Farmers vs. Terrorists

Dun Surber: Farm subsidies=bad foreign policy

The United States needs all the help it can get in fighting terrorists. To his credit, the president has worked well on the international stage forming the largest international coalition since George H.W. Bush was president. You try to get Pakistan and India on the same page.

But farm subsidies strain international relations. The BBC reported that the United States just had its chops busted by the World Trade Organization for giving subsidies to cotton farmers. Brazil had complained.

The WTO reviewed the complaint and said Brazil would be right to retaliate against this unfair trade practice.

Has anyone in America ever heard of free trade?

I think it goes a lot deeper than international relations, though.

In the comments section, what appears to be a Surber response to a comment reads:

There is no connection between terrorism and poverty. Osama bin Laden’s loaded.

I disagree. Bin Laden may have been loaded, but without widespread poverty and anger against those perceived to be maintaining that poverty, the extremists don’t have such a large pool of volunteers and supporters or so many places to hide. Poverty doesn’t cause terrorism, but poverty enables terrorism. At least the terrorism we’re fighting right now.

In 2003 I wrote in Farmers and the Fourth World War:

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.

(That’s us.)

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.

There will always be extremists and nutcases and folks who are just really pissed off. But if they remain marginalized and unable to mobilize the masses, their ability to threaten us will remain small.

Food and a better standard of living is a direct attack on the enemy’s ability to mobilize the masses. Farm subsidies that hurt international farmers for the benefit of agribusiness are counterproductive.

Also, this comment is intriguing. Might make me not quite so opposed to short-term ethanol subsidies.

Via Instapundit.


  1. I saw Wolfowitz on Charlie Rose make a similar point. He mentioned that he knew of a 3rd world country whose leaders complained to him that they could not sell their cotton in the US. He then told Rose we should discontinue all subsidies and promote free trade so that they would like us. I agree with you 2003 post that current farm subsidies help the the factory farm more than the family farm. So let’s correct that. But I am not willing to sacrifice the family farm so ‘they will like us.’ Just like I don’t wish to sacrifice the American middle class. The whole WTO/free trade issue is a sore one to me. I don’t want to waste space on that topic. Maybe some day we can have a thread on that. Suffice it to say, I believe all the major economies were not built from so called ‘free trade’ but from some form of mercantilism. And so called ‘free trade’ policies will eventually convert the US from the most self sufficient nation on earth to one of its most dependent. I disagree with you on the poverty link to terrorism. As you mentioned Bin Laden is loaded. But all the point men in the attacks in the UK and US were educated, middle to upper middle class men. And the middle to upper middle class mohammedans around the world continue to funnel funds to these groups. You might not want to discuss any link or cause to terrorism lest your patriotism be questioned. Remember when people suggested that our foreign policy might have caused terrorism?

  2. …without widespread poverty and anger against those perceived to be maintaining that poverty, the extremists don’t have such a large pool of volunteers and supporters or so many places to hide.’ I disagree. There are people who can convince and be convinced that the economy is bad, even though it’s booming worldwide. Likewise, no matter how good we are to other countries, no matter how rich they become, they’ll always find believers when they preach hate against us. It has less to do with reality and more to do with what people are told by the people they trust. I’m all for helping the poor, but don’t expect a decrease in violence as payment for that help. Further, you should expect an INCREASE in violence, since the less time they spend searching for food, the more time they have to do other stuff, including violence. You need only look to the better fed of the poorest countries to see that trend.

