Farm subsidies

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The (Independence, Mo.) Examiner

The farm subsidy system makes no sense. We need a national debate. The U.S. government and other governments have tentatively worked out trade plans that present our country with a major challenge and a major opportunity. The playing field is not level in world trade, though many of those inequities work to the short-term advantage of developed nations such as the United States -- but at a high cost.

This is how the system works now: The government, which runs hundreds of billions of dollars in the red each year, gives about $19 billion in farm subsidies each year.

The rhetoric is about "saving the family farm," but that has not happened. Fewer families survive in farming, and most of the government's subsidies go to large agribusiness companies. Some would characterize this as corporate welfare.

These subsidies keep cheaper imports out of the country and hurt farmers in developing countries. Sometimes, when things get bad enough, we end up sending foreign aid to countries that could fend for themselves in a fair market. That means U.S. taxpayers pay on both ends of the equation -- again, with money really we don't have.

This system makes no sense. Government subsidies should be short term and have specific goals, such as tiding over a key industry while it retools to meet new market challenges. Clearly, that's not been the case with farming. How much longer can we justify the current approach? The latest round of world trade talks has produced a plan that calls for the United States and other nations to reduce farm subsidies. In exchange, our farmers would get access to new markets.

This will be a tough sell in Congress, which tends to respond to political pressure to hang on to what we have -- even if that doesn't work any more -- instead of embracing emerging realities. Still, it's a debate the nation needs. We can't afford to keep the same old ineffective policies.

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