As readers may know, Eric Holder was added to the workshop at the last minute (see the latest agenda here). So the day starts out with Holder and Vilsack, and they are joined by Varney and Tom Miller (the Iowa AG) and a host of other politicos including Senator Grassley and Congressman Boswell.
Vilsack is introducing the event, and seems to be lamenting the extraordinary increase in productivity in the farm sector–by which I mean, he laments the loss of farm jobs even though output has increased by leaps and bounds. That’s an unfortunate framing of the issue, but it suggests that economic efficiency won’t be at the core of the discussion.
Some choice quotes from Vilsack:
“Great efficiencies have led to consolidation. They’ve also led to lower prices for consumers. . . . Is marketplace providing a fair deal to ranchers and farmers.”
“We know seed companies control the lion’s share of certain commodities–does that help or hurt farmers?”
“The purpose of the workshops is to determine if the system is fair [not efficient, fair –ed.].”
And now Eric Holder:
“erosion of free competition is one of the greatest threats to our economy.”
“We’ve learned the hard way that reckless deregulation can foster conduct that is harmful [this is a paraphrase . . . ]”
“Enforcement of the antitrust laws does not fully address the concerns of farmers and other stakeholders. [Which explains why this isn’t an antitrust event . . . ]”
And now comments from the panel, moderated by Vilsack . . . I’ll focus on the most relevant (if any) . . .
“commitment to enforcing the antitrust laws in the ag sector.”
refers to “concentration and lack of competition in agriculture”
“not enough competition and too much concentration [I’ll assume that’s not an economic conclusion]”
“bigger isn’t per se bad but it can lead to predatory practices and behavior.”
“I don’t want anything to be done that stifles innovation.”
Well, as the political speeches proceed, there’s not much to report. I’ll post this and await Varney’s comments . . . .