The Sweetest Sin

In 1984, Coca Cola and Pepsi both announced that it was too expensive to continue using cane sugar to produce their soft drinks and that they would be switching to high fructose corn syrup as a cheaper alternative.

This was in response to the U.S. Customs Service’s ban on the importation of sugar from foreign countries in an attempt to artificially inflate the price of domestically produced cane sugar.

The sugar import tariffs and bans, as well as government subsidies for cane sugar farmers and sugar production caps, were started in the early 1800s after the Louisiana Purchase in an attempt to placate sugar farmers.  These measures have been continued in one form or another ever since.

Sugar does not grow particularly well in the U.S. Even in the southern states it struggles to flourish. It does, however, grow like a weed in the Caribbean and the Philippines and many foreign farmers relied on their sales to U.S. companies (despite the high import tariffs) for their income.

In order to placate the foreign sugar farmers that suffered as a result of the import bans, then-President Reagan sent aid in the form of wheat, rice, and other grains to the countries affected.

This drove down prices for those grains and made it impossible for sugar farmers to switch to other crops to make money; the move drove may of them out of business. It also cost U.S. taxpayers $200 million a year to fund the foreign aid program.

So what did we accomplish be driving up the price of sugar and destroying farmers in third world countries?

We made America fat and we killed the sugar industry. According to the Center for Disease Control, the percentage of obese Americans has doubled since the 1980s and current studies place a large portion of the blame on the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup.

Because of the ridiculously high prices of sugar in the U.S., many manufacturers began smuggling sugar into the country illegally in the mid 1980s.  The U.S. Justice Department launched “Operation Bittersweet” to combat the flow of illegal sugar into the U.S. and  prosecuted 30 American companies for violations of the import laws.  As a result, most companies switched to high fructose corn syrup (we also subsidize corn farmers with taxpayer money) and many sugar farmers went out of business.

Why can’t we seem to learn that government interference in markets, no matter how noble their intentions, is ultimately harmful? When will we stop shooting ourselves in the foot both economically and in our foreign policy with these harebrained schemes?

This isn’t the first time we’ve done this; we made this exact same mistake with cotton farmers by banning the growing of hemp and restricting cheap cotton imports from Africa — and then sending millions of dollars in aid to local warlords in a feeble attempt to help African farmers.

We can only hope that, someday, people will wake up and realize that we can’t keep on going like this. Because it literally might kill us.

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