In an article in the current New York Review of Books, John Kenneth Galbraith tells us that the fashionable rage against big government is no more than a crusade of the rich against the poor, an attmept by the affluent to defraud the indigent of their free milk, public libraries, education and the rest of it.

It's an endearing thought -- government bureaucracy as the shield and buckle of the poor against the ravishment of the rich -- but not one likely to occur to small farmers like myself. Our particular shield and buckle is the U.s. dEpartment of Agriculture, which seems intent solely on making Dow Chemical even richer than it already is by sowing the planet with murderous pesticides.

The USDA will spend a billion dollars this year to try to find another great breakthrough like the square tomato, which tastes terrible (when it has any taste at all) and throws out of work another 100,000 farm laborers. Small farmers, meanwhile, are being strangled by thousands of rules and regulations -- each one sillier than the one before it. A small farmer who bought all the stainless steel and concrete fripperies the DOA insists on would be bankrupt in a week.

To equip a milking shed for dairy goats by DOA standards in this area would cost you roughly $30,000; and since there isn't that much money in the business, goat farmers engage in certain small prevarications. One lady goat farmer for years sold her delicious unpasterized goat's milk in the health food store clearly marked "Unfit for Human Consumption."

That's one of those George Orwellian ironies, because actually unpasterized milk is much better for you than pasteurized milk (and goat's milk much better for you than cow's milk). Pasteurization was a great scientific breakthrouugh in the 19th century. It made a fine movie with Paul Muni. It bears about as much revelance to 20th century health as a brass cuspidor.

Anyhow, the Unfit for Human Consumption labe fended off the Department of Agriculture and other witches for a while. Ultimately, though, the witches got wise and moved in with writs and injunctions. The lady dairy farmer had to stop selling her good milk, depriving her customers of what they wanted to buy, making them buy something they didn't want.

Then the ingenious goat lady conceived the idea of leasing her goats to the customers. She'd milk the goats and the clients would come and collect their own milk. Surely the Virginia Department of Agriculture couldn't come between a man and his own goats.

Ah, but they tried. The department sought an injunction that would have prevented the lady not only from selling her milk, but even from giving away or storing the stuff in her own refrigerator. This was so clearly a violation of her civil rights that about 50 of us goat farmers (yes, I am a goat farmer, too, and if you think any impartiality is going to creep into this piece, forget it, kid; I outgrew impartiality years ago) gathered in circuit court in Charlottesville to cheer for the goat lady and her lawyer (also a goat owner) and to boo the villain.

Faced with this array of popular indignation, the judge backed off a little.

He granted a temporary injunction. But a permanent injunction was refused by another judge, who stated he was "unwilling to say that I should protect the consumer from himself." This is a quite sweeping victory for us goat farmers -- but temporary. The case is far from over. We fully expect the Virginia Department of Agriculture to return with some new restrictions, conceivably fresh legislation.

The Department of Agriculture will tell you its concern is the health of the consumer and you are at liberty to believe this malarkey. Don't. The department, like all departments, is a theocracy interested in enforcing dogma, worshipping at shrines (like Louis Pasteur) that have ceased to have any meaning. Bureaucrats of the agriculture departments -- all of them -- are fanatical about health hazards that are either trival or non-existant while ignoring very real, serious and deadly health hazards.

The USDA has never paid the slightest heed to agronomists' and soil biioligists' warnings that herbicides and pesticides are destroying the very nature of the soil for decades to come or to Barry Commoner's warnings about our topsoil washing away. Cancer increased by 10 percent all over the United States between 1970 and 1976 and even more alarmingly among farmers. A recent Iowa study showed that Iowa farmers had a 30 percent greater incidence of cancer than city folk; this was a very great surprise, because farmers are supposed to be healthy. The researchers said they had no idea why this was so.

If they had just got off their duffs and out of their laboratories to watch a farmer, they might have some clues. Anyone who has ever seen a farmer on his tractor enveloped in clouds of poison (meant to massacre insects but also massacring bacteria and worms that nourish the soil) can't avoid the suspicion that poisons are not good for farmers. (When the farmer isn't enveloped in pesticide poisons, it's carbon monoxide from his $45,000 tractor or his $90,000 combinne.)

If the USDA had any real concern about public health, it would spend some of its billions researching the effects of poisons not only on farmers, but on your food. (An apple is poisoned seven times before you eat it. Might this be why we're all getting cancer?) Why am I prevented by law from selling you one of my delicious smoked hams while you are allowed to buy from the supermarket those disgusting commercial cold meats that are stuffed with carcinogenic nitries and nitrates?

Departments of Agriculture -- all of them -- enforce obsolete rules because they're there, not because they make sense -- and how else would they kill the afternoon? I have long admired Prof. Galbraith, but I do think liberals ought to get around a little more and see what's really happening (in place of these delusions of what ought to be happening).

There is a case against big government (if only that it is bad because it's too big) and it is one that liberals, of all people, ought to heed, because the victims of big governments are frequently the poor, to say nothing of small farmers like the lady goat farmer, whom liberals so ardently wish to help.