Don’t Play “Chicken” with Our Agricultural Policy

May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s been fashionable for many years to criticize subsidies to American agriculture. The argument is that the government doesn’t send similar aid to the owners of pizzerias, manufacturers of widgets, or operators of professional sports teams (oh, wait a minute there!) so why do farmers get subsidized?

My response is that agriculture is a vital industry that we can’t afford to have fade away or move offshore as we’ve allowed to have happen (wrongly, in my opinion) in say, electronics or apparel manufacturing. Why is agriculture so important? Simply because we have to eat! Many types of consumer products are nice and make our lifestyles easier and more efficient but many of them we can live without for indefinite periods of time or if an international crisis was to occur. Food, however, is not something I’d like to leave to the tender mercies and vagaries of international trade. We need to maintain a safe, reliable, and inexpensive food supply to keep the nation going. If we need to assist farmers to keep that supply moving at an effective rate- I’d consider that to be a wiser use of strategic funding than perhaps something like the F-22 Raptor!

The U.S. still exports a lot of our agricultural products overseas and the revenue is important for our economy. U.S. producers (whether family farms or even the corporate conglomerates) exist in a market where one of our biggest competitors (the European Union) subsidizes its farmers. In many parts of the developing world too, trade barriers have been erected to limit imports from places like the U.S. Federal government aid to Americans only serves to level the playing field that would otherwise decimate this vital industry.

While the obvious answer may be for the competing international interests to work out the current tangled web so that price supports are withdrawn over time, the U.S. would be playing a dangerous game of chicken indeed to drop our subsidies unilaterally without foreign cooperation.

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