Sunday, July 10, 2005

When Cabinet Secretaries Can't Count

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, on NPR as reported in - What Africa Really Needs:
"Last year, the United States paid our cotton growers $3.2 billion in subsidies. That comes to about half a million dollars per farmer. These aren’t family farms, for the most part. They’re giant agribusinesses. These big businesses argue that without the subsidies the United States would lose its cotton industry and we shouldn’t rely on other nations for a vital material like cotton."
I don't want to get into the debate over what is a family farm, who is a farmer, or how badly subsidies to cotton farmers hurt the farmers in Africa. I do want to challenge Reich's figures:
Let's divide $3.2 billion by .5 million. That give 6,000 as the number of cotton farmers in the U.S. But even the toughest opponents of cotton subsidies acknowledge the U.S. has around 20,000 cotton farmers. I'd also note that the Environmental Working Group database for ag subsidies shows cotton at $2.7 billion for 2003 (although attacks on subsidies often include government benefits other than direct payments to farmers). Secretary Reich's calculation is off by an order of magnitude. I'd guess he got the half million figure from a separate source, perhaps representing subsidy payments over 10-20 years. Anyhow, IMHO carelessness with figures means one is more anxious to make a case, than to find the truth. Shame.


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