Posts tagged with: farm subsidies

In the following clip from the PovertyCure series, Doug Seebeck explains how U.S. agricultural subsidies have significant negative consequences both at home and abroad — misaligning human action, distorting market signals, and diminishing opportunities for the least of these.

Haiti used to be self-sufficient in rice. Now they get all their rice from the U.S. This is what we do to Africa. We subsidize our agriculture. We overproduce. Then we ship it as aid with a handshake, and we put them out of business. We disempower them. But you’re also putting the U.S. small farmer out of business. And it gets bigger and bigger and you’re squeezing out free enterprise….

How do I best love my neighbor in this rapidly integrating world…so that everybody has the ability to have what I have? It doesn’t mean we give it away. It means allowing them to succeed.


Blog author: ehilton
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
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
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…)