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News Are crop subsidies a good or bad thing?

  1. Apr 20, 2007 #1


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    American fiscal watchdogs (like John Stossel) point out over and over again how billions of dollars are used to subsidize crops grown in the US just so they can stay competitive with cheaper crops from other countries. At first glance it seems like an obvious waste of money. Forcing everybody to pay for more expensive food? wtf?
    Anyway, the flip side is that subsidizing local crops lowers the amount of crops that are imported, which can be used as a method of preventing trade deficit with another country.
    Just use this as an example using simple terms
    Canadian grain would be $5
    American grain would be $10
    $5 worth of tax money is paid to American grain farmers so they can sell it to market for $5.
    Americans buy American grain for $5 (plus $5 in taxes to make $10)
    $5 worth of tax money goes towards socialism rather than trade deficit with Canada

    Which is better? Having $5 leave the US and go to Canada, or having $5 of tax money spent on subsidizing overpriced American crops? This could be any country really, but the point still stands.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2007 #2


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    America is not alone in this policy the EU also heavily subsidises it's farmers. There are several reasons to justify subsidies such as national security. Do you really want to become dependent on another country for your food supply? Then there is the social aspect. Do you want to decimate rural communities?

    On the economic side there are some advantages even for the tax payer in subsidising farming such as the artificially cheap price of meat fattened on subsidised corn. Also by keeping the money in the country everyone gains from the multiplier effect which doesn't happen if the money has gone abroad.

    Of course there are problems too with food surpluses etc but if the level of subsidy is set correctly this is manageable. The EU seems in recent years to have largely eliminated it's wine lakes and butter mountains whilst continuing to sustain farming.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2007
  4. Apr 20, 2007 #3


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    Why is a trade deficit a bad thing?

    In any case, the trade deficit isn't what the politicians in the US use to sell the farm subsidies - it is protection for farmers.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2007
  5. Apr 20, 2007 #4


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    It's not inherently bad, it depends largely on whether the imports are capital goods or consumer goods and currency exchange rate policy.

    Trade deficits accumulated on the back of consumer goods can mean an intergenerational debt is being built up whereby future generations end up paying for today's extravagances whereas deficits based on the purchase of capital goods can be considered an investment for the future. Most countries for economic and prestige reasons like to maintain a strong currency but if a country is deemed to be living artificially beyond it's means it's currency takes a dive on the currency exchange markets leading ultimately to a fall in confidence and an unwillingness on the part of supplier countries to accept the currency in payment.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2007
  6. Apr 20, 2007 #5


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    The reason we subsidize farmers are these:

    1) Crop prices are unstable. One season they might be very high, the next they might be very low.
    2) Smaller farmers tend to reinvest all of their profits back into their farms. Rather than accumulate profit in the form of liquid or stable assets, they plant more crops or buy better equipment.
    3) This leaves them with little "cushion" money when prices drop, meaning they can easily be forced to sell the farm.

    This places disproportionate strain on family farms, as corporate absentee owners can absorb the losses for a year and make the money back the next year. Small farmers eat the losses by losing the farm, usually selling it to corporate farms or housing developers depending on whether there is any housing demand. So, in short, we subsidize to guarantee a good enough price to at least stay in business each year, to ensure that farming remains a viable option for individuals and not just for larger entities with diversified holdings. In fact, I'm not even sure it would be a terribly viable option for corporations if it wasn't for the subsidies at this point. We're trying to not end up with every person and business in the midwest becoming a housing developer rather than a farmer. It's hard to ever regain farm land that becomes something else.
  7. Apr 20, 2007 #6
    Why is it desirable that a particular industry remains a viable option for individuals? We don't do this for mining or forestry. Why is it important for farming?
  8. Apr 20, 2007 #7
    In addition to individual family farmers there are a lot of corporate farms that receive the same subsidies. It is important because food is important. Few people are willing to do without it.:smile:
  9. Apr 20, 2007 #8
    There are those who will milk the system.

    This is an interesting site. Enter a zip code or county and it will show the top 20 recipients of subsidies over the past ten years.

    http://www.ewg.org/farm/index.php?key=nosign [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  10. Apr 20, 2007 #9


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    Having a trade surplus is like saving a small portion of your take home pay; it's responsible. Having a trade deficit is like spending more money than you're taking in, and by "like" I mean "it's exactly the same". Generally we laugh at people who voluntarily get into extreme amounts of debt, so why should a trade deficit be treated differently when it's basically the same thing?

    Farming is just one thing. It's arguable that we can take a trade deficit on farming and take up a trade surplus on something else.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2007
  11. Apr 20, 2007 #10
    IMO we should try to be nearly self sufficient when it comes to our food supply. The FDA can't even keep up with the safety of what is grown and produced here. No more Chinese wheat gluten please.:rolleyes:
  12. Apr 20, 2007 #11
    That does not really address my question. On a large scale, things in general (including food) are produced by corporations more efficiently than by family operations. Corporate farming is more efficient due to economies of scale. Encouraging this would help to make farming more competitive against foreign sources, reducing the need for subsidies and lowering the tax burden. Encouraging smaller, less efficient farming through subsidies seems to be against the national interest.
  13. Apr 20, 2007 #12
    If we were to allow a total take over of farming by big business our food supply would be at the mercy of market forces. That may sound good to some until you think of milk costing $6 per gallon, because one huge dairy producer is facing a hostile takeover by another.

