Criticism over crop subsidies is nothing new. The latest person to take a swing at them is Vincent Smith, an economics professor at Montana State University. He argues that farm subsidies persist due to political power rather than economics in a recent op-ed in U.S News & World Report.
“The empirical evidence with respect to income redistribution and other economic efficiency of most U.S. farm subsidies is unambiguous,” he writes.
That’s because 15% of farm operations receive 85% of the farm subsidies. This argument fails to take into account that U.S. Census data shows that a minority of farms produce the majority of commodity value, however. The University of Illinois points out that 20% of Illinois farms produce 80% of the state’s commodities, for example.
Smith has additional contentions with U.S. farm subsidies, though.
“Many farm programs waste economic resources and provide incentives for environmentally damaging practices,” he writes. “In addition, by distorting domestic and global markets, they create difficulties for the U.S. government in international trade relations.”
So why does Congress continue to support farm subsidies, Smith asks? He points a finger at “crony capitalism.”
“The chairs and ranking members of those committees almost always come from districts and states in which farm families and agribusiness employees form substantial voting blocks, as do other committee members,” he argues.
For example, Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who serves a district rife with cotton and cattle production, is the current House agricultural committee chair, and his ranking member counterpart, Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), serves a crop-rich Red River Valley district.
It should be noted that there are fewer than 250,000 farms in Texas, which has a total population of around 27 million. Does that qualify as a “substantial voting block”? To Smith, the point is moot – that just makes farmers a “well-funded special interest group.”
“Congressional committees are content to implement otherwise inexplicably poor social policies for very long periods,” he concludes. “We should be less pleased.”
Do you feel farm subsidies have a bad reputation, or are they appropriately maligned? Continue the conversation in the comments below.