Republicans in Wisconsin have a chance to own the debate regarding individual rights and free markets by supporting the legalization of raw milk sales. The recent arrest of an Amish farmer for selling raw milk has caused a revival of an interesting debate in the Dairy State. Currently Senate Bill 108, which would legalize the sale of raw milk, is stuck in debate in the legislative bodies. The Senate bill and arrest of the farmer provide an opportunity for Republicans to use the issue of raw milk sales as a catalyst to further the dialogue in the state regarding job creation in a market economy and, on a more fundamental level, individual liberty.
While acknowledging the documented health benefits as well as the potential risks of raw milk consumption, the recent incident of the Amish farmer should lead us to ask, what are our rights as individuals? Are we, as free thinking individuals able to decide what we want to consume or does the government need to play a role in protecting us from imbibing potentially harmful substances? Clearly, if one believes in individual liberty, the decision to eat or drink certain substances is a decision made by individuals not the government. Republicans consistently use phrases like freedom or individual liberty. Despite their dialogue, concerning issues of civil liberties, like freedom to choose what we eat or drink, Republicans often seem to fall short of their rhetoric. This state issue gives Republicans in Wisconsin an opportunity to have their actions match their rhetoric.
Just as the raw milk issue will allow Republicans to match their words with action in regards to civil liberties, the economic components of the issue coincide with the GOP’s platform of free markets. If the Republicans are truly supporters of free markets, then the legalization of raw milk gives them a perfect chance to convey this to their constituents. Prohibition of substances generally leads to poor results. Clearly, the prohibition of alcohol did not prevent the use and sale of alcohol. Additionally, it lead to widespread corruption, a diversion of law enforcement resources away from fighting crimes that were a violation of individual rights, such as theft or violence and a slew of other issues. While raw milk is not on the same scale as alcohol, the basic economics of prohibition still exist, albeit on a smaller scale. Economic growth in Wisconsin is a critical issue on voters’ minds; this provides an opportunity to expand economic activity in Wisconsin. Just think of the various areas of economic activity that could spring up from the legalization of raw milk in a dairy rich state like Wisconsin - various testing centers, distribution points, certification companies, and a new product for farmers, just to name a few. Furthermore, it would create a competitive environment that would assist the small farmers as opposed to big dairy corporations having large advantages due to skewed regulations that inhibit small farmers from gaining market share. Republicans should embrace the legalizing of raw milk because it facilitates free markets and then take the issue to the voters of Wisconsin.
Lastly, the senate bill currently has support from both Democrats and Republicans. In a time when the state of Wisconsin is in a deep partisan divide, both political parties should see a bill that currently has members of both the right and left cosponsoring it as a gift. The media consistently portrays Governor Walker and the Republicans as divisive; this issue provides them with a chance to show differently. Governor Walker should urge everyone, specifically Republican politicians to pass the bill. If Democrats want to oppose him on this issue, they can explain to the voters why they stood with bureaucrats and big dairy over small farmers and consumers. With the raw milk lobby day occurring on February 22 the timing could not be better.
With an impending recall election for the Republicans, this is a chance for them to seize an opportunity and stand for the individual rights of Wisconsinites. Furthermore, it is an issue that unequivocally puts them on the side of small dairy farmers rather than big business. Broadly speaking, this issue is not right or left. There are people from a wide variety of political ideologies that support civil liberties, specifically the issue of legalization of raw milk. While the debate may continue on the safety and health benefits of raw milk, legalizing it allows consumers to decide its fate - not the bureaucrats in Madison.
About the Author: Joseph works in the banking industry in Milwaukee. He is interested in political philosophy.