August 18, 2003 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Opining that third-world farmers "need a better deal", the Guardian has launched kickAAS, a blog to abolish all agricultural subsidies.
posted by Ufez Jones (8 comments total)
I'm curious as to the effect eliminating agricultural subsidies would have on the world in general. Right now, food is control - the industrialized nations use food as a way of controlling and manipulating other nations. Corporations use food as a way of manipulating and controlling governments, too - the huge row over GM foods is an example of such manipulation.

On the one hand, I firmly disagree with providing corporate welfare. If you're a farmimg conglomerate with millions in revenue, you don't need subsidies. We shouldn't be paying more to support cows than to support people. American subsidies are incredible - in many cases, farmers make more not growing certain crops, or underproducing certain crops, than growing them at the rate the land can support in a sustainable manner. I'm kind of clueless at the true level of manipulation that goes on with American foodstuffs, but the stuff I turned up in a brief bit of research surprised me. We treat food like it's a highly volatile market and manipulate it deftly to ensure that American agricultural products remain competitive worldwide, even in those countries where the same foodstuffs are grown at a fraction of the actual cost for growing it here (and shipping it there.)

On the other hand, food is not optional. As a country, you need to ensure that your folks can get fed. Supporting the agricultural infrastructure of a country can spell the difference between food and famine - Zimbabwe's a good example of what happens when an entire agricultural infrastructure fails through lack of political or economic support. While I believe Mugabe had the right idea in terms of wealth distribution in order to deal with the chronic inequities that ultimately caused the revolution, he went about the redistribution the wrong way - he gave land to those who had no clue as to how to work or manage it effectively, and provided no support to those whom he gave land. No seeds, no water, no equipment, no training, nothing. Mugabe considered politics instead of public need when deciding who got land. As a result, Zimbabwe's population is starving, and access to food itself is now being used as a political tool. Mugabe's supporters are easy to identify - they've eaten recently.
posted by FormlessOne at 8:22 AM on August 18, 2003

Excellent! Good heavens, something the left, right, and the libertarians can all agree on.

That is, if by 'the left' you mean The Guardian. I doubt the French and German lefts, or the American Democratic Party, all of which love to say they're protecting the 'family farmer', will like this idea. Nor will any Japanese party, all of which will protect the multitude of tiny, high-cost Japanese rice farmers against any hint of foreign competition.

Oh, well. Good idea, anyway. Is The Guardian prepared to stand up and yell 'Agricultural subsidies delenda est!" every day for twenty years? It will take at least that long to convince everyone who needs to be convinced.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:34 AM on August 18, 2003

I love how we "protect" the american family farmer here in the states by practicing Soviet style economics: paying farmers not to grow crops. Brilliant, really. I'm surprised, but I completely agree with the Guardian on this one, especially this statement:

"Sometimes trade is better than aid. And it costs nothing."

Hear hear.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:07 AM on August 18, 2003

Fun ag-subsidy facts
Japanese farmers get about 70% of their income from state subsidies. If you've ever seen a Japanese farm, you know there's no way it could be efficient in normal market economics.
EU farmers get 40-50% (this is going to change with EU enlargement)
US farmers get 20-30%
Australian farmers get 10-15%

In the USA, dairy subsidies are proportional to the dairy farm's distance from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. So if you're a dairy farmer in Florida, you're raking it in.

Ted Turner gets ag subsidies, as do many other big-time tycoons.

Yes, ag subsidies are evil.
posted by adamrice at 9:51 AM on August 18, 2003

You people are gonna hafta answer to Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp for this. Why, you're worse'n that H.L. Mencken, who as long ago as 1914 asked, "Has anyone ever heard of a farmer practicing or advocating any political idea that was not absolutely self-seeking–that was not, in fact, deliberately designed to loot the rest of us to his gain?" (Read the whole hilarious piece.)
posted by Faze at 10:06 AM on August 18, 2003

Hooray for the Guardian! In my book, agricultural subsidies are only slightly less destructive than war, for the reasons noted above.

Now the next step is to somehow transfuse courage into the French government, so they don't back down the next time their farmers protest by blocking the freeways with mounds of surplus farm products. Once that is done, the European Union's agricultural subsidies can be scrapped. After that, the rest of the world will see the light and get rid of theirs too.

I'm allowed to dream, aren't I?
posted by Triplanetary at 10:34 AM on August 18, 2003

trharlan, it's not about beating up on the family farmer. It's about opposing protectionism that benefits a few at the expense of the many. Are general Japanese citizens really better off, paying higher taxes so a few farmers can produce Japanese rice? How many Japanese consumers and taxpayers (and rice farmers in other countries) would benefit if the subsidies were abolished? Where's the greater gain?

However, maybe Japan has a vital national security interest in producing its own rice? Or a vital economic interest, that some major industry sector could fail if the supply of outsourced rice fell, or that Japan’s rice farming is a newborn industry that can’t compete yet but someday will? (Like South Korea protected its auto industry.) No?

Well, what arguments do we have in favor of this kind of protectionism, other than wanting to take care of small group of farmers at the expense of other farmers, plus taxpayers and consumers? (Not to pick on the Japanese; obviously this is happening all over the world in all kinds of industries.)
posted by win_k at 6:01 AM on August 19, 2003

it's not about beating up on the family farmer

For me that's a big bonus. For years British rural communities kept Conservative governments in power who 'modernised' our industries by exposing them to the free market without regard to the impacts on social fabric and on working communities (as with the steel and coal communties). They did this while continuing to rake in subsidy after subsidy for themselves whilst repeatedly adulterating our food . Now the boots on the other foot and farmers might loose their feather bedding they're all whining. Stuff 'em I say, (and stuff those rules about mixed metaphors too).
posted by biffa at 6:35 AM on August 19, 2003

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