  3. Is Iran building a nuclear bomb because of their poverty or wealth? We’ve talked about this many times recently in the threads regarding dependence on oil. Oil is funding the war against our troops, not poverty. Poor people might hate you, but they have few options against you. Countries like Saudi Arabia that supply 40% of the foreign fighters our guys are up against in Iraq has lots of money. They have lots of money and concentrate it in the hands of a few. They have no moderate middle class to speak of. They are powder kegs with many poor and a few fantastically wealthy who are more than willing to fund violence against us. The poor have few options, little education, and are easily manipulated in this ideological war. So given that, how can anyone reasonably argue that we should allow more foreign countries to take over the single most strategically important function a country has, which is feeding its people? We would literally be better off to outsource our weapons manufacture, something which we are already doing, than to outsource food production. How many would start dying within weeks of a systemic effort to cut off or poision our food supplies? Is that what you are advocating? Don’t think that could happen to us? Take a look at some of these articles on what’s happening now: Tainted Chinese toothpaste Tainted food and defective tires Tainted seafood Fake and poisoned toothpaste Lead paint on children’s toys And of course the communist Chinese are nothing but apologetic about poisoning or killing our children as can be seen in these articles: We should ‘respect science’ and quit complaining Open retaliation against US products Have you really thought this ‘free trade’ issue through, Murdoc? Is this the kind of ‘free trade’ you are advocating? The only thing free here is the money these Chinese companies are making substituting deadly poisons in products for consumption in the US and other countries. What are you going to do if your children get poisoned by this crap? Are you going to complain to the WTO? That really worked well for Panama, didn’t it? Do you think anyone is going to give a damn about your child in this global money game? Do you think anyone is going to be called to account? Have you really thought out what kind of world you are advocating?

  4. Heck, well, here’s an excerpt from the article if you can’t get past the subscription page: Although regulators said they would no longer allow products with misleading labels, Chinese officials still blame a Panamanian importer for changing the product’s paperwork to make it appear more suitable for human consumption. The F.D.A. said no one would have died if Chinese companies had properly identified the product’s contents. Dr. Jorge Motta, a prominent Panamanian physician who helped identify the poison that was killing so many patients, said the plant’s shutdown was overdue. ‘Every day that this factory remained open made me fear that this terrible problem that occurred to us could occur to someone else,’ Dr. Motta said. ‘Knowing that people responsible for all the suffering that we had in Panama continued to function without any questioning was not only painful but also an insult to my country.’ With President Bush and Congress now pressing for stricter controls on United States imports, China is not only announcing crackdowns on unsafe products. It is also taking its case to the negotiating table. Next week, European Union officials are expected to meet for high-level talks about the quality and safety of China’s exports. Less than a week later, American officials are expected to arrive in Beijing for meetings aimed at improving quality and safety inspections and to resolve what has begun to look like a trade dispute between the two countries. Late last month, the F.D.A.. blocked the importation of some Chinese seafood. China responded last week by banning some pork and chicken products from American producers, saying they, too, were tainted with banned chemicals.

  5. Spacey: I guess I don’t really recall anyone’s patriotism getting questioned because they said ‘our foreign policy might have caused terrorism’ (using your words). I do recall questioning the patriotism of those who told me that those who died on 9/11 deserved it or that we should have expected 9/11 or that because of our foreign policy we had no right to strike back after 9/11. Those are very different things. I’m sure someone did what you said, but I didn’t and I don’t agree and it seems like a pretty weak argument to me. Kevin: I’m not expecting or hoping for a ‘decrease in violence as payment for that help’. I’m simply saying that if we stop hurting some of these folks with unfair farm subsidies, which also hurt our own family farmers, most of those folks won’t be quite so hungry and mad and will have more of a reason to play within the rules of civilization. Which is what we want. Dfens: I’m not advocating very much of what you seem to be saying I’m advocating. What I’m opposed to is unfair farm subsidies, which is what my post, the post I linked to, and Don Surber’s post are all about. Or are you arguing that the China problem justifies unfair farm subsidies? FWIW, I could buy ditching our farm subsidies as they exist (generally speaking) and setting up tariffs against incoming grain, particularly if we used the tariffs as leverage for or against other nations depending on their government and overall friendliness to us and our allies. Also Dfens: ‘Countries like Saudi Arabia that supply 40% of the foreign fighters our guys are up against in Iraq has lots of money. They have lots of money and concentrate it in the hands of a few. They have no moderate middle class to speak of. They are powder kegs with many poor and a few fantastically wealthy who are more than willing to fund violence against us. The poor have few options, little education, and are easily manipulated in this ideological war.’ Exactly.

