Good news: There’s still a National Raisin Reserve seizing raisins from farmers

posted at 5:21 pm on July 8, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

We went over this in January, back when the Supreme Court decided to take the case of the stolen raisins.

Here are the basics. The U.S. government, in all its wisdom, started the National Raisin Reserve in 1937. Fearing that raisin producers might make too many raisins, thereby leading to drops in the price of raisins, they started confiscating a percentage of raisin production, for raisin farmers’ own good, of course. Also, because it is quite plainly the federal government that has the right and the wherewithal to determine exactly how many raisins the entire country is interested in consuming in a given year. They’re great at stuff like that.

Raisins being the vital national interest that they are, the federal government is of course still involved in this, which has led even the Washington Post to deem this “strange part of the federal bureaucracy” one of “heavy-handed” power. Refreshing. Now, if we could just get rid of it. One farmer’s trying:

In the world of dried fruit, America has no greater outlaw than Marvin Horne, 68.

Horne, a raisin farmer, has been breaking the law for 11 solid years. He now owes the U.S. government at least $650,000 in unpaid fines. And 1.2 million pounds of unpaid raisins, roughly equal to his entire harvest for four years.

His crime? Horne defied one of the strangest arms of the federal bureaucracy — a farm program created to solve a problem during the Truman administration, and never turned off.

He said no to the national raisin reserve…

When Horne’s case reached the Supreme Court this spring, Justice Elena Kagan wondered whether it might be “just the world’s most outdated law.”

“Your raisins or your life, right?” joked Justice Antonin Scalia.

Last month, the high court issued its ruling and gave Horne a partial victory. A lower court had rejected Horne’s challenge of the law. Now, the justices told that court to reconsider it.

Even Justice Steven Breyer was stunned by the idiocy of this program, run by the Raisin Administration Committee (no, really), which uses proceeds to “invest” in raisin advertising and stuff, returning all leftover money to the farmers. How much money is left over after investing and administrative costs? None.

“What it does is it takes raisins that we grow — in effect, throws them in the river,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, puzzling it out. Later, he said, “I can’t believe that Congress wanted the taxpayers to pay for a program that’s going to mean they have to pay higher prices” for raisins.

Some raisin growers are supporters, contributing to Horne’s defense. Others are bitter that he seems to be profiting from breaking the rules while they continue to comply, sometimes forking over almost 50 percent of their crops. But such is the stupidity of the law, making a man who asserts his right to payment for his duly grown and harvested raisins a criminal. For all their sakes, I hope he succeeds, though there will be those who remain used to the government propping up the marketplace and scared to compete in a freer one.

We have to figure out a way to kill these programs, and good on Horne for leading a charge. This is what gets me about the president talking about Smart Government. I’m all for streamlining our processes and cutting costs by updating the way government does business, though I confess I’m torn because sometimes its incompetence is our greatest protection. But, do you think any of the people in that room working to make a smarter government, including the president himself, know there even exists a national raisin reserve or a national Helium reserve, both of which have been distorting the market and wasting money since the 1930s? I would guess not unless they read about the raisin reserve in the Post today, which is how the president gets most of his information about the workings of the federal government. And, if they are completely ignorant of these programs of the federal government, which indicate its truly ridiculous size and reach, how do they imagine they’ll get their arms around it well enough to make it “smart?”

When government does all the things, it does just about none of them well. The president’s administration (and all the others, though at a slower rate) creates so many new bureaucrats and new layers of law every day that the well-meaning technology experts who wish to bring them up to date will work from now until kingdom come and never catch up. Even with a moratorium on government growth, smart solutions wouldn’t catch up with bureaucracy for another couple centuries. And, that’s a shame for people who depend on the government do the things it’s supposed to do worth a damn. It’s a shame for those who’d like to influence their government and hold it accountable for its actions because they have lives to lead which prohibit learning about, much less fighting, one of the God-knows-how-many idiotic reserves created for our own good in the ’30s. But what do I know? I’m a radical who thinks raisins might survive if the federal government was not at all involved in their buying and selling.

