. Corporations and universities will see lots of federal money – and the good media coverage that accompanies it – coming their way if they promote Tucker-Foreman’s worldview of the flawed USDA Food Pyramid, apply the utterly flawed Global Warming –err, Climate Change – theories to food production, and generally toe the government “experts” line. (I add that the companies gladly will toe the government’s line, and they will work hand-in-glove through whatever federal agencies will promote and support them.)

The walls these people have in place are nearly impenetrable, as the “commanding heights” of the media, academe, and the executive branch of the U.S. Government (not to mention Congress and the courts) all provide cover for this intellectual and social fraudulence. Yes, Time Magazine can publish something that might contradict the “wisdom” that SOAR and others have inflicted upon this country the past four decades, but even a wise, but limited mea culpa from an establishment media source will have no effect upon current government policies, not when the streams of money run the opposite way from the truth.

There is a larger problem here that I address briefly, and that is that this whole American love affair with “experts” and the belief systems that come from it are stamped wholly into the DNA of most people in this country. In an 1887 paper in Public Science Quarterly, a college professor named Woodrow Wilson – the same Woodrow Wilson who later served as President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 – expressed his disdain for the constitutional organization of the U.S. Government (with its three “inefficient” branches) and called, instead, for rule via a bureaucracy staffed with “experts” that would operate independently of the executive branch, Congress, and the courts.

In 2014, it is easy to say that Wilson got his wish. Americans really do believe in this stuff. While the bureaucracies officially are part of the executive branch, they also have much independence from the White House and especially Congress and even the courts. Yes, the Obama administration can sic the Internal Revenue Service on its political enemies, but the lawless behavior of the IRS staff is protected by yet another bureaucracy, the U.S. Department of Justice.

Although it is obvious that the Obama administration has its own fingerprints on the illegal behavior of the IRS (which includes brazenly destroying evidence, acts for which the perpetrators will face no legal sanctions), it is easy to see that the bureaucracies also can operate independently of the White House under which they allegedly serve. We have read the horror stories of various federal agencies operating with their own agendas, frustrating those that supposedly govern them, and does anyone really believe that even if Barack Obama wanted to corral the National Security Agency and its vast listening programs, that he actually could do it? If various presidents of the United States could not control J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI, what makes us believe that things are any better after decades of bureaucratic power grabs by various federal agencies?

Which brings us back to Tucker-Foreman and the USDA. Here we have seen the utter folly of the “experts” in action, yet the one person who is more responsible than anyone else for the obesity crisis in the USA is unassailable. Mainstream journalists hang onto her every word as though it had descended from the gods themselves. She is a “legend” in Washington and she can direct billions of dollars of “research” money with a whim.

This, dear readers, is tyranny in action. A mere functionary, someone who understands almost nothing about nutrition, has had more influence over what you and your families eat than perhaps any other person in world history. Her words govern your choices, and her actions have condemned some of your loved ones to an early grave.

The “beauty” of it all is that tyranny has been accomplished without anyone pointing a gun at anyone. Okay, almost no one pointing a gun, as we do know these decrees are backed up by the implied deadly force that is the monopoly of government agencies. But all too often, most people never see the loaded guns. Instead, they see “experts” like Carol Lee Tucker-Foreman assuring them that she knows best, and that it would be good for them to obey her. And they do. Or else.

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