Posts tagged with: farm subsidies

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 7, 2007

In one of this week’s Acton Commentaries, Ray Nothstine and I juxtapose a static, sedentary dependence on government subsidies with a dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit of innovation.

The impetus for this short piece was an article that originally appeared in the Grand Rapids Press (linked in the commentary). I have two things to say about these stories and then I want to add some further reflections on the world of agricultures subsidies.

First, I found the article’s “hook” to be quite shoddy and lame. The blatant attempt to “shock” the reader into a reaction of disgust that a billionaire like Dick DeVos, yes, “that Dick DeVos,” got a whopping “$6,000 in federal farm subsidies from 2003 to 2005.” That’s roughly $2k a year for three years.

Unsurprisingly, DeVos’ spokesperson didn’t know anything about it. It’s ludicrous to think that a guy with as much on his plate as Dick DeVos would have any time for what is essentially pocket change for a billionaire. Does the fact that DeVos got a subsidy even though he campaigned on eliminating government waste make him a hypocrite?

Judge for yourself, but I think these payments say more about the government’s inefficiency and waste than they do about DeVos’ integrity. People of all income brackets pay tax professionals to maximize their returns. For the very wealthy, it’s simply a process that’s on a bigger scale, that’s much more thorough, and with many more loopholes than when you or I go to H&R Block. The more diversified your holdings, the more likely there are a plethora of tax breaks for you to exploit. The breathless lede to this story was simply off-putting to me, especially given the rather clear political undertones of the insinuations.

“Simplify, man.”

What’s the real lesson? As a recycling hippie once told The Simpsons‘ Principal Skinner in a quite different context, “Simplify, man.” Simplify the tax code and eliminate all these special interest loopholes.

But the complaint about the story’s hook is really a minor quibble compared to my second point. In a companion piece, Lisa Rose Starner, executive director at Blandford Nature Center and Mixed Greens says that farm subsidies are essentially about “social justice.” That’s right, subsidies are about social justice. They’re about the social injustice of subsidizing a product so that people from poorer nations around the world, who would like to do more than simply engage in subsistence farming, can’t compete in a global marketplace because prices are artificially deflated. So, our subsidies are feeding the rich at the expense of the poor in more ways than one.

Of course, the pat response is that other nations are subsidizing too, so our subsidies are just leveling the playing field. To be sure, the world of agricultural business is a complex one, as many of the commenters on our piece point out. Direct farm subsidies are just one thin slice of the government’s intervention into agriculture. Perhaps they’re the most obvious, but they may also not be the most insidious. As one astute reader wrote to me, “The web of market interference in ag is broad and complex.”

Simplify, man.

Update: The Detroit News ran a version of the original piece here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Are farmers hooked on pork?

Jordan Ballor and Ray Nothstine look at the current battle over farm subsidies. “By encouraging the production of overabundant commodities, the government is creating a cycle of dependency that undermines entrepreneurial initiative,” they write.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, February 16, 2007

I’m not quite sure what to make of this story from Catholic News Service. Its quotations concerning agricultural subsidies from Fr. Andrew Small, a “policy adviser for the U.S. bishops,” while not all perfectly clear without their context, seem to indicate a shift in direction compared to earlier statements from the USCCB. Small notes, for example, that the current system “incentivizes people to overproduce” and that it “isn’t helping the people it’s supposed to help.”

Does this discussion signal a change from earlier bishops’ statements, such as the one I criticized here?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 21, 2006

Just say “No!” to corporate welfare. That’s a pretty good motto, I think.

And it seems that one form of corporate welfare, the vast system of farm subsidies, is getting some increased critical mainstream coverage. In today’s WaPo appears a story with this headline: “Federal Subsidies Turn Farms Into Big Business.”

I’ve seen quite a few stories in this vein over the past few months, exploding the mythical image of the down home family farmer. Here are some unintended consequences of the subsidies: “The very policies touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms are instead helping to accelerate their demise, economists, analysts and farmers say. That’s because owners of large farms receive the largest share of government subsidies.”

And here’s what farmer John Phipps has to say about the subsidies: “It’s embarrassing,” Phipps said. “My government is basically saying I am incompetent and need help.”

Phipps got $120,000 in subsidies despite the fact that he “harvested nearly 170,000 bushels of corn and soybeans last year on two square miles of fertile soil. He grossed nearly $500,000, putting his farm in the nation’s top 3 percent.”

These subsidies are big money, as “last year the government paid out about $15 billion in income support or price guarantees.”

Why does somebody like Phipps take the money even though it’s not a necessity? Because not taking it would put him at a great competitive disadvantage: “I’m not proud of it,” he said. “I would like to have the moral courage and financial clout not to take them. But if I don’t, I won’t be able to compete when it comes time to bid for land.”

Our own Kevin Schmiesing has some good things to say about agriculture and subsidies. Kevin says that in policy debates, “Our focus should be not so much on the preservation of the farm as on the preservation of the dignity and self-respect of the farmer. That federal subsidies will further that goal is a questionable proposition indeed.”

And for other cases of egregious corporate welfare, look no further than the construction of sports stadiums.