Posts tagged with: farm subsidies

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It’s that time of year: we’re making resolutions to get on the treadmill, join the gym, eat an apple every day. And yet, Americans are getting fatter and fatter. Is it the government’s fault? Dr. Jenna Robinson, at The Freeman, believes so. The food pyramid, farm subsidies: it’s all failing us.

In the 1990s, American women blindly gobbled up low-fat Snackwells desserts masquerading as sensible treats. After all, Snackwells cookies met government standards: they were low in fat and contained “safe” sugar. Parents send their kids to school assuming school lunch contains healthy fruits and vegetables—never stopping to ask what their kids are actually eating each day.

Government recommendations also dissuade private nutrition groups from attempting to compete with “official” advice. Consider Dr. Atkins’ critical reception when he wrote Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution; although a best-seller, it was panned by the nutrition establishment. The USDA’s Agricultural Resource Service still warns that the diet started out as a “gimmick” and hedges on whether it’s ultimately “worthwhile or worthless.”

Over the years, government recommendations have contributed to the replacement of lard with trans-fats (the latter of which are now considered deadly), the substitution of butter for margarine and back to butter again, and conflicting recommendations about eggs, orange juice, vitamins, certain types of fish, and the temperature at which it’s safe to eat meat. Is it any wonder that Americans are no closer to their health goals?

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Work: The Meaning of Your LifeI recently pondered what might come of the global economy if we were to to put God at the forefront of our motives and decision-making. The question came as a reaction to Tim Keller, whose recent book calls on Christians to challenge their views about work. By re-orienting our work to be a “servant” instead of a “lord,” Keller argues, we will actually find more fulfillment in the work that we do.

Keller’s main point in the video I discussed was to caution against our human preferences for idol carving. Although this is a valuable word of warning, it’s also worth noting that in a more basic sense, our work is already service.

The extent to which this is practically true will depend on a variety of factors — the type of work we’re doing, the type of economic system we’re engaged in, the levels of cronyism, artificiality, and misinformation in the economic environment that surrounds us — but by and large, our work is concentrated on actually fulfilling the particular needs of particular persons. As Lester DeKoster writes in Work: The Meaning of Your Life: “Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.”

Through this understanding, perhaps a clearer way of expressing things is that work is less about whether we’re serving and more about who we’re serving. At the core, this simply rehashes Keller’s original point, prodding us to ask ourselves whether we’re serving God or something else (i.e. anything else). But beyond this, in those rougher, hazier areas of human discernment, it also empowers us to ask some other productive questions.

For example, in examining the ways in which trade and exchange impact human relationships across broader society, DeKoster contrasts life in the African bush with life in Western civilization, noting that the primary difference lies in work: “The bush people have to do everything for themselves. Civilization is sharing in the work of others.”

As DeKoster goes on to explain:

Our working puts us in the service of others; the civilization that work creates puts others in the service of ourselves. Thus, work restores the broken family of humankind… Through work that serves others, we also serve God, and he in exchange weaves the work of others into a culture that makes our work easier and more rewarding…As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit. (more…)

Blog author: John MacDhubhain
posted by on Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Turns out that cronyism hits more than just your pocketbook. There’s a good chance it’s hitting your waistline too.

That’s the takeaway from this editorial by Charles Lane. You see, cheese is one of the highest fat foods we eat, and our country overproduces cheese because of government created market distortions.

Charles Lane points out how price supports for milk lead to an overproduction of milk. We have more milk than we would ever drink in its liquid form. So where does all the surplus go? It gets turned into butter and cheese. Basically, because milk is overproduced, the cost of producing other dairy products declines, lowering prices for consumers and increasing the amount of cheese that is consumed.

Which sounds great, until you remember we have an obesity problem in the United States. And the fact that farmers are already better off than most families. Price supports, subsidies, and quotas all represent market distortions that benefit the politically connected, rather than representing what the people that make up the market really want. I guess we can be thankful the milk is at least used for something, unlike other cases of government managed food policy.

The point is, if we find ourselves concerned that the American diet is contributing to obesity, maybe we should first stop subsidizing it? As Lane concludes in his opinion piece:

When you think about it, the whole trillion-dollar farm bill amounts to a vast federal subsidy to this country’s sugary, starchy, cheesy diet, filled out with grain-fed beef, pork and chicken.

I love candy, pizza and hamburgers as much as the next guy. I just don’t see why businesses that profit by supplying that diet deserve an advantage over potential innovators and competitors. Still less do I see why they should get that advantage at taxpayer expense.

