Free Govt. Cheese : LUSENET : Ask Chris : One Thread

Hi o mighty CHRIS. Bruce and me were having a discussion today about the government cheese giveaway in the 1970s/80s (maybe you're too young to remember it??). Here are our questions...

* when was the giveaway? * who was president (jimmy or ron)? * WHY did our government give away all that cheese? * my family got a block. why did we qualify? were we poor?

-- Scott Mc (, March 24, 2000


Well, cheese is still on of the WIC approved items.

So, it is not just an 80s/Reganite item. You'll recall that much of Regan's policies were aimed at cutting government regulation of anything. This often lead to policies that cut the Government's responisbility, too.

The reforms in social welfare were classic examples. The best being ketchup being classified as a vegatable for grade schoolers. Thus, extensive cheese programs are not that far off the mark with myopic government cut-backs, especially with a supply-side economic policy as law. "Let them eat surplus cheese" could not be a battle cry of government reform, but was enough to make like they were doing something (versus nothing, or worse).

-- Chris Gillis (, March 24, 2000.

from the Willamette Week:

1982: After cutting billions of dollars from welfare programs, the Reagan administration distributes 30 million pounds of surplus government cheese to food banks nationwide. Workers at Portland's Life Center hand out free crackers to particularly needy cases.

-- Sneedy McCreedy (, March 24, 2000.

from Foster's Daily Democrate Online:

Sen. George McGovern greeted residents in line for government surplus cheese in Nashua [NH] in 1984.

[looks like the chesse supply lasted a while - still looking into causes etc - sneedy]

-- Sneedy McCreedy (, March 24, 2000.

example of how deeply surplus gov't cheese has entered into American culture (from a review of Pamela LePage-Lees, _From Disadvantaged Girls to Successful Women: Education and Women's Resiliency_):

The subject matter of Pamela LePage-Lees's new book is clearly close to her heart, and she brings an insider perspective to her study of women who have overcome barriers to achieve academic success. From the very first page, where she remembers the feelings associated with accompanying her mother to receive government surplus cheese, it's clear that the author identifies with the subjects of her study.

-- Sneedy McCreedy (, March 24, 2000.

some background from the Seattle Times:

"The government these days buys less surplus butter, cheese and nonfat powdered milk for use in feeding programs, such as school lunches. Once, those government reserves were vast and could be released when needed, helping modulate retail prices. The current reserves aren't large enough to have much impact, observers say."

and from a case heard by the Court of Appeals (7th circuit, docket No. 95-2035):

"The dairy price-support program is authorized by the Agricultural Act of 1949. See Pub. L. No. 81-439, 63 Stat. 1051 (codified as amended principally at 7 U.S.C. sec. 1421 et seq.). In order to stabilize the supply and demand for dairy products, the price of milk is supported through purchases by the Commodity Credit Corporation. Milk is also supported through purchases of butter, cheese, and nonfat dry milk."

According to K. Charles Ling and Carolyn Betts Liebrand ("Vertical Integration Patterns of Dairy Co-ops Reflect Changing Market", _Farmer Cooperatives_ 62:6 (Sept 1995), "Aggregate demand [for fluid milk products] has been growing since it hit the bottom in 1982" - which is corroborated by

the Smithsonian magazine: "As recently as the 1980s, [dairy] production far outstripped demand, and the government was paying dairy farmers $1 billion to thin their herds while it bought tons and tons of surplus cheese. The government itself actually bought dairy cows, reselling them for meat."

Further examples of popular surplus-government-cheese lore:

The "Bart Sells His Soul" episode of the Simpsons (#3F02, 1995), in which Dr Hibbert refers to the "Texas Cheesecake Depository" - a fictitious US government cheese surplus warehouse.

I found some helpful quiz questions:

1] The government has decided that the free-market price of cheese is too low.

a] Suppose the government imposes a binding price floor in the cheese market. Use a supply-and-demand diagram to show the effect of this policy on the price of cheese and the quantity of cheese sold. Is there a shortage or surplus of cheese?

b] Farmers complain that the price floor has reduced their total revenue. Is this possible? Explain.

c] In response to farmers complaints, the government agrees to purchase all of the surplus cheese at the price floor. Compared to the basic price floor, who benefits from this new policy? Who loses?

Who indeed, Sneedy

-- Sneedy McCreedy (, March 24, 2000.

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