Fight in Foods

2 minute read

Wiry, sharp-witted Economic Director Jimmy Byrnes this week served blunt notice that even if he has to void laws he is going to attack the worst aspect of the price control snarl, namely that while luxury goods prices (see p. 83) are being held down food prices are soaring.

Before a hornet-mad Senate Agricultural Committee he stood by Leon Henderson, who thinks he has found a way to outwit the farm bloc. The way: 1) let farmers sell their loan wheat for what it will fetch in the market; 2) maintain such stringent retail ceilings on flour, for example, that the price of wheat will have to yield. These tricks neatly bypassed the parity-or-bust provisions farm-bloc Senators had carefully woven into the anti-inflation act.

Up rose red-faced Kansas Republican Clyde Martin Reed: “You are going directly contrary to the law. This is absolutely the worst case of bad faith I have ever seen.” Charged potato-minded Maine Republican Ralph O. Brewster: “You have condemned us to 65% of parity . . . we’ve got to move 15,000,000 bushels of potatoes and you have forbidden us the parity price provided by law.” Fast-moving Jimmy Byrnes came back with a rush, explained that he was only doing what the President had told him to do. Snapped the ex-Supreme Court Justice: “If I believed this order violated the law I would ask the President to change it.”

Whether Economan Byrnes will actually have to get laws changed to hold down the price of wheat and other farm products remains to be seen. Meanwhile, in the case of another basic commodity—milk—the Government has conceded higher prices to the farmer and chosen a more tortuous course. The course: pay milk distributors a direct subsidy so that retail prices can be kept down. In New York City alone the subsidy already amounts to about $15,000 a day—and it will have to be doubled this month if it is to keep pace with the latest jump in fluid-milk prices. This means that complicated subsidies—and increasing ones at that—have now spread even into the distribution field.

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