Last week, PowerBlogger Andrew Knot and I wrote posts about American sugar policy and farm subsidies, respectively. Now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the Catholic Relief Services and National Catholic Rural Life Conference, have come out with a joint letter on the 2012 farm bill that just passed the Senate. Among other things, they urge Congress to reduce agricultural subsidies, and limiting crop insurance to small and medium sized farms.

In 2010, the government gave out $96 billion in farm subsidies. As I pointed out last week, the median farmer’s income is already 25 percent higher than the median American’s. Furthermore, most of the farm money is going to a small number of the farmers. Big farms tend to get a much larger share of the handout than small and medium sized farms do. American agricultural policies represent welfare and protectionism for the already well off.

The USCCB’s letter can be read here.

Because there’s nothing sweet about it.

As the 2012 Farm Bill moves through Capitol Hill, the policy debates are ramping up. The bill, projected to seriously cut the deficit, has garnered bipartisan support thus far, but will likely meet more resistance in the House. Whether or not the 2012 Farm Bill will cut its projected $23 billion dollars is subjective. Fluctuating crop prices and the extent to which the weather cooperates (pray for rain) will determine that. What is certain, however, is that under the the proposed legislation, Americans will continue to pay too much for sugar. As it stands now, the bill keeps the existing sugar program entirely intact. This benefits the 61,000 Americans employed in the sugar industry and works to the detriment of taxpayers, sugar farmers in the developing world, and the 988,000 U.S. employees in industries that rely on sugar.

U.S. sugar policy, touched on in PowerBlogger John MacDhubain’s Tuesday post and Tad DeHaven’s Cato post from June, is essentially mercantilism and a prime example of regulation getting in the way of economic progress. On average, taxpayers spend $2.4 billion annually on sugar to raise $1.4 billion for American sugar producers.

What’s more, these government-mandated favors naturally come at the expense of others. Think of the sugar farmer in the developing world, whose access to economic liberty is severely limited by the U.S. government’s policy of price supports, trade restrictions, and domestic quotas. Then consider the American jobs lost when, about a decade ago, Life Savers moved a plant from Holland, Michigan across the border into Canada. The move cost Americans hundreds of jobs while saving the candy company $90 million. The Coalition for Sugar Reform estimates that for every American sugar growing job saved by the policy, three more are lost.

Fiscal policies cannot avoid moral consequences. Job loss and the stifling of economic development are moral issues just as much as they are fiscal or political. The way forward demands new policies rooted and sound economic and moral thinking. Presently, American sugar policy is not only fiscally inefficient, it’s morally bankrupt. And there’s the bad jokes.

This morning I found that a commenter on my post about government failure in feeding the poor in India had complained that we should not trust “corporations who own the government.” I think this is a point worth further consideration. After all, I would argue that in the United States we have lousy agricultural policy. We essentially still have policies from the Great-Depression era aimed at manipulating prices, and business interests predictably engaging in a form of regulatory capture.

Jordan Ballor and Ray Nothstine wrote a good piece in Acton Commentary on the issue of agricultural policy here. I particularly like their discussion on Abraham Kuyper:

What the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper said of the manual laborers of the nineteenth century is equally true of agricultural workers in the twenty-first. “Unless you wish to undermine the position of the laboring class and destroy its natural resilience,” he warned, “the material assistance of the state should be confined to an absolute minimum. The continuing welfare of people and nation, including labor, lies only in powerful individual initiative.”

When you look at the numbers, the simple fact is that most of the farm subsidies are given to large farms, not the small farmer whose image is used by those lobbying for welfare.  I highly recommend Veronique de Rugy’s Washington Examiner op-ed on this issue. She points out that the median farming household earns a wage 25 percent higher than the median American household. Are these the people who need welfare? (more…)

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the annual conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and expressed particular concern over rising food prices and the instability of the global food market. In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the pope issued this challenge: “The problem of food insecurity needs to be addressed within a long-term perspective, eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries.”

Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg has done much to illuminate those structural causes and their effects on the agricultural capacity of developing countries. In an interview with EWTN two months ago, he talked about two of the most important drivers of high food prices: farm subsidies and energy costs.

“All the subsidies that go into agriculture—through things like import taxes and tariffs, as well as direct subsidies—have the paradoxical effect of reducing the incentive for investment in agriculture in developing countries,” said Dr. Gregg. African farmers cannot compete with their counterparts in the first world who are able to sell their produce at artificially low prices, and so developing countries end up turning away from food production. In the long run, this decrease in supply causes prices to rise.

