Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I agree with W

I can count on one hand the times I've agreed with the current President. I still need one hand, and expect one hand will last until Jan 2009.

While I admit I haven't studied the farm bill line by line, I'm against the farm subsidies. I'm sure there are some that I'd be okay with, but I don't support government interference in markets like this unless it truly serves the public interest.

I read a rather compelling proposition about a good way to insulate farmers from the weather and yield risks of farming without merely guaranteeing them money as we currently do.

When we pay our farmers (or, as is more often the case, agribusinesses) to make food, we do get cheap food. But it's an illusion: We tax ourselves, then give this tax money to food producers, who give us (and people who are not us) cheaper food. So we're paying for it anyway, at least, insofar as we pay taxes. Folks at the lower end of the income spectrum who pay less in taxes don't pay for as much subsidy, so may get some financial benefit from the scheme. $2 in taxes saves them $5 in food, maybe. I haven't done the math.

The problem comes when we start exporting this cheap food around the world. When corn from the US, which has been shipped from the other side of the planet, is cheaper than the corn grown down the road, local agriculture suffers. Just as government subsidies to Airbus give them an unfair (in the WTO sense of "unfair") advantage, so do our subsidies unfairly advantage our agricultural products. So local agriculture, local productivity, local self sufficiency in countries around the world suffer because of these policies. And where people are poor with few prospects, desperation grows and violence comes out of it. Am I saying corn subsidies breed suicide bombers and genocide? Perhaps not directly, but it's a contributing factor.

And some of this bill continues to fuel the biofuels illusion. The simple math on arable acreage * yield per acre * gallons per yield shows that we'd just end up with really expensive food, and still be using a ton of oil, and still producing CO2. If we want energy independence, we have to look at nuclear and electric.

So I'd rather see it not pass. But congress won't deny agribusiness and middle America its handout during an election year.

I will write my congresswoman, though, and ask her not to override the veto. I'll at least have done what I can.