  6. My point being, Murdoc, life is not fair. We have a responsibility to our own people. We cannot rely on some other nation or the WTO to look out for us. We have to look out for ourselves. Certainly when it comes to strategic resources it is insane to make a ‘it’s not fair’ argument when the reality is that the WTO is destroying our national sovereignty and subjegating our interests to those of countries who hate us and everything we stand for. Is that ‘fair’? Is it fair when China substitutes antifreeze for glycerin in medicines sold to India and kills 10,000 without even getting a slap on the wrist? Is it fair when they kill or disable Americans putting that same ingredient in toothpaste? What does ‘fair’ have to do with any of it? We run a deficit approaching $300 billion a year with China. We provide them the financing to become the fastest growing economy in the world. Is that fair to us? Is it fair that we do that while they provide arms to people who use them to kill our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? What kind of commitment or support does that show to our troops? Is if fair we so consistenly fail to support them when they put their lives on the line for us? Let’s leave the ‘it’s not fair’ argument where it belongs and start looking out for our own interests. Other countries certainly do. If someone threatens my family I don’t ask if they’re being fair. I stand up for my family. Period. If there’s an issue with who was behaving properly that’s handled within the family. Our nation would do well to take that same approach.

  7. Murdoc, are you saying that the actions of the USA can lead to terrorist attacks against the people, property or interests of the USA; at home or around the world? IMO, you should start a thread on ‘Free Trade’.

  8. That may not be the argument you’re making, Murdoc, but this so called ‘free trade’ is at the heart of why this issue is being raised. Why are we responsible for the whole world? We aren’t. If Afghanistan would be helped by higher food prices, then they should raise tariffs on food imports. There, problem solved. We aren’t involved at all. This guilt we seem to carry for all the world’s problems is nuts. Then we let the elites in this country divide us up in special interest groups that are easy to control. It’s ok for our auto industry to be devestated by Asian imports because our Union-Americans are such bad people. Let’s stiff the farmers because subsidized-farmer-Americans are evil. Let’s be Americans first. Let’s look after our own interests first. If unions need to be reformed, and I think they do, then let’s reform them with our own best interests at heart. Same goes with farm subsidies. Oh, and by the way, if you think the reason our food prices are cheaper than Afghanistan’s is because of subsidies, perhaps you haven’t noticed the difference in the level of technology employed. Scrathing at the ground with a stick is not really ever going to compete with a full suite of International Harvester equipment.

  9. This is a tricky subject. I am in favour of (mostly) free markets, but I also understand the need for self-sufficiency. When the global economy is working normally, self-sufficiency can be inefficient. It’s easier and cheaper for the USA to import lamb from New Zealand and Australia. But, should Pacific shipping come under threat, or some kind of disaster here, it would be a problem if no sheep remained in the USA due to the inefficiency. So I kind of understand why there is such protectionism that lamb in the USA is a lot more expensive than it is here, and our farmers are not happy. I’m really not sure if there’s anything you do can, other than try not to be too heavy-handed about it. Perhaps it would be better to subsidize your sheep farmers, rather than penalize ours. A dubious distinction, but it would make them happy as well as us. The only people who’d lose out would be the U.S. taxpayers. But perhaps that’s just the price of maintaining the level of self-sufficiency you desire. I think we should help fix up dysfunctional countries but I don’t think simply removing protectionism will do it. They’ll just find something else to complain about. They need to democratise and liberalise. I’m not sure if there’s much we can do to help them, other than render assistance when it’s possible (e.g. developmental aid), and try to keep the really nasty countries/dictators under control so they don’t make things worse in neighbouring countries. I don’t think that’s a cause of terrorism – the causes are really pretty irrational – but I do think that it would help stifle it if we could solve some of the despair. Like Murdoc says, while it may not be a cause, robbing them of support because people have more to lose is only going to make their horrible deeds more difficult.