Energy prices also affect the cost of food: the more a farmer pays for gasoline, the more he has to recoup from the sale of his crops. Again, market imbalances are causing prices to rise—OPEC, the cartel that controls a substantial amount of the world’s crude oil, determines its supply, and so “there’s a disparity between supply and demand,” Dr. Gregg explained. “OPEC and other oil-producing countries introduce a whole range of price distortions into the energy sector, resulting in higher prices”

U.S. energy policy is also to blame: from drilling moratoriums to ethanol subsidies, the federal government has effectively introduced inefficiency to energy markets.

Developing countries must be allowed to produce food without being undercut by Western protectionism and too-costly energy. When free markets are hindered, the poor suffer most.

In an article appearing on EWTN News, Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, is interviewed on rising food prices and the effect on the developing world. In this article, Dr. Gregg contributed to a broad discussion on the many factors contributing to the rising food prices.

He advocates for a free market economy in agriculture by discussing the effects agricultural subsides in Europe and the United State, and how these market distortions contribute to stifling the growth of agriculture in the developing world. Furthermore, the effects of the oil industry on food prices is also discussed along with Pope Benedict’s call for the need to address the problems of food insecurity in Caritas in Veritate.

Developing world’s food crisis seen as a ripple effect of over-regulation

By Benjamin Mann

The dramatic rise in global food prices was high on the agenda of the 2011 World Economic Forum on Africa, held from May 4–6 in Cape Town, South Africa. According to a leading Catholic economist, excessive government regulations are to blame for the rise in prices.

A complex combination of factors – including natural disasters and higher oil prices, as well as a rising standard of living in countries like China, India and Brazil – have made food less affordable in recent months.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization has warned that the “food price shock” could have devastating effects upon the world’s poorest people.

At meetings in Cape Town, South Africa this week, African leaders discussed a “road map” to help the continent cope with rising prices through market-based approaches that would encourage local agriculture.

Some factors behind higher food prices, such as natural disasters, cannot be controlled. But Dr. Samuel Gregg, an economist at Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said other factors – especially agricultural subsidies and the manipulation of oil supplies – were preventing poorer countries from bringing their productive capacities to bear in the global market.

The result, he told EWTN News on May 6, is an under-supply of food, and higher prices.

“All the subsidies that go into agriculture – through things like import taxes and tariffs, as well as direct subsidies – have the paradoxical effect of reducing the incentive for investment in agriculture in developing countries,” Gregg observed.

Without the ability to sell their products at competitive prices on the global market, these countries end up producing less food, and attracting fewer investors.

“They end up saying, ‘We can’t compete because of subsidies in the European Union and the United States.’ Consequently, the supply of food starts to be reduced, because there isn’t the incentive for agricultural investment.”

“This effort to protect American and European farmers has the unintended consequence of reducing the supply of agricultural products from other people.”

He said farm subsidies, going mainly to large corporations rather than individual growers, were a “very good example” of how “a government program can have a completely unintended negative effect” on a critical area of the world economy.

If the barriers to competition were lifted, Gregg said, developing countries could attract more investment and increase their own productive capacities, to cope with global demand and bring food prices down.

But agricultural subsidies have the backing of powerful interest groups, and are often perceived as vital to the national interest.

Gregg also holds oil-exporting nations of OPEC responsible for high fuel prices that translate into more expensive food.

“The energy sector of the economy is not a free market – it’s a cartel,” he stated. “That’s something to keep in mind with all discussion about energy prices. This is why we worry about what OPEC is going to set as the price for gas, or for the production of barrels of oil.”

“It’s not the market that is controlling the price, for the most part. Generally speaking, it’s a cartel – which means that OPEC and other oil-producing countries introduce a whole range of price-distortions into the energy sector, resulting in higher prices.”

Oil prices, he said, “don’t reflect the true state of supply and demand.” Rather, Gregg said, they tend to reflect the will of countries exporting oil, and the inefficiency of frequently nationalized oil production.

Elsewhere, government regulations surrounding the refinement of oil into gas also play a role in raising prices, when refining capacity fails to keep pace with crude oil supply.

“There’s plenty of oil,” Gregg stated. “The problem is, there’s a disparity between supply and demand.” Meanwhile, this imbalance in the oil market has a ripple effect. “Just as energy prices go up,” he explained, “so do food costs.”

