French Food Minister Both Lies And Misses The Point – Plus Ca Change


There’s a certain immutability to French politics, we’d not expect anyone in power to ever be telling the truth now, would we? Which is just what is happening here as the French agriculture minister insists that minimum prices for food won’t cost consumers more for their edibles. A claim which should be met with cries of “Tosh!” and a barrage of rotten rejects from the supermarket shelves.

The very contention that there should be minimum prices is all the proof we need that prices will be higher. For if the minimum is set at a level which won’t raise prices then there’s no point in having the minimum. Farmers already get more than a low minimum, having a low minimum would make no difference. Now, institute a higher minimum and what must be happening for farmers to gain more? Quite, consumers must be paying more.

France’s agriculture minister has sought to reassure households that food shopping bills would not jump dramatically after a rise in minimum food prices aimed at increasing farmers’ incomes came into effect. The measure introduced on Friday had been postponed by the government in December as France reeled from nationwide unrest and sometimes violent gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests over high living costs and squeezed household budgets. Didier Guillaume said prices would increase on only 5% of products sold in supermarkets, including Nutella, Coca-Cola and granola – items retailers often sell at a discount to attract consumers.

No discounts means higher prices to consumers, there we are, he’s lying.

But he’s also entirely missing the point. The advance of civilisation is fueled by food getting ever cheaper. A reasonable estimate is that rent and food cost 80% of household budgets a century and a half ago. In 1960s America the food budget was some 30% or so of that household income – that’s how Molly Orshansky set the poverty line. Today, in the UK at least, food is some 11 to 12% of household income.

This process makes all of us out here much richer. And we’ve no evidence at all that we’ve come to the end of the process. Technology does march on, productivity rises and we all labour less for the calories we stuff ourselves with. This is a good thing.

Until, of course, some idiot Frenchman starts shouting this far and no further. For that’s what he’s doing. Insisting that a minimum price be charged is to insist that prices won’t fall in the future. It’s to deny the very thing which improves our lives, which creates the very idea of a civilisation in the first place.

But then a French politician impoverishing the rest at the behest of the farmers – plus ca change, c’est la meme chose, eh?