mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
A Cornball Proposal

As America enters an age of austerity, when funding evaporates for education, infrastructure, and all manner of government programs, the National Corn Growers Association says, No matter, we still need subsidies. Bigger ones, please. Now.

On Tuesday, the Senate began debate on a farm bill, passed by the Agriculture Committee in April, that would set up another crop insurance subsidy, costing $3 billion a year, to cover any losses farmers suffer, known as deductibles, before their crop insurance policies kick in.

The change from the existing direct payment program to the crop insurance subsidies as the primary safety net for farmers means that “payments are going to people who are actually farming,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, said Wednesday.

Payments to protect Americas farmers. Reasonable, right?

“When you can remove nearly all the risk involved and guarantee yourself a profit, it’s not a bad business decision,” said Darwyn Bach, a farmer in St. Leo, Minn., who said that he is guaranteed about $1,000 an acre in revenue before he puts a single seed in the ground because of crop insurance. “I can farm on low-quality land that I know is not going to produce and still turn a profit.”

There are two major flaws with this piece of legislation, the first being that it is an egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars. We are in a colossal budget deficit, and this legislation essentially rewards low crop yields on newly farmed land. It doesn’t matter if the land is unsuited for agriculture because farmers are guaranteed federal subsidies. Coupled with the rising food prices of recent years, farmers have the incentive to sow as many new fields as possible, because no matter how productive their harvest turns out to be, Uncle Sam makes sure they receive a return on their investment.

The second issue is ecological. Thanks to high food prices and generous subsidies, more and more native prairie is being converted to farmland. At Via Meadia, we can accept the need to plow the prairie to raise crops, but plowing unproductive land simply to get subsidies from the government seems perverse, especially because plowing marginal land — land which would never be farmed without massive subsidies — causes extensive runoff, topsoil reduction, and erosion.

If Congress can’t say no to bad ideas like this one, we need to elect a different group of people.

Subsidies for American farmers is a timeworn policy, one that began as a way to support struggling farming families during tough times of low prices. Nowadays, these subsidies benefit the giant farming corporations to the tune of millions of dollars a year. And Washington is debating a bill to give them $3 billion more?

Features Icon
show comments
  • Mark Michael

    I’d quietly point out in times of yore it was unconstitutional for the federal government to provide crop subsidies for the simple reason it’s not one of the enumerated powers given to the feds under the U.S. Constitution.

    It was only with the cowardly collapse of the SCOTUS in the 1930s after FDR threatened to pack the Court did they cave in and say, “Oh, yes sir. We now see the light. It does indeed fall under the Interstate Commerce Clause. We don’t know how exactly, but if that’s not clear, we’ll just expand the introductory General Welfare clause, which reads: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes,…[to] provide for the common Defense and general welfare….” Article I, Section 8.

    Now, everybody knows that James Madison, the alleged Father of the Constitution, remarked that anyone who tries to claim that General Welfare Clause is carte blanche to do any ole thing you feel like because it “promotes the general welfare” is well, nuts. It clearly and obviously means within the enumerated powers identified so carefully and clearly in the rest of the document. If not, why in the world did they spend a long, hot summer sweating blood over the exact wording of the rest of the Constitution – if it could be blown away with a sweep of the hand, “…oh, yeah, it promotes the general welfare! Let’s do it!”

    Another point is that in the 19th Century several presidents vetoed congressionally-passed laws that tried to aid citizens who were subject to some catastrophe or other. Their reason: Charity is not one of the enumerated powers of the feds. It must be left up to private organizations – churches, charities – or the state and local governments if it’s within their state constitutions.

    Crop subsidies IMO are pure charity. Taking from one set of citizens (taxpayers) and giving to another set (farmers).

    Okay, I’ve been too influenced by those subversive Tea Party right-wing nuts. I admit it.

    P.S. Some SCOTUS details on how it caved on the traditional limited powers granted the feds. In 1937 the SCOTUS upheld the Social Security Act in Helvering v. Davis ruling as constitutional under an expansive reading of the General Welfare Clause. They rejected James Madison’s interpretation of that clause. In other words, they rejected elementary common sense interpretation that had held for 147 years. Madison in Federalist No. 41:

    “Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead is an absurdity.”

    Justice Henjamin Cardozo, in a 7-2 opinion, adopted Alexander Hamilton’s opposing view — that the general Welfare Clause was a separate source of congressional authority to “lay and collect Taxes” and then spend the proceeds pretty much however the Congress saw fit. [I’ve taken this from the book, “The Dirty Dozen – How 12 Supreme Court cases radically expanded government and eroded freedom” by Robert A. Levy & William Mellor, pages 19-36, Chapter 1 Promoting the General Welfare.]

    The sophistry the Court indulged in was that Social Security could be viewed as nothing more than a tax – decoupled from the “insurance” part. The benefits given to retired people over 65 were a separate thing (sort of) independent from the FCIA payroll tax. Viewed this way, the 16th Amendment gave Congress the power to levy an income tax. The payroll tax was clearly an income tax, hence constitutional.

    Of course, FDR and the Congress told the people, “It’s really an old age insurance program with a defined benefit you’ll get when you retire. Never mind what we told the SCOTUS.”

