Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Abomination That Is The Farm Bill

There are few things in the world I hate more than domestic politics, and fewer things still that illustrate why I hate domestic politics so than the US farm bill. In testimony before Congress on July 24, the General Accounting Office revealed that the US Department of Agriculture:

paid $1.1 billion in farm payments in the names of 172,801 deceased individuals. ... 40 percent went to those who had been dead for three or more years, and 19 percent to those dead for seven or more years.
Over $200 million went to farmers who had been dead for more than 7 years. Meanwhile, farmers in Africa are unable to find decent prices for their goods as global prices are suppressed by artificially inflated supply from the US. This year alone, the US farm bill will cost the average American family about $320 in subsidies.

But wait you say...the farm bill preserves the tradition of small farming, a la Willie Nelson's Farm Aid.


As Nicholas Kristof notes in his recent mea culpa revealing that he, a New York Times journalist who writes most often about human rights, is paid $588 a year not to farm the land he owns in Oregon, "the majority of payments go to commercial farmers who earn more than $200,000 annually, while 95% of farmers get little or no benefit from the farm bill." Meanwhile, the Democratic Congress defeated a proposed $200,000 cap on payments, preferring to set the maximum that any single farmer can receive at $1 million (per farmer, so a farming couple can get $2 million).

And as John Stossel notes, the farm bill undercuts American legitimacy on free trade. Why should developing countries join the WTO and comply with US intellectual property laws if the US won't play by the rules on agriculture (it goes without saying that Europe is even worse, but that's no excuse for the US).

The farm bill is shameful. But unfortunately, it is not surprising. As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, "government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one."


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