Another fun fact from David Farenthold’s piece. Remember the California Dancing Raisins that were such a hit in the ’80s for their rendition of “Heard it through the Grapevine?” Taxpayers paid for those ads , too, until another brave raisin farmer fought to kill that program. Smart government, folks. Maybe we should start by recruiting raisin farmers to work on it. They seem to have some idea of what should go.

In other news about governments keeping their eye on the ball, remember the Phantom Planter’s flowers at a Washington, D.C. Metro station? They’re gone. You can’t have perfectly free beautification projects going on by private citizens without proper government licensing, you know. Metro has never spent time or manpower on filling its empty flower boxes, but when someone did it for them, they did spend money and manpower on ripping them out. Maybe they’re for the strategic daffodil reserve. Meanwhile, more than 50 percent of Metro’s escalators have had an outage since April, and the escalator guy got a promotion. Smart.

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I heard it through the grapevine…

rightside on July 8, 2013 at 5:26 PM

But remember, the government is so short on cash that even minor cuts lead to unbearable pain.

Fezzik on July 8, 2013 at 5:28 PM

…not much longer would you be mine.
Oh I heard it through the grapevine,

Flange on July 8, 2013 at 5:31 PM

Gov’t programs … eternal life.

JimK on July 8, 2013 at 5:31 PM

So? Raisins are an increasingly important part of US exports and national security.

DarkCurrent on July 8, 2013 at 5:32 PM

At least the elevator guy proves that something can go up in the Metro system.

Ironwood297 on July 8, 2013 at 5:34 PM

Raisins………..Its what’s for supper/dinner.

Bmore on July 8, 2013 at 5:35 PM

MKH. ALWAYS raisin hell about somethin!

james hooker on July 8, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Reminds me of 1996 when we learned that we were still being taxed in those federal phone fees for the Spanish-American war.

At the time the law was enacted, phones were a luxury and phone owners were tapped to pay for the “war.” By 1996 that wasn’t the case, the war had been paid for in spades, and yet the tax remained.

Bravo to any American that challenges these absurd regulations.

Happy Nomad on July 8, 2013 at 5:40 PM

If they want to know how many raisins my family eats a week…….NSA should put a pipe tap on my sewer line.

David in ATL on July 8, 2013 at 5:40 PM

How have we survived?

Cindy Munford on July 8, 2013 at 5:41 PM

So he’s a scofflaw of the 2 scoops law?

And they call him Raisin Kane.

CitizenEgg on July 8, 2013 at 5:41 PM

We are all going to stockpile raisins when we go Galt.

Cindy Munford on July 8, 2013 at 5:41 PM

Old = Eat your arugula

New = Eat your raisins

NapaConservative on July 8, 2013 at 5:43 PM

Somehow this brings to mind Frank Herbert’s idea of the Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab), a government agency whose sole purpose was to make government slower and less efficient.

Frank, where ya been, man?

NeighborhoodCatLady on July 8, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Almost all raisins in these parts are from CA.
If most US raisins are from CA, that would explain why the law hasn’t been struck down yet.
CA farmers would be less likely to want a free market.

I love raisins, but I won’t buy CA raisins.

itsnotaboutme on July 8, 2013 at 5:44 PM

So he’s a scofflaw of the 2 scoops law?

CitizenEgg on July 8, 2013 at 5:41 PM

I like your bran new joke there.

And they call him Raisin Kane.

CitizenEgg on July 8, 2013 at 5:41 PM

His parents were Citizen & Sugar.

itsnotaboutme on July 8, 2013 at 5:46 PM

Oh, thank God. I was worried about this issue.

Oil Can on July 8, 2013 at 5:53 PM

How can anyone, with a straight face, use the words “government” and “efficiency” in the same sentence?

Unless, of course, they’re an idiot.

GarandFan on July 8, 2013 at 5:57 PM

Don’t they do it with sugar, too?

Pretty sure Erika posted on that.

wolly4321 on July 8, 2013 at 5:59 PM

How can anyone, with a straight face, use the words “government” and “efficiency” in the same sentence?

