The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Obama’s Plans To Cut Farm Subsidies Deserve Support

President Obama’s budget proposal includes some items that are making farm state representatives see red, but they make sense.  The White House wants to carve more than $30 billion in savings over the next ten years out of a variety of farm subsidy and crop insurance programs.

Historically, farm subsidies came into being as a way to help family farmers at a time when family farms were hurting — and enough people lived on farms to leave Congress little choice.  They got a boost during the Depression; as unforgettable Dust Bowl images filled the nation’s newspapers and newsreels, crashing commodity prices led to real hardship on the farms.  But those days are long gone; while many farmers are hard working and deserve our respect, we are not talking about log cabins and homesteaders here.  Modern American agriculture is a big business and is perfectly capable of standing on its own without government subsidies.

There are lots of ways government can and does support agriculture: basic research, infrastructure construction and maintenance, advocacy in global trade negotiations, the National Weather Service, backstopping and regulating the financial and commodity markets that farmers rely on.  Via Meadia’s Hamiltonian streak leads us to think these programs make sense and are the kinds of things that government can do.  But the era of direct farm subsidies needs to come to an end and if anything, the administration’s proposals don’t go far enough.

The United States of America has some of the richest and best watered soil on earth.  Our farmers are as technologically innovative and entrepreneurial as you can be.  If American agriculture can’t succeed without direct government help, we might as well give up and start subsidizing everybody all the time.

Republicans who waver on farm subsidies are showing inconsistency and cowardice.  Instead of fighting to defend farm subsidies, they should respond with proposals that make urban representatives sweat.  There’s little doubt that the White House is trying to put together as politically unpalatable a package of cuts for Republicans as it can.  Fair enough.  We need a bonfire of the vanities in the United States, a grand liquidation of the subsidies and irrational payments that have accumulated over generations of horse-trading and favor swapping.  Let’s have a bipartisan barbecue where all the sacred cows from all the parties get served.

Published on September 22, 2011 3:33 pm
  • Mrs. Davis

    How about proposing the abolition of the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture as a package deal?

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    I farm for a living. No off-farm job, and I refuse every nickel of the Farm Program subsidy to which I’m entitled.

    You cannot end farm subsidies fast enough for me. By overwhelming market feedback they completely overwhelm the natural signals indicating whether we should plant more or less. And don’t even get me going about ethanol.

    I’ll take it one step farther: abolish the USDA. Put all of its forestry components into Interior. Put all of its food stamps into Human Services. Chop the ag portion in half and shuck off the remains to Commerce.

    Things like meat and food inspection are good. Some of their national ag statistics stuff is actually helpful. Beyond that … shoot, shovel, and shut up. We do not need to spend $203,000 every year to support the Alabama Peanut Queen Festival.

    Yes, that is (tragically) real. As are all the urban “farming,” hoop house, and a metric shitload of other subsidies.

    Whilst we’re at it, no more dairy subsidies, and most especially, no more California water subsidies. One cotton farmer in California receives over a third of a billion dollars water benefits.

    Because of terribly below-market water prices — federally subsidized — California lettuce growers receive what amounts to a 2$ per box subsidy, enabling them to cover more than the costs of shipping east so they can dump their $#!++y lettuce in my back yard.

    Hey USDA! WAYSA?

  • Jeff77450

    @Bart Hall: if you’ll run for office I’ll vote for you! –signed, a retired soldier in Houston, TX