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

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case reached the Supreme Court this spring, Justice Elena Kagan wondered whether it might be “just the world’s most outdated law.”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