Posts tagged with: farm bill

[Part 1 is here.]

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, details how the growth of government-corporate cronyism during the past 120 or so years has been largely a phenomenon of the socialist left. Wendell Berry misses this crucial historical insight in his running critique of capitalism, and his missing it draws him into flatly inaccurate claims, as when he asserts that “the United States government’s agricultural policy, or non-policy, since 1952 has merely consented to the farmer’s predicament of high costs and low prices; it has never envisioned or advocated in particular the prosperity of farmers or of farmland …”

This makes it sounds as if the government is largely uninvolved in agricultural markets, letting the winds of the free market blow wherever they wish. It’s true that the U.S. government has moved away from buying and destroying food as it did under FDR in the Great Depression, a statist attempt to prop up commodity prices while countless Americans went hungry. But even since 1952, and in a dizzying number of ways, the American government has been busy erecting all manner of protections for American agriculture, from fat subsidies on rice and other grains to import quotas on sugar, price supports on milk, and a long-running policy of paying farmers and ranchers to idle parts of their land. (more…)

The new farm bill may be one of the most shameless displays of government largesse ever, even more so when you consider who will most benefit from the pork. Citizens Against Government Waste called it “The most farcical farm bill in history.” The Economist dubbed it “Harvest of Disgrace.” The Wall Street Journal opines, “If farm prices stay high, consumers face higher grocery bills and farmers get rich. If farm prices fall, taxpayers kick in the difference and farmers still get rich.” The most pressing concern is that billions of dollars in subsidies will be going to the wealthiest agribusiness corporations in the country.

President Bush vetoed the bill, saying the “Legislation is too expensive and would send too much government money to wealthy farmers.” He wanted a subsidy cap on farms with a gross income of more than $200,000. Senator McCain also urged the President to veto the bill. Despite this warning, many Congressional Republicans joined with Democrats to override the veto. The Wall Street Journal declared:

House Republicans are equally as complicit, despite their claims of having found fiscal religion after 2006. About half of them voted to override a Republican President. GOP leaders refused to whip against the bill, and two of them – Roy Blunt of Missouri and Adam Putnam of Florida – even voted for it. These are the same House Republicans who last week unveiled their new slogan, “The Change You Deserve.”

As food prices soar, it’s plain wrong to transfer large sums of taxpayer money to enrich already wealthy corporate farms. Citizens Against Government Waste also declared of the bill:

It continues to dole out $5.2 billion annually in direct payments to individuals (many of whom are no longer farming) without any regard to prices or income. These direct payments, 60 percent of which go to the wealthiest 10 percent of recipients, were created in 1996 and were supposed to phase out by 2002.

To hear the NYT tell it (and Sojourners, for that matter), the family farm is facing severe threats. With no small degree of dramatic flourish, the NYT editorial linked above concludes:

For the past 75 years, America’s system of farm subsidies has unfortunately driven farming toward such concentration, and there’s no sign that the next farm bill will change that. The difference this time is that American farming is poised on the brink of true industrialization, creating a landscape driven by energy production and what is now called “biorefining.” What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the tragic moment in which the ownership of America’s farmland passes from the farmer to the industrial giants of energy and agricultural production.

If federal subsidies for corporate agribusiness is a threat to the family farm, then so is extensive FDA regulation of homegrown products and the morass of complex zoning regulations, telling people what they can sell, when they can sell, it and where they can sell it.

As my colleague Kevin Schmiesing wonders within a similar context, is the problem that the government just doesn’t quite have the right approach nailed down yet, or that the unintended consequences of government intervention into the market (in various ways) inevitably will screw things up (because, perhaps, special interests, whether corporate or individual, will always have an undue influence in the formation of policy)?