New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm

The case against farm subsidies
July 28, 2008, 1:42 pm
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The Freakonomics guys have published an excellent Q&A with Daniel Sumner (pictured), an agricultural economist from UC Davis.  Readers sent in their farm, food and agriculture questions and Sumner set about answering them, complete with links to original papers and research at the forefront of this debate.

In it, Sumner suggests that the US may be able to rid itself of farm subsidies within “a decade or two,” and that, if we successfully ended tariffs on imported sugar, “we would shift to the use of more sugar and less HFCS [high-fructose corn syrup].”  However, Sumner is vague when asked how to discuss the loss of subsidies, a touchy and emotional subject, with farmers themselves:

I talk to farmers all the time and find the exchanges really valuable. My experience is that farmers are smart, articulate, and very interested in an open exchange of ideas. I do not start by challenging their passions, but I am pretty forthcoming about what most economic analysis finds about farm subsidies. My experience is that most farmers do not disagree with the analysis, but that does not mean they volunteer to give up their subsidies.

It’s clear that Sumner’s argument for ridding ourselves of agricultural subsidies is due to his proclivity for free market forces, but he’s also aware of the benefits as far as the environment, public health and local food are concerned.  The Q&A is extensive but well worth the read, especially for the comments below the post which give further insight to the conversation: one commenter calls Sumner out on leaving soil out of the discussion, and another decries Sumner’s highly conceptual work with no consideration for the reality of the life of the farmer.

The Illogic of Farm Subsidies, and Other Agricultural Truths [Freakonomics Blog, New York Times]

High-Fructose Corn Syrup [Wikipedia]

Farm Bill 2008 [USDA]


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