  10. I think Nicholas has the right take on this. International trade is a good thing. It can help form ties between nations that lead to cooperation and develop peaceful methods of resolving disputes. With the information age, the world continues to get smaller and that fosters international trade. What we have now, however, is ludicrous. We lose 7% of our GNP annually in deficits. Economists consider a 5% loss to be the point at which monetary values become unstable. Yet our monetary values continue to be stable with the countries we lose the most to, because they peg the value of their currency against the dollar. They hold their monetary value artificially low. Does the WTO care about that? No. Too often we Americans justify this losing trade policy by saying its really the fault of unions, government regulations, lawyers, the tax system, or whatever. The thing is, all that finger pointing won’t mean anything when our monetary values plummet and we go into another depression. We need some rational trade policies that look out for our interests. Our politicians are all getting huge checks from foreign governments and have stopped representing Americans. We have a responsibility to look after our own first and take care of the rest out of whatever we have left from that. We are not the saviour of the world. We don’t even do the world a favor to act like we are. I think most countries would like us to mind our own business more instead of less.

  11. dfens, it is ashame that before you could make your point about the US having a sensible trade policy, you felt the need to say ‘International trade is a good thing.’ Unfortunately this argument has been framed so that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to ‘free trade’ is called a protectionist who just wants to build a wall around the USA and keep the world out. From our founding the USA has ALWAYS been involved with world trade, even during our ‘protectionist days’ from Alexander Hamilton to WW2. Britain was the first country to practice ‘free trade’ in the 1840s. Meanwhile the USA and Germany traded like the Chinese and Japanese of today and surpased Great Britain in GDP. After WW2 the USA jumped onto the free trade bandwagon and like the British before us we are seeing our industrial might wither as the Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and Europeans move up. As Nicholas pointed out, when there is a comparative advantage such as Aussie sheep, then by all means exchange goods with them for the sheep. However, when a foreign government builds an aircraft plant, a microchip foundry, or manipulates their currency, than that is not a comparative advantage that I accept as natural. And those countries should not be rewarded by having unfettered access to our markets while driving out our industrial base.

  12. dfens, after reading my post I wanted to make sure that you did not take offense. I was trying for sarcasm in my first paragraph.

  13. Subsides are such a retarted thing, for real. The economists are tired of proving how prejudicial this shit is. Its populist, and populism is retarded.

  14. Victor, I don’t agree that all subsidies are retarded. I think subsidies can be used to help build, in the words of Clyde Prestowitz, economic ecosystems. Clyde wrote an interesting book describing how foreign governments help foster key industries with seed money that helps propagate sub industries as well as research at local universities. For example, the subsidies provided to Airbus were probably well worth the cost. They have helped return large scale aircraft manufacturing and ancillary industries to Europe. This enabled Europe to go from almost nothing to 50% of the commercial aviation market. But I do agree that subsidies can be bad. The problem is to identify the areas in which you feel your nation should excel in order to maintain a vibrant middle class society. An example of a bad subsidy is the US government not enforcing our immigration laws. This allows certain companies to skimp on innovation relying instead on low cost labor whose fringe benefits are picked up by society at large.

  15. I don’t even have to read the artical to give a resounding YES. I grew up around cotton and very awary of how the government hand out and entitlements work for farmers. My mother, who is a share cropper, is paid for growing fescu grass and pine tress. Not a cash crop,but weeds. This is a wast of tax payer money and has for some time been treated as an entitlement by farmers.

  16. My issue with farm subsidies has nothing to do with world trade. It has to do with the government under the ‘guise’ of helping the family farmer, subsidies gross stupidity. 1st off, most subsidies do not go to the family farmer. There are actually very few true family farmers around. Most of the money gets turned into a corporate subsidy. If that was just it, I would not care. But, why give a subsidy to tobacco farmers? Yes, they deserve to make a living but why should we support it. Additionally, from a farming perspective tobacco is terrible crop as it rapidly depletes the soil. Why subsides cotton growing & rice farming in California? In the middle of desert, why are we supporting high water use plants? I would not be surprised if Oregon declares war on California over water rights. Why do we subsides farming in North Dakota? There is no way on earth to grow crops profitably in North Dakota. You are ground water dependent (depleting the aquifer) and in the middle of nowhere. Its sad to say, but we would better off paying every farmer in North Dakota, 50K per year NOT to farm. Everyone knows that monculture farming is recipe for disaster, so why do we support that? The only thing more stupid then the US farm policy is the US flood policy. Geez if I see one more video of some woman crying about how she lost her house to the flood, but vows to rebuild. The house with such beautiful views of the Missouri river – I’m I’m going to become Canadian!

