Writing on agriculture’s role in the collapse of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, Hoover Institution fellow Victor Davis Hanson summarizes the past 70 years of U.S. farm policy in the New York Times:
Here at home Congress recently overrode President Bush’s veto to approve a $300 billion, multiyear farm bill awash in subsidy payments regardless of current commodity prices. Yet we all know the tired refrain each time these indefensible farm bills come up for enactment.
First, they are transparent election-cycle harvests for farm-state politicians, who have small constituencies but exercise outsized national political clout.
Second, because such special-interest legislation wins little broad public support, its supporters rely on phony rationalizations if not outright deception. In 1996 the trick was to call billion-dollar subsides the Freedom to Farm Act and vow a phase-out in seven years, a promise that was quickly forgotten.
In 2002, the next farm bill piggybacked onto fears following Sept. 11. So the gimmick was to name it the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act — as if giving millions to corporate wheat farmers might protect us from Al Qaeda. Now with the public worried about gas prices, the latest bill was pushed as the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act.
Third, all the rationalizations of this Depression-era legislation have become risible. Family farmers — now less than 1 percent of the population — disappeared as the farm subsidy industry grew. Indeed the wealthiest corporations now receive the most federal largess. Political considerations, not scarcities or nutrition, explain why crops like sugar and rice are subsidized and lettuce and fresh fruit are not
The best thing that the United States, the beacon of world capitalism, could now do is to stop interfering with its own farmers, let markets and need determine what they grow and how they farm — and then by such a principled American example persuade the rest of the world to do the same.