    Of course, the crop subsidies were ruled constitutional when the SCOTUS ruled in Wickard v. Filburn, 1942, that Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburn challenged the wheat allotment he had been allocated by the U.S. Ag Dept. of 11.1 acres. He had planted 23 acres, and used it to feed his milk cows. Didn’t sell any of it, never mind shipping it across state lines, even! The SCOTUS ruled his activities fell under the Interstate Commerce Clause.

    [This is Chapter 2 in “The Dirty Dozen,” pages 37 – 49, “Regulating Interstate Commerce.”]

    After that they named it the “You can do anything you like Clause”. That’s why Nancy Pelosi asked, “Are you kidding?” when a reporter asked her under what clause in the Constitution did the Affordable Care Act fall.

    She (of course) didn’t know enough to say, “The Interstate Commerce Clause, dummy! It’s been the Law of the Land for 68 years! Deal with it!”

  • thibaud

    Two more issues (funny, btw, that when crony capitalism goes against one of the GOP’s pet red-state constituencies, no one bothers to rail against it on these boards):

    1) King Corn was able to secure a carve-out from NAFTA allowing them to dump their heavily subsidized corn into Mexico – my quick calculations from US government data said the total dumped was close to $2 billion per year. This is one of the reasons that Mexico’s rural farmers and villagers have been economically devastated in recent years, causing millions to flee to the US. A two-fer: the elite subsidizes its cronies in Cornland and gets to flood our low-end labor market with millions of illiterate campesinos at the same time!

    2) Subsidized corn likely makes HFCS much cheaper than it otherwise would be. If so, then the corn subsidies are also stoking the obesity epidemic and related diabetes treatments that cost this country’s healthcare system over $100 billion annually.

  • The Reticulator

    Agricultural subsidies are the root of all evil. They killed the 1995 Gingrich Revolution. In the U.S. (as well as in other industrialized countries) they are the social and political counterpart to what Stalin did to the kulaks, with the slight difference that our method allows farmers to retain their biological lives.

  • The Reticulator

    “(funny, btw, that when crony capitalism goes against one of the GOP’s pet red-state constituencies, no one bothers to rail against it on these boards)”

    Strange. We spend all that public money teaching kids to read, and this is the result.

  • Mark Michael

    Re: Comment #2 “Two more issues (funny, btw, that when crony capitalism goes against one of the GOP’s pet red-state constituencies, no one bothers to rail against it on these boards):”

    I just did rail against crop subsidies, see Comment 1. I realize you wrote your comment before mine appeared. But anyway, there it is! Maybe I’ll be the only one.

    Yes, hypocrisy is not limited to just backers of the Blue State Political Class of which you are a proud member, presumably. Christians believe that “all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and “there is not a just man on earth that does good and sins not.”

    Hypocrisy is probably the one unforgivable sin in the American civic lexicon of sins. I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps because Jesus made such a big deal of it in his 3-year ministry in Palestine.

    He said the Pharisees stood on the street corners praying piously so everyone thought they were righteous people, but in the dead of night stole the homes of widows and orphans.

    There’s also the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the early church when it was operated along voluntary communistic lines. Acts 4:32-5:5 (NIV): “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had….There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need….Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

    “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.'”

    When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.”

    His wife, Sapphira, later also came to Peter, not knowing her husband had already died, and did the same thing, and the same fate befell her (Acts 5:7-11).

    Hence, the universal condemnation of hypocrisy as a grievous sin. And yet, one can safely say there isn’t an American alive who has not played the hypocrite at least once in his life. We love the acclaim of our fellow man – and sometimes try to get it on the cheap!

    BTW, St. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians 3:10 “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Seems like that communal living thing wasn’t exactly working out so well!

    Those early Christians, just like the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 discovered after a year or so of trying that communal living – the Blue State Model, truth be told – simply wasn’t compatible with man’s self-centered nature. The context of the above quote:

    2 Thess. 3:6-12: “…we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us….We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help [they were preachers and preachers are ‘worthy of their hire’], but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work he shall not eat…'”

    NOW, lets talk a little bit about the immigration policy of the Political Class. They self-righteously say we should allow near open borders for all of those barely literate campesinos who want a better life in America, YET, they refuse to expand the number of high tech visas (H-1B) for engineers, scientists, mathematicians who would benefit our economy enormously. Studies show that a good engineer will create the equivalent of 4 or 5 other jobs in the economy, thanks to his productive work.

    YET, those self-righteous “open border” elite Blue State model adherents keep the number so few the annual allotment runs out within a few months of each year it’s opened. Flood the economy with non-English speaking low-skilled workers who compete with low-skilled high school dropouts, but kowtow to college-educated highly-skilled high tech workers by blocking immigrants who’d compete with them.

  • thibaud

    @ #5 – yep, you’re still the only one as of 1:17 EDT.

    We do have an abundance of mindless and irrelevant sneers from one poster, however.

  • Randy

    PJ O’Rourke in Parliament of Whores:
    I spent two and a half years examining the American political process. All that time I was looking for a straightforward issue. But everything I investigated–election campaigns, the budget, lawmaking, the court system, bureaucracy, social policy–turned out to be more complicated than I had thought. There were always angles I hadn’t considered, aspects I hadn’t weighed, complexities I’d never dreamed of. Until I got to agriculture. Here at last is a simple problem with a simple solution. Drag the omnibus farm bill behind the barn, and kill it with an axe.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service