You know, it amazes me that people never see conflicts of interest internal to government itself. The USDA guidelines are a prime example.
Think about it. The guidelines purport to be an objective assessment of what food we should all buy and consume, but what is the USDA primary mandate? Oh, yeah, to advance the interests of agricultural producers in the US. It’s the Department of Agriculture, not the Department of People Who Eat.
Like all “regulatory” agencies USDA has long ago succumbed to regulatory capture, and now exists largely as just a means for people who make their livings in agriculture to advance their economic interests using the power of the state. The USDA only has an institutional incentive to advance the welfare of food producers. The USDA has no institutional incentive to look out for the welfare of food consumers.
By sheer coincidence, the USDA recommendations for the percentage of a particular type of food we should eat always seems to roughly parallel the relative economic size of the agricultural sector that produces that food. I wonder why?
One of the biggest reforms we could make in government would be to legally separate promotional, regulatory and research powers.
The USDA shouldn’t be involved in promoting agriculture, regulating the food produced by agriculture and then researching what people should eat. These three functions are at odds with each other. Regulation decreases promotion, and the foods good for consumers’ health may not be the foods produced by agricultural interests.
Likewise, the EPA shouldn’t have both the power to regulate pollution and also be in the business of doing research to see what regulation is needed. The Labor Department should not both enforce labor laws and conduct studies that say that more labor laws are needed.
We readily see conflicts of interest in the private sector. We are deeply suspicious when a company, someone who once worked for the company, or someone who walked by the company’s headquarters once, conducts a study that claims to prove that people need to buy more of the company’s products.
Yet somehow, we almost always forget that people in government institutions follow self-interest just like people in business do. No matter how pure their intentions, they will inevitably be drawn to conclusions which justify giving their government institutions more money and power. Human nature, not economic sector, causes our self-interested behavior.
When we cram contradictory functions into the same departments, we create instant conflicts of interest which distort the implementation of those very functions. We should plan for those conflicts of interest and separate the functions as widely as possible within government itself.