Jewish World Review Feb. 17, 2011 13 Adar I, 5771
Pruning Farm Subsidies
By Victor Davis Hanson
In times of massive deficits, why are we borrowing millions to subsidize profitable agribusiness? Lots of presidents have asked that question.
The so-called 1996 "Freedom to Farm Act" was supposed to stop farm supports for good, by offering the carrot of extending crop payouts to growers, regardless of current commodity prices, in exchange for ending the flow of federal money altogether after a slow weaning-off period of seven years. But when it came time to honor the agreement, suddenly a new rationale appeared -- that of post-9/11 security. So crop subsidies reappeared under the "Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002," on the dubious premise that in a new terrorist climate, Americans needed to ensure the prosperity of agribusiness. "Investment" in today's bureaucratese, remember, translates into the government borrowing more money to distribute to special interests.
When worries about national security gradually died down, and when it was clear that agribusiness would not end subsides as promised over a seven-year period, a new justification arose: providing fuel for an energy-strapped America under the "Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008" -- a
Even presidents cannot stop
Two disparate special interests push massive federal agricultural subsidies. Agribusiness wants lots of government support money; the entitlement industry wants more food stamps and rural entitlement programs. Combine them, and we spend billions more each year to subsidize both constituents. Who can stop a bill pushed through by
But 2012 is finally the time to end the crop-subsidy business, with the annual budget deficit approaching
Corn reserves are at their lowest point in 15 years, as prices skyrocketed nearly 70 percent in almost one year. Escalating world wheat prices have caused unrest in the
We need a drastic reset of agricultural policy. The use of prime ag land to grow corn varieties for ethanol biofuel makes no sense. Why divert farmland for fuels when the world's poor are short of food, and there are millions of un-farmable areas in
When North Americans do not fully utilize their own fossil-fuel resources, two very bad things usually follow: one, someone else in
No supporter has ever been able to explain why the advent of massive subsidies over the last half-century coincided with the decline, not the renaissance, of "family farmers." Nor has anyone offered reasons why cotton, wheat, soy, sugar and corn are directly subsidized, but not, for example, nuts, peaches or carrots.
In the next few years, conservatives are going to have to cut entitlements and social spending. To retain their credibility, they must apply the same standards of fiscal responsibility to agribusiness that they will have to apply to other areas.
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Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and military historian, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. Comment by clicking here.
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