Farm subsidies and import regulations have come up in several conversations I’ve been in on recently, and now Steven Den Beste at USS Clueless has a post on the subject. He writes about sugar import quotas:
After Marcos was finally kicked out of the Philippines, some American lawmakers visited and asked what kind of aid they’d like from us. The response was that they didn’t want any aid, what they wanted was for us to stop limiting their exports of sugar to us.
The American market for sugar (sucrose produced from cane or beets) is artificially controlled in the US, mostly through import quotas to limit supply and drive prices up. But that isn’t because sugar producers are particularly influential, or that they represent a vital part of our economy. It’s because Archer Daniels Midland wants the price of sugar to be held artificially high enough so that it’s cheaper for soft drink producers and other manufacturers of processed food to use corn sweetener instead of sugar.
Although I’m opposed to subsidies on principle, I’m not totally opposed to them in all cases. For instance, if small farmers benefited from them, I’d be willing to discuss them. But I don’t need to be an agricultural expert to know that ADM isn’t hanging onto the family farm by its fingertips. Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp don’t have benefit concerts to save the property owned by ADM’s board of directors.
SDB points to an Environmental Working Group study that notes that two-thirds of subsidies went to the top 10% of recipients. In fact, this chart shows that 86% of payments went to 20% of recipients. That leaves just 14% of the money for the remaining 80%. Tell me how that is going to save the little guys, who are the ones marched out when the lobbyists beg for more of our dollars. People are willing to cough up a little cash when it’s some poor, weathered, family struggling to carry on the tradition of its forebears. We are moved when we hear of foreclosures putting some of the hardest working Americans on welfare. We know that those folks represent some of the best that America has to offer. But in the end, it’s the suits at the mega-sized agricultural corporations that benefit.
Directly related to how our regulations hurt the little guy and keep faceless agribusiness in power is the plight of farmers overseas who are also hurt by our subsidies. Although we are able to sell some of our surplus grain to these countries cheaply, we are not making many friends with our policies. We would be far better served by allowing, if not directly encouraging, farmers in poorer nations to increase their production.
If they can grow enough to export, so much the better. But I think the key is helping them become more self-sufficient. High-tech production lines and factories can’t just spring up from wishes, but farming is a good possibility in most poorer regions of the planet. And if people are well-fed and generally happy, they aren’t nearly as willing to blow themselves up or attack other people.
The people in many nations see themselves in a deliberately created economic trap, from which our policies permit no escape. They were largely released from direct slavery under the colonial system but seem to have traded legal slavery for a more indirect form of external ownership. When they were colonies their wealth was directly plundered by the nations which owned them. Now they are free, and are permitted to “voluntarily” offer the same tribute — for debt service.
It’s the people with empty stomachs, starving children, and nothing to lose that we have to worry about. They will listen to the fundamentalist preachings of hate and terror. They will buy into a system that promises eternal rewards for suicidal attacks against civilians. They are motivated to lash out in any way they can against those they perceive to be their oppressors.
We talk about spreading democracy to the rest of the world. Democracy is really just the tool. So is capitalism. What we really want to spread is wealth. What we really want to spread is a standard of living high enough that it makes death look like a bad alternative. Right now, a lot of people see a glorious death as a good option. That’s what we need to change. Poverty is the root cause of most of the hate. If oppressive post-war policies hadn’t made Germany such a poor, dishonored place after World War One, Hitler and his henchmen wouldn’t have looked like an attractive alternative to the German people.
The great question in this Fourth World War is “How do we win?”. We won’t win by conquering Iraq. We won’t win by defeating Syria or Iran or North Korea. We won’t win by ending support for international terror in places like Saudi Arabia and France. All of those are really just short-term corrective actions to the real problem. As has been pointed out many times, there is no shortage of people who are willing to fight the United States.
We won’t win until the enemy doesn’t see any benefit to carrying on the war. Our current agricultural policies, besides not doing what they should for American farmers, work against what we’re fighting for.