Another obstacle to meeting rising demand for food may come from ideological opposition to genetically-modified crops.

“There are all sorts of restrictions in place around the world, upon the development of genetically modified food,” Gregg noted. Genetic modification is highly controversial, and skeptics worry such crops could harm local ecosystems or human health.

But Gregg said that these concerns had to be weighed against the world’s urgent food needs, given that genetic modification could enable crops to be grown “in conditions where they might not otherwise be able to be produced.”

Many of these crops are also designed to resist natural occurrences – such as droughts, floods, and disease – that destabilize food prices.

“There’s no question that if more countries were enabled by law to engage in genetically modified agriculture, the supply of food would go up, and prices would come down,” he observed.

Gregg’s advocacy of what he called a “true free market in agriculture,” geared toward attracting investment in the developing world, reflects priorities that Pope Benedict XVI outlined in his 2008 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”

In that encyclical, the Pope said that “the problem of food insecurity” had to be addressed by “eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it, and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries.”

“This can be done,” the Pope wrote, “by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology.”

Pope Benedict stated said the developing world’s most urgent need in this area was “a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food.”

Gregg believes a general draw-down of government involvement in agriculture, as well as energy, would allow these kinds of economic institutions to develop locally and compete globally.

The result would be a boost in developing countries’ food production capacity, and more affordable food for the world.

“Obviously you need some kind of regulatory framework,” Gregg said. “But if it were a less onerous regulatory framework, and different groups weren’t trying to influence the process for political and ideological reasons, I think you’d find that the price of food – and the price of energy – would fall.”

Read more: http://ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/World.php?id=3153#ixzz1LrqsAFKh

I take a look at the way corn subsidies skew our eating habits — and not always for the good of our health — in this week’s Acton Commentary. Excerpt:

Government policy-makers regularly prove themselves to be unwise decision-makers by continuing to introduce arbitrary agricultural price distortions that create incentives for producing unhealthy food through farm subsidies. Perhaps the most effective national health care initiative moving forward would be allowing markets to function so that people can make better food choices.

We cannot be good stewards of our bodies or nature if we do not have accurate information. Prices help to convey that information. For example, what would happen if the market determined actual corn prices? Not subsidizing corn would cause a needed price correction. Perhaps our hamburger value-meals would adjust in price creating disincentives to eat fast-food. Without corn and other agricultural subsidies, maybe the price of meat would adjust to a point encouraging different choices benefiting us all in the long-run. Maybe, for example, eating a 72-once steak at the Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo, Texas would be too expensive to consider.

While individuals are ultimately responsible to exercise good stewardship in choosing what and how much to eat, incentives can be distorted by government meddling in the market. Dr. Barry Sears, author of Toxic Fat: When Good Fat Turns Bad, argues, “The problem lies with America’s continually subsidizing of corn and soybean production.” Government subsidies generate “an oversupply of cheap refined carbohydrates and cheap vegetable oils that when combined give rise to increased diet-induced inflammation.” This inflammation in turn “activates the genes in people who are genetically predisposed to gain weight with relative ease,” giving rise to all the health problems connected to excessive weight. Medical spending for obesity is estimated to have reached $147 billion in 2008, an 87 percent increase in the past decade.

Read “Too Much Government Makes Us Sick” on the Acton Web site and come back here for comments.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 17, 2007

Late last Friday the US Senate passed a federal farm subsidies bill, amounting to over $286 billion over five years.

For the first time funding has been extended to new areas like support for fruits and vegetables. That $3 billion of the bill is not direct aid, but rather is marked for “research, marketing, farm markets and providing fruits and vegetables to more school children.”

So perhaps you can expect the federal government, as any good nanny state should, to fund initiatives mimicking this to convince your children that “carrots want to go to the party in your tummy.” (Hey, it works on my 2 and a half year-old.)


David Gavin, a fruit and vegetable farmer in Michigan, says of dependence on federal subsidies, “When you look at how much is spent, you start scratching your head. I’m glad we (fruit and vegetable growers) haven’t gone down that road. Once you get to a certain size, I think you can afford to do it on your own.”

And by the way, you can check out a brief interview I did yesterday morning on the topic of farm subsidies with Charlotte, NC talk radio station WBT 1110-AM here, based in part on the Acton Commentary Ray Nothstine and I wrote a few weeks back.

See also: Jimmy Carter, “Subsidies’ Harvest of Misery,” Washington Post