I'm in Munich and spent the day with my host, Jan, visiting a couple of great farms. But what struck me most was our discussion in the car between stops. He's not quite 60 and handles a large investment fund.
"Why Germany," he wondered. Justis von Liebig, father of chemical agriculture, lived just a few doors down from where I'm staying with Jan and Tina. Hitler--say no more. Bayer recently purchased Monsanto, a liability that may sink one of Germany's largest corporations. On the other hand, Martin Luther sparked the Reformation here.
Neither of us had an answer to the question, but it is interesting to feel the tension between righteous indignation and the indignations themselves. German engineering is known the world over. Today we drove more than 100 miles an hour (for short stints) down the autobahn. What an amazing highway. If the speed limit signs aren't illuminated, you can drive as fast as you want.
That's certainly a tension between regulation and freedom. Society always swings between those two extremes. As a country of engineers, you would assume great rigidity in everything.
So imagine my surprise when we visited one of the most upscale direct farm marketing outfits today and I looked at eggs. Numerous dirty ones. "In the U.S. I'd go to jail if I sold eggs like this," I noted. Here, it's illegal to sell a washed egg. And what constitutes a dirty egg is pretty amazing. In the U.S. one speck of dirt legally makes the egg inedible.
Isn't it interesting that in such a precision-oriented environment, the latitude for saleable eggs is so wide? And yet nobody is dying from having some soiled egg shells. In fact, it makes the eggs look authentic rather than antiseptic. That leads me to ask "Why Germany?" for eggs that are vilified and criminalized in the U.S., the land of the alleged free? Notice I say alleged.
The thought struck me that if we could go around the world and pick all the freedoms and bestow them on one society, we'd have true freedom. But it seems like every society picks from a pot of freedom and regulation, sometimes willy nilly, so nobody is truly free. We just pick the tyrannies we want to live under.
People in the U.S. tend to think of Europe as highly socialist, and it certainly is. But you can sell unwashed eggs. And you don't even have to refrigerate them. I find that the more I travel, the more I realize liberty and tyranny are on a societal balance sheet and no country has a perfect balance. In China, farmers are free to sell food, to process, to butcher, and do all sorts of things without any inspection that would have you in jail in the U.S.
So in the big picture, who has more freedom? We tend to look aghast at the tyranny of another country and completely overlook the lost freedoms in our own. So any time an American bureaucrat says we need these food regulations to protect public safety, realize that they are absolutely lying. You can take virtually every food regulation in the U.S. and find a country in the world that does not have such a rule.
And guess what. Nobody is sick. Nobody dies.
If you were to identify one thing in the U.S. that is illegal unnecessarily, what would it be?