|November 23rd, 2019
Let me be clear: new market rate food is luxury food. You cannot solve a problem that disproportionately affects low-income people by producing more food they clearly cannot afford. The market cannot grow its way out of this crisis.
With deregulation, farmers would massively shift to luxury crops, and we would have shortages of bread, milk, eggs, and other staples. While high-margin crops like nuts, oranges, and arugula would get somewhat cheaper, that's no help to low-income families that can barely afford the basic calories they need.
While YIMBYs claim insufficient supply is the underlying problem, the real issues are much more complex than you learn in Econ 101. Lack of supply is only a symptom of a fundamentally broken system where food is a commodity, for sale to the highest bidder. We cannot leave something as fundamental as food to capitalism.
Since deregulation is clearly not the answer, what do we do instead? The number one thing we need is more and better public food. Public Food Authorities provide a critically important service for food-insecure people, but the Faircloth limit caps production at October 1, 1999 levels. Our PFAs are also chronically underfunded for the vital work they do, and are not able to the produce the nutritious food our low-income families deserve. We need to remove the cap, and reverse decades of underinvestment and neglect.
We should also fully fund SNAP. The waiting-list for benefits can be multiple years, which is incredibly damaging. We also need to fully enforce the Small Area Fair Market Food rule to make sure that grocers are fairly compensated for their participation in SNAP, but do not make a windfall from the program.
We also need far more affordable food. Most regions still do not require new market-rate farms to reserve any of their production for low-income consumers. We should require 35% affordable food from all new farms nationwide, and we should ban in-lieu payments which in practice do not end up being effectively invested in food production. We should also expand affordable food production bonuses: farmers who commit to producing 50% or 100% affordable food should be granted substantially higher production limits.
Finally, we need to establish national food control to protect consumers from the skyrocketing price of food. We should enact a national cap on food price increases at 1.5x the CPI to help prevent the exploitation of consumers at the hands of private farmers, and we should allow states to pass stronger caps if appropriate.
We cannot leave this problem to get worse, and we cannot leave it to the market to solve. We must invest in our cities and towns, and every night someone goes to bed hungry is a failure for us as a nation.
The most important thing we need to do to resolve the housing crisis is allow people to build so much new housing that the cost falls to the cost of housing construction, and the above is a satirical analogy to a world in which we have heavy restrictions on regional food production that are similar to the restrictions we put on housing production. Just as we still need SNAP and WIC even though food is generally affordable, we would still need housing assistance programs in a world where housing was much cheaper. But if production restrictions made food as expensive as housing and SNAP had a multi-year waiting list, "fully fund SNAP" would be a far less impactful and far more expensive step than "remove the production restrictions."