Sunday, July 02, 2006

WPost on Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don't Farm

Washington Post is running articles on farm programs, in advance of debate over the 2007 Farm Bill, is here--
Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don't Farm:

I didn't catch major errors. (There was a misunderstanding by at least one payment recipient--if someone wants to refuse the money it would not go to others. As an entitlement program, FTF differs from appropriated funds.)It emphasizes the personal and the attention-grabbing--for some reason the media like to get readers. If I get the energy to read other blogs I'll probably see some other misinterpretations--like the distinction between cash-rent tenants and sharecroppers, even though it's in the article. Someone will swear that the government is paying some foreigner, I'm sure. One thing about today's article--it didn't lead with big payments to big producers as many such articles do.

It would have been less interesting, but fuller if the writers had pointed out (which they might do tomorrow):
  • Freedom to Farm payments were more expensive than payments under the predecessor programs. The increased money was supposed to be part of the "buyout" of farm programs. (I can't say that a simple extension of the programs before FTF would have been cheaper than FTF, but we taxpayers sure didn't get what Pat Roberts promised.)
  • the big impact of WTO negotiations. WTO rules frown upon payments directly tied to production, another motive to shift to payments based on history (in FTF) (Ironically, today's paper also carries a story about the breakdown of the latest round of WTO negotiations, all because of agricultural subsidies
  • the farm lobby was able to consummate the buyout of tobacco and peanut programs in the last few years.
Bottomline--it's difficult to square the circle. Make sure that payments go to current farmers, don't tie payments to current production so they don't aggravate surpluses, don't help absentee landowners who don't have dirt under their fingernails, help the small farmer more than the large one, protect tenants (that's a fight that began back in 1933 with the socialist/communist left strong on the tenant side, just another historical irony). If you can create a program to do that, try tackling world peace.

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