    Even with a total corporate farm situation, they would still need subsidies to keep up with cheap foreign labor.

    Other than that I just like the idea of family farms. I see a farmer caring more about his land than some CEO who sits in an office 1,000 miles away. With the growing popularity of organic foods the smaller farms may once again become competive.

  14. Apr 20, 2007 #13
    It already is, and foreign competition also keeps things in check. I don't see a problem, capitalism works.

    Market forces prevent this. When Daimler and Chrysler merged, car prices did not jump like that.

    That's probably true. I also agree that for reasons of national security, farming must be allowed to survive and subsidies may be needed. But they can be reduced if farming can be done more efficiently, and this should benefit every tax payer.

    I suspect this is the main reason. Farmers are voters, and even non-farmers like the romanticism of family farms. It's very Smallville. :smile:
  15. Apr 20, 2007 #14
    Yep nothing beats capitalism when times are good.

    The merger didn't cost Chrysler anything. Currently Daimler is trying to dump Chrysler. This was kind of my point , market forces are never stable, and our food supply has to be.

    Efficiency has gained in farming, even with small farmers most use computer programs to keep up with what works best.

    I agree, farmers do get a lot of attention form Washington. As for living on a farm, you just can't beat waking up to the smell of real cow manure, instead of the sanitized odor of the bag of stuff from home depot.:biggrin:
  16. Apr 20, 2007 #15


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    You're saying we will go hungry without farm subsidies? Seriously, what exactly would happen if we got rid of them?
  17. Apr 20, 2007 #16


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    It should be treated differently because it isn't the same thing. It is not like spending more money than you are taking in, it is simply that you are importing more goods than you are exporting. But the balance sheet always equals zero: we pay for the goods we import, we don't get them on credit.

    Also, for the US, currency itself is an export product. So why don't we consider that when calculating the deficit?

    Seriously again: why, exactly is a trade deficit a bad thing. Because the word "deficit" sounds bad? What harm, exactly, does it cause to the economy?
  18. Apr 20, 2007 #17
    Well, I grew up on a farm and one main reason why it is important for an indiviual have the option to be a farmer is that some operations are to costly for industry.

    It is easy for the industry to sit a few thousand chickens in a room and let them lay eggs or place a few hundred cows in a room and milk them. However, when it comes to letting cattle graze and roam free, then it becomes a problem. It is far easier for a family to manage cattle that will be meat than for the the industry.
  19. Apr 21, 2007 #18
    Money flows out rather than in.
    I disagree with the idea of subsiding Farmers, not because it makes more economical sence at home, but because of what effects it has on Farms in poorer regions, who cannot compete and thus because of the greed of the richer nations are forced to live in abject poverty. Example is http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol17no1/171agri4.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  20. Apr 21, 2007 #19
    Whats socialist about your example? If you are referring to the redistribution of money to the poor, I dont think that is what is happening at all. Rich farmers are being kept rich. If you are referring to the fact the government is controlling production, you may have more of a point.
  21. Apr 21, 2007 #20
  22. Apr 21, 2007 #21
    Yeap and so is the USA...
  23. Apr 21, 2007 #22


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    I agree with Art. Some products are critical enough you want your own country to capable of producing them. Just look at the problems caused by the US having to import so much oil.
  24. Apr 21, 2007 #23
    Sure thing, but would you say cotton is one for example? Or perhaps the idiotic EU Common Agricultural Policy specifically for French farmers?
  25. Apr 21, 2007 #24


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    I looked at this site and can tell you that on the crop subsidy end of it that I know personally many of the individuals and companies listed in my locality. It's nothing I didn't already know before looking at the site, but Anttech is right, rich farmers are being kept rich. Our current farm program is taking too much financial risk out of the equation for large farms. That's how the US seems to be run. Big business takes priority over small business. Whoever said corporate farms are more efficient than small farms doesn't know anything about farming at all. I will guarantee that if farm subsidies go away (not necessarily a bad thing) corporate farms will be out of business. There is not enough money in it without farm subsidies to make it worth doing for most corporations.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  26. Apr 21, 2007 #25
    Those are good question Russ. I don't think that we would go hungry, but we would definitely be eating a lot of food and food ingredients that comes from countries which do have subsidies.

    As far as what would happen if we did away with farm subsidies, I don't think that anyone knows for sure. The subsidies work in a complex way and I sure don't know the formula the government uses.

    The subsidies originally were meant to stabilize prices and act as a safety net for small farmers. They now seem to be going to the most wealthy farmers, especially corporate farms. I think that it is time to overhaul the whole situation, but we have to leave American farming in a competitive position.

    When it comes right down to it I really have a problem with the fact that a good portion of the subsides go to pay farmers not to grow a certain crop, or not to produce over a certain amount of milk.

    Below is an interesting link on people who are not farmers, yet are paid not to grow a crop.:rolleyes:

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