TCS Daily


Throwing Tomatoes

By Tim Worstall - May 3, 2004 12:00 AM

You may have noticed the fun we're having over here in Europe over the new constitution. You may even be aware that some of us have our doubts about the wisdom of that particular document. What you are less likely to hear is that there are many of us who would gladly see the entire class of jackanape officejobbers who run it thrown off a cliff. Any cliff.

Reasons are multiple, so allow me to just concentrate on one for today.

Back in 2000 there was something called the Lisbon Declaration which:

"Set [s] out a ten-year strategy to make the EU the world's most dynamic and competitive economy. "

Fair target, probably a difficult one given the speed with which the US is racing away from us, as are Hong Kong and other such places high on the Economic Freedom Index.

A little secret that I'd like to share with the whoreson toads who actually run the EU ; you don't do it this way :

"Commission Regulation (EC) No 790/2000 of 14 April 2000 laying down the marketing standard for tomatoes "

In this delightful document, one of several thousand that blight our lives here in the Euro Wonderland, we are given rules about which tomatoes we may consume. They must be packed according to size, they must be of a minimum size and they may only be of four basic types. Just think of the damage that could be done to our precious social solidarity if a housewife were to find a small tomato! Or even, horrors, some 50 mm ones mixed in with the 30 mm!

I was drawn to this document when the author Virginia Postrel blogged an article in the Washington Post about grape tomatoes. I'd never heard of them, so I tried to find out why. And the answer is that under current EU law, the above Regulation, selling grape tomatoes in the EU is illegal. They're too small, and they are not cherry tomatoes which are not restricted as to size. And they're not one of the four types permitted. It's not too surprising that they are not mentioned in the Regulation, as no one had really heard of them when it was written in 2000.

Now, we could alter the Regulation to make them legal. This would mean lobbying in Brussels to get it onto the agenda. Then various taxleech joltheads will study the problem, possibly rejecting it for the competition it would cause the French cherry tomato industry. Then a political compromise, and the Farm Ministers vote on it. Then the amended regulation is issued, translated into the, how many, 25 or 30 EU languages, and then passed by committees of all the legislative bodies of the new Europe. After May 1st there's 25 of those and a number of regional assemblies that will also have to translate and pass it.... Scotland, Wales, Catalunia, Galicia, the Basque region, the three different Belgian bodies. None of them can change it, but all must pass it.

So in order for a market gardener to experiment and see if his customers would like grape tomatoes we spend 2 or 3 years, mobilise the bureaucracy, have at minimum 25 new laws passed by ten thousand parliamentarians (all of course on substantial daily allowances plus salary and intern allowance) and spend squillions of euros.

What is actually so enraging, what has me frothing at the mouth, cracking teeth as I gnaw the desk in anger is that the numbskull whey-faces who actually run the EU would say, yes, that is exactly what we must do. They have no conception that there is another way. Something called a free market, the voluntary interaction of buyers and sellers, with entrepreneurs risking their lucre in order to make more. Sure, for every new variety of tomato you get 1,000 fur bearing trout farms but the point is that if you don't allow the mistakes of the finned rabbits you never will get the new tomato.

Here is what happened in a free country. In 1996 a farmer grew a test plot. In 1997 he shipped some up the coast. By 2004 the major supermarket chains are selling 10 times more of grape tomatoes than of cherry. No directives, no regulations, no pimple-nosed penpushers involved. Just the populace getting on with what they want to do.

That's the way you build the most dynamic and competitive economy in the world: you don't let the bureaucratic prattlers anywhere near it. As Adam Smith pointed out some time ago:

"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. "

Yes, tomatoes are trivial things. Yet think on it for a moment, the entire EU system of government is based on the idea that everything must be prescribed, that what can be done may only be done with the permission of the priestly caste of lickspittle deskjockeys.

My suggestion? Before we are all reduced to utter penury we should hunt these dullards down. Vote down the constitution of course, yet gralloching and barbequeing is the only thing these people will understand. Postrel has already sent me a nice picture of grape tomatoes so I'm sure she can get some real ones I can smuggle in for the garnish.

Tim Worstall is a writer living in Europe. His online home is www.timworstall.com.


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