Unless, of course, they’re an idiot.

GarandFan on July 8, 2013 at 5:57 PM

As of today it’s called Smart Government.

RickB on July 8, 2013 at 6:04 PM

Thanks for the examples, MKH! I was need of good stories like this about government waste. Please keep providing them.

thuja on July 8, 2013 at 6:05 PM

itsnotaboutme on July 8, 2013 at 5:46 PM

I’m totally cereal about this issue, but I know Obama’s favorite fruit is fund raisin.

CitizenEgg on July 8, 2013 at 6:09 PM

Seriously, laws like these that tamper with economic issues ought to have expiration dates. I can understand the history behind this law because you need to think like they did back in the Truman years which were just an extension of the Roosevelt New Deal Era. Up until Ronald Reagan, Democrats and Republicans alike thought along these statist/interventionist lines because Keynesian economic theory was all the rage.

But, if everyone of these types of laws had an expiration date, then at least Congress would have to attempt to debate them. I realize that counter-examples exist like the VRA always getting re-authorized because you’re a racist if you don’t, but at least people would be more informed…..

Good grief, how many useless Government Bureaucrats work at the Bureau of Raisin Confiscation anyway??

powerpickle on July 8, 2013 at 6:16 PM

Being a former raisin grower, I can tell you that at one time the commission sold the reserve raisins then used the proceeds to pay other growers not to produce a crop the following yr or remove the whole vineyard.

The would take a running ave of the growers past production, then pay that grower the going price for his averaged production…. minus that yrs reserve. So, if a grower averaged 2 tons per acre & the reserve for that season was 25%, the the grower would be paid for 1.5 tone per acre for raisins he didn’t produce.

Cedar_Grove on July 8, 2013 at 6:22 PM

Is the Rural Electrification Administration still around?

Why, yes it is. (With the name changed to protect the guilty.)

Socratease on July 8, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Remember the California Dancing Raisins that were such a hit in the ’80s for their rendition of “Heard it through the Grapevine?

Darn earworm is now stuck in my head…

Fallon on July 8, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Somehow this brings to mind Frank Herbert’s idea of the Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab), a government agency whose sole purpose was to make government slower and less efficient.
Frank, where ya been, man?

NeighborhoodCatLady on July 8, 2013 at 5:44 PM
++++++++++++++++++++++++

Or Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” -

fabrexe on July 8, 2013 at 6:44 PM

I wonder how many federal employees are involved in this? Surely this is sequester worthy.

tommer74 on July 8, 2013 at 6:49 PM

Survey says…it’s a tax!

Seriously, this isn’t much different than Wickard v. Filburn. It needs to die a quick and painful death.

Othniel on July 8, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Remember the California Dancing Raisins that were such a hit in the ’80s for their rendition of “Heard it through the Grapevine?”

Ooooo, the Raisin song.

Cindy Munford on July 8, 2013 at 7:57 PM

I bet this was voted in by Democrats.

Axion on July 8, 2013 at 9:29 PM

I always knew that “Sunsweet marches on!” was a Marxist mantra.

Shy Guy on July 8, 2013 at 11:30 PM

My understanding is that available helium was very limited and primarily in the US in the twenties when the government set up it’s monopoly and that it was correctly considered a strategic resource. Available helium has been very common and not strategic for most of the time since then.

The Feds have been screwing up the agricultural market for a long time. They use tariffs, i.e. sugar; licenses with production limitations, i.e. peanuts; price supports, i.e. milk. My favorite is production limitations of potatoes. In the forties there were “too many” potatoes. The feds confiscated a fraction of the crop and dyed it purple. The purple potatoes were fed to hogs.

burt on July 9, 2013 at 9:42 AM

The U.S. government, in all its wisdom, started the National Raisin Reserve in 1937.

a farm program created to solve a problem during the Truman administration, and never turned off.

Um, Truman didn’t become president until 1945.

Dexter_Alarius on July 9, 2013 at 12:12 PM