  17. Oh, i was talking about subsides on already mature business. Like the steel industry in the usa or the european cattle. If they couldnt become profit by now, they wont ever! Its ridiculous that countries like Holland spend more than 2 dollars each day for a single cow, a dutch cow earns more than many africans. Subsides are good for newborn business, but when they mature, they should to learn to sustain themselves. If not, who is jeopardized is the consumer(us)that cant have access to a better product and pays more taxes so the gov can sustain some populist pseudo-natioalism.

  18. The government doing its job badly is a very common complaint. They seem to specialize in doing their job badly, and I wish I had recommendations for how they could do better in every case. I certainly know what I’d like them to do differently when it comes to buying weapons. Even so, I don’t think we should compoud the problem by failing to look to our own best interests. We have no more strategic interest than food. I would say that is followed closely by basic enabling industries like steel and aluminum production, then defense. It seems to me like we’d better tread carfully where our strategic interests are concerned. It seems to me like we’re tripping over ourselves trying to give the country away lately.

  19. Vitor: my point is, though, that subsidising an industry that will never be profitable, due to cheaper product from elsewhere (for whatever reason, usually cheaper labour or easier access to raw materials), does sometimes make sense. Your example is an excellent one: steel. I hear it is cheaper to ship Australian steel to the west coast of the USA than it is to make steel on the east cost and then bring it across the country. But what if there was a big war – say, just hypothetically – with China? They might shut down pacific shipping. If the US steel industry atrophies because of cheaper steel from other places, how will they build ships and factories then? So I think if you’re using subsidies ‘intelligently’, you do is as a hedge against thing sort of thing. You prop up industries that are close to being profitable, but not quite, so that you keep the domestic capacity at a time when something bad might happen. Or, in case the competitive edge that other countries enjoy goes away – say, due to wage equalization – and you jump-start your own re-entry back into the market. If everybody could rely on always being able to trade with everyone else for the same products at the same prices, subsidies would be stupid, but the world economy is too unstable now, and there are too many potential trouble-makers. Having said that, we should realize that the cost of keeping the self-sufficiency alive is large. Also I agree with previous comments that although subsidies aren’t inherently stupid, many of those which are in place today are. There should be a good, sound reason for them, which is better than ‘they would go out of business otherwise’ or ‘they would struggle otherwise’. There has to be a compelling state interest in propping up each particular industry segment which is subsidised. Basically, I think free(er) trade is better where you can get away with it. We heavily support our car industry with tax breaks and such. Does Australia really need a domestic car industry? I suppose there’s a vague argument that one day it would be important, or that it helps other industries, but we import a lot of our new cars from Japan, the USA and Europe anyway. Plus, a lot of the domestically manufactured ones are actually Japanese or American brands. While I don’t mind there being a Toyota Camry plant here, I don’t know that it’s really so vital that we should subsidise it. Maybe I’m wrong.

  20. Yeah Vitor, well while your wimp ass country can always rely on the US to save your bacon in any hostilities, the US doesn’t have that same luxury. We have to rely on ourselves, and like it that way, or at least we used to.

  21. The US rely on the world, the world relies on the US. Everybody relies on everybody. Things are too intricated nowdays. You guys rely specially on the japanese and chinese economy, and i dont even need to mention Saudi Arabia for obvious reasons.

  22. Spacey, neither the USA nor Germany surpassed British GDP in the 1840s. They only got close in the early 20th century – and then free trade policies changed for other reasons. Dfens, apart from being thoroughly offensive, you are plain wrong. The rest of the world knows perfectly well that the USA is unreliable – nobody can count on the USA for help, and it is fairly certain that its interventions will work out for the worse (based on track record). What is more, the USA deserves no credit for the few scraps of defence support that do fall from its table, because it was precisely the USA itself that deprived the rest of the world of any ability to fend for itself in those small scale ways. Or do you not know the reasons that were given for acting the way we did at Suez? And just who it was that pulled the rug out from under at the time? As David Niven said of Errol Flynn, ‘You could rely on Errol, he always let you down.’ Even the French provided more support to Britain over